A Day in the Life of a Clinical Lab Manager or Supervisor

May 16, 2022

Manager in a Laboratory

What does advancing your career look like for a medical laboratory scientist? The next step up the career ladder might be becoming a clinical lab manager or supervisor (both are synonymous in a clinical lab setting). In this episode of Career Conversations for the Medical and Public Health Laboratory Pat Cernoch, MT(ASCP)SM, manager, Microbiology Lab at Houston Methodist Hospital and Leah Stewart, manager, Lab Medicine at Houston Methodist Hospital discuss the responsibilities of a clinical lab manager or supervisor.

The clinical manager or supervisor has several day-to-day responsibilities. A number of these are listed below.

Inventory Control, Equipment Validation and Maintenance

Working with the clinical lab director, a clinical lab manager must forecast the lab’s equipment needs. This includes reviewing maintenance records for current equipment to determine if the equipment needs to be replaced and working with staff and lab directors to validate lab equipment before use. It is the supervisor’s job to create a plan for equipment validation, including identifying relevant staff to organize equipment validations when new capital is brought in. The lab supervisor should have a management team to help work on maintaining and moving lab instruments. When a manager or supervisor is informed that an instrument needs maintenance, it is their job to have the part ordered. They must also determine whether a conversation with leadership about additional changes is warranted.

Additionally, a manager or supervisor needs to make decisions about substitutions for materials and reagents that are in short supply. At the time of this article’s publication, there is a shortage of crystal violet, a dye used as a histological stain and in Gram stains, a method for classifying bacteria. Currently, lab supervisors need to determine an alternative. They must involve the lab director so that a validation plan can be written and signed by the lab director.

Safety and Quality Control

The manager or supervisor should verify that the lab is meeting relevant safety and quality control standards. If an accident occurs in the lab, the supervisor must investigate what caused an accident, and how to prevent a repeated incident moving forward. All clinical labs must be accredited by an external third party, like the College of American Pathologists (CAP). Accreditation requires lab inspections to confirm government standards are met. The manager or supervisor must confirm that the lab is meeting all the regulatory requirements and meeting with management staff to prepare for inspections.

Centrifuge Spinner
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Quality control ensures the accuracy of patient sample results. The lab supervisor is always monitoring testing turnaround times and is in constant communication with the customer (e.g., the emergency room, operating room or transplant center). In addition, the manager must meet with the infection control department within the hospital to be sure that the lab team is passing along the information needed to determine if patient isolation is required. If issues with safety or quality control practices arise, the manager should work with the lab director to brainstorm solutions.

Employee Management and Support

According to Stewart, before COVID-19, lab managers and supervisors focused about 60% of their time on the technical part of their position. The remaining was spent overseeing employees. In light of the pandemic, there was a shift in culture for lab leaders to focus more of their time (about 80%) on employees. This includes making sure employees are utilizing any mental health programs provided by the employer and encouraging days off and downtime. The manager must also make sure employees feel comfortable in their job; Cernoch suggests making the rounds in the lab at least once a day. This helps supervisors observe if there are problems in the lab, which they can offer to help address. She also suggests having a personal conversation with at least 1 employee every day to check in on their well-being and to show each employee how much they are valued.

In addition to serving as a support system for employees, a supervisor oversees employee payroll, helps fix any day-to-day staffing issues, and verifies staff competency assessments and that they are correctly reported. They also interview, complete the hiring paperwork and work with human resources to prepare new hires for their first day on the job. In this capacity, they use their knowledge to mentor employees and help employees meet their career goals.

Being a lab manager or supervisor is not a clock-in, clock-out position, as there will be calls at all hours of the day. It requires great time management and interpersonal skills; however, if one sets a work-life balance, it is a rewarding job and an exciting career step.

Career Conversations for the Medical and Public Health Laboratory Scientist is a twice-quarterly discussion on career advancement in clinical and public health laboratories. Members of ASM’s Clinical Microbiology Mentoring Subcommittee (CMMS) will invite guests from clinical and public health microbiology laboratories to discuss topics specific to the laboratory. The CMMS’ goal is to help others learn more about the profession and advance their careers in the clinical or public health microbiology laboratory.

The CMMS provides career advancement activities for those new to the field of clinical or public health microbiology. Its roster of mentors is available to answer any questions you have on career advancement.

Author: ASM Clinical Microbiology Mentoring Subcommittee

ASM Clinical Microbiology Mentoring Subcommittee
ASM's Clinical Microbiology Mentoring Subcommittee (CMMS) provides career and networking advice to those looking to advance in clinical and public health microbiology.

Author: Patricia Cernoch, MT(ASCP)SM, SV

Patricia Cernoch, MT(ASCP)SM, SV
Pat Cernoch, MT(ASCP)SM, SV is the manager of the clinical microbiology laboratory at Houston Methodist Hospital.