Medical laboratories collect samples of tissues or bodily fluids, then analyze them to detect and diagnose diseases or adverse health conditions. Like in any clinical operation, delivering high-quality medical laboratory services requires leadership from someone who has significant experience working in these environments. After honing their skills and knowledge for a few years working as medical laboratory science (MLS) professionals, upwardly mobile workers may be able to advance into supervisory positions in medical laboratories.
What Is the Purpose of Medical Laboratories?
Medical laboratories are essential to the health care industry. The specimens they analyze and the results are used by doctors, nurses and other health care professionals to inform critical medical decisions that will directly affect the treatment strategies they develop for their patients. Examples of the tests offered by medical laboratories include white blood cell differentials, electrolyte measurement, arterial blood gases, and enzyme tests. Each test offers a window into the overall condition of the patient, but if improperly conducted, the results may not be accurate. Therefore, medical laboratory supervisors must keep things organized while vigilantly maintaining quality standards.
Setting Goals in Medical Laboratories
The first tier of leadership in medical laboratories are typically laboratory supervisors. Their job is to manage operations within the lab by planning, organizing and monitoring daily activities. The planning aspect of their role involves setting goals for the lab and ensuring that the facilities have the necessary resources to achieve those objectives. For example, supervisors may be responsible for monitoring lab equipment and scheduling maintenance, or communicating with upper management to find replacement equipment. They must also stay aware of their shifts’ needs when it comes to supplies, budgeting and staffing.
Taking Charge in Medical Laboratories
All lab supervisors have a team of employees who depend on them for guidance in clinical situations, so it is imperative that they be skilled practitioners themselves. To this end, licensed clinical laboratory scientists with at least five years of experience working in the field will have the best chance of being selected for lab supervisor jobs. With more time in the lab, they can gain a deeper understanding of the duties and responsibilities typically assigned to each of the different types of laboratory workers. With accumulated experience, they are better equipped to address clinical challenges faced by their teams.
Laboratory supervisors must also demonstrate exceptional leadership qualities to achieve the best results. Of the many leadership-related subskills, communication and collaboration are among the most important. Even small labs may handle hundreds of different samples in a day, so supervisors must keep the lines of communication open and maintain awareness of their employees’ actions. This reduces the risk of lost or compromised medical samples.
Holding Standards in Medical Laboratories
Every medical laboratory must abide by laws, regulations and standards placed upon it by public agencies at the local, state, federal levels, and accreditation agencies. It’s the supervisors’ job to ensure that these standards are being upheld by their peers and the employees who report to them. There are many different types of policies and standards, but many industry professionals view laboratory safety policies as the most important. While the exact content of these policies may vary across state borders and within different institutions, they normally outline standard operating procedures for handling hazardous biological materials or performing other potentially risky lab activities. Lab supervisors monitor compliance with these standards to protect employees and patients equally.
Technical Roles for Medical Laboratory Supervisors
Many supervisors maintain their roles as clinical practitioners. As leaders in their field, they are often tasked with performing or coordinating complex analytical tests and procedures. They also leverage their expertise in making judgments about test results that could be crucial to the patient’s health. For example, if a test has abnormal results, the supervisor is responsible for deciding if performing the test again is appropriate. Similarly, when the team is faced with difficult questions about results, the supervisor should be well prepared to answer them.
Becoming a Medical Laboratory Supervisor
The key to becoming a medical laboratory scientist is obtaining the proper credentials, then gaining hands-on experience. The first required credential is a bachelor’s degree, namely one of the medical laboratory degrees, which can be offered online and on campus. This program will expose students to various theories and techniques that they can use to safely and effectively conduct diagnostic tests in labs. Once they earn a degree, graduates may need a certification from their state’s medical laboratory personnel licensing board and successfully pass the American Society for Clinical Pathology Medical Laboratory Scientist certification examination. Once certified, medical laboratory scientists can begin gaining experience that will potentially allow them to enter a supervisory role after several years.
For health care organizations to deliver accurate diagnoses as efficiently as possible, they will likely need access to an experienced and well-educated laboratory staff. The work of lab scientists and technicians is essential to the success of a medical laboratory, and supervisors fulfill the critical role of ensuring that the laboratory is operating optimally. Pursuing a medical laboratory science degree can help build a foundation of technical skills, but gaining experience leading in clinical situations can make it much easier to advance into supervisory positions.
The University of Cincinnati’s online Bachelor of Science in Medical Laboratory Science program is designed for medical laboratory technicians who are currently working in the field. Our online MLS program combines the quality and high standards of UC’s campus-based program with the flexibility and convenience of state-of-the-art distance learning. It is a smart choice for busy professionals who want to advance their education while also continuing to meet personal and professional responsibilities.