New Technologies Aid Clinical Microbiologists and Mean New Career Opportunities

Aug. 20, 2018

Like many occupations, clinical microbiology is adapting to new technologies that mean changes for those in the field. From new tests that simultaneously test for multiple microorganisms to novel applications of sequencing technologies, tests for diagnosing infectious diseases continue to change with technological advances. A recent post on laboratory automation may raise concern that the robots are coming for clinical microbiology jobs, but rest assured: human interpretation of test results is still the gold standard, and this indicates room for growth in the clinical microbiology field.
 “Automation will change operations in the clinical lab, but there will continue to be a need for clinical microbiology technologists,” said Harvard University Associate Professor of Pathology and Journal of Clinical Microbiology Editor-in-Chief, Alex McAdam. “If technologists are flexible and able learn new skills for the lab, they will continue to have great job prospects.”
The market for clinical microbiology is expected to grow globally, due to factors like technological advances in infectious disease diagnostics and increased incidences of infectious disease. However, medical technology training programs have not kept pace: the number of programs available for medical technology science and clinical laboratory science training dropped 15% between 1990 and 2015.
Compounding the decline in training programs is an expected wave of retirements. “The latest data tells us that over 20% of employees in the microbiology laboratory are expected to retire in the next 5 years,” said Susan Sharp, Scientific Director for Copan Diagnostics-US and former ASM President. “Combine this with the decline in medical technology programs over the last many years and it is clear that we must begin to think what can be done to keep the clinical microbiology laboratory functioning with efficiency and producing quality results for our clinicians and patients,” said Sharp.
A large number of retirements with fewer training programs can lead to a gap in available laboratorians to address the demand for clinical tests. Sharp sees technology as one way to bridge this gap. “With this loss of workforce, new technology must be adopted so staff can concentrate on the more complex tasks needing to be performed,” she said. Automated inoculators, smart incubators, digital plate reading, artificial intelligence and ink printers-turned-antimicrobial dilutions devices will bring relief to overburdened personnel, who are still needed for more complex test interpretations.

Learning to incorporate new technologies will make clinical  personnel more valuable to their respective diagnostic laboratories by mastering new technique, for example, total laboratory automation, next-generation sequencing or MALDI-TOF mass spectroscopy. “I think that technologists who embrace automation will be the leaders of the labs in the near future. Automation presents an opportunity for professional advancement,” said McAdam.

Clinical Microbiology Career Opportunities by the Numbers (source)

5.93%: Total vacancy rate for microbiology
6.25%: Staff vacancy rate
3.72%: Supervisor vacancy rate
20.14%: Total microbiology department employee retirement (expected, 5 yr)
17.05%: Staff retirement rate (expected, 5 yr)
32.83%: Supervisor retirement rate (expected, 5 yr)

Author: ASM Communications

ASM Communications
ASM Communications staff.