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Growing MLS Certified Leadership

New Apprenticeship Program Aiming To Make MLS Career A Dream Come True For Many

It was the 1980s. Mike Baron had freshly stepped out active service in the armed forces, and with a wife, a child, and another child on the way. Mike was hungry for a job, but not just any job. With a Bachelor’s of Science (BS) degree on his resume, Mike had been exploring many different employment avenues, but none of the options that he had encountered at the time were particularly fulfilling, or paid enough to support his growing family. One day, Mike saw an advertisement in a local Illinois paper for the Rockford Memorial Hospital, announcing that they were hiring individuals with BS degrees to become certified Medical Laboratory Technologists through on-the-job experience. Mike was hired, and placed under the supervision of certified Medical Technologists for a year before becoming certified himself. Mike could clearly see that this was a place that could provide him growth in his career, and where he could make a real impact on life-saving healthcare. That is how Mike Baron, Executive Director of Clinical Laboratory Operations at Wisconsin Diagnostic Laboratories, got his start as a medical laboratory professional over 30 years ago. Mike says that he is living proof that taking an alternative route to becoming a certified Medical Laboratory Technologist is a viable and beneficial option, and wanted to extend the same opportunity today. This year, through the establishment of Wisconsin’s first and only Medical Laboratory Science (MLS) Apprenticeship program, Mike is collaboratively repaving the route to certification that he took decades ago, aiming to provide a more sustainable way to address staffing shortages and assure the longevity of the profession.

In partnership with the State of Wisconsin and Milwaukee Area Technical College (MATC), Mike and the rest of his team at Wisconsin Diagnostic Laboratories (WDL) launched the MLS Apprenticeship program in January 2022. Individuals with science degrees from an accredited four-year college or university are recruited to become certified medical laboratory professionals upon completion of the apprenticeship program. Once a candidate is hired, WDL provides the hands-on experience to attain the skills, which is accompanied by on-site or in-the-classroom curriculum provided by MLS instructors at the Milwaukee Area Technical College and Madison College. The MLS apprenticeship program is a Wisconsin Certified Apprenticeship, meaning that the State of Wisconsin’s Department of Workforce Development partners with industries, area technical colleges, and private training centers throughout the state to provide individuals a path to a career. Historically, many technical industries in Wisconsin, from cheese processing to building construction, have been the primary sites for apprenticeships. Mike Baron recognized within the apprenticeship model the kind of quality training, instruction, support, and institutional capacity-building that could benefit clinical laboratories greatly. These are the qualities Mike says, that make the MLS apprenticeship program a key strategy in the recruitment and retention of medical laboratory professionals.

“We are at a critical juncture where we cannot ignore the problem of staffing shortages any longer,” said Mike. “We are working together with the State of Wisconsin to close the gap in staffing our laboratories with certified, experienced Medical Laboratory Scientists.”

Mike’s career path was made possible by the CLIA Amendments of 1988, which served as a national response to staffing shortages by allowing clinical laboratories to hire and train qualified individuals to become certified Medical Technologists after a period of supervised on-the-job training. Three decades later, the recruitment and retention of lab staff is, now more than ever, a perineal problem that has been studied, discussed, and written about many times over. Forbes magazine indicated in their April issue this year that clinical laboratories across the United States are 20-25,000 short on staff, approximating “roughly one Medical Laboratory Scientist per 1,000 people.” Other factors such as the COVID-19 pandemic and the closure of MLS programs and departments across the United States have further exacerbated the recruitment and retention of quality, certified lab staff. Wisconsin Diagnostic Laboratories’ MLS Apprenticeship program was designed, Mike says, to serve as a critical response in addressing the needs of today’s clinical laboratory, by creating with intention a quality program for more individuals to become certified Clinical Laboratory Scientists through the American Society for Clinical Pathology (ASCP).

“We had no problem finding people who are straight out of college, motivated, and looking for some type of work in the science industry, and we can sell it easily in terms of giving them a lifelong career,” said Mike Baron.

The program’s two inaugural participants are about 75% of the way through towards completion of the apprenticeship. Since January, they have been working under the supervision of WDL’s Medical Laboratory Scientists conducting on the job training, and gaining the theoretical knowledge needed through classroom instruction provided by local area technical colleges. Once trained and certified, students are not required to continue working for WDL, but are given plenty of incentives for them to stay, Mike adds. WDL employees who may decide, upon completing the MLS apprenticeship program, to move to another clinical laboratory for work is one way that the MLS apprenticeship program can broaden its positive impact throughout the United States in the future.

For qualified candidates interested in joining the MLS apprenticeship program, individuals are encouraged to visit WDL’s career webpage and explore their non-certified technologist positions currently open. Once individuals submit an application for consideration of a non-certified technologist position, if they meet the requirements, the candidate will move through the selections process for an interview with Wisconsin Diagnostic Laboratories. Apprentices are hired on a rolling basis, as non-certified positions become available. On-the-job training begins once hired, with classroom instruction beginning at the start of the new semester. To learn more about Wisconsin Diagnostic Laboratories, visit: www.wisconsindiagnostic.com

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