Sunday, July 21, 2024

CFCC responds to local need, launches medical lab tech program

New curriculum to mitigate workforce shortages in healthcare field

Electrical equipment went missing in the aftermath of Hurricane Florence at Cape Fear Community College. (Port City Daily photo/Johanna Ferebee)
Cape Fear Community College will offer a Medical Laboratory Technology program at its downtown Wilmington campus beginning this fall. (Port City Daily/file)

WILMINGTON — Local medical facilities have expressed a growing need for lab technicians and Cape Fear Community College responded by creating a new curriculum. Beginning this fall, CFCC will offer a Medical Laboratory Technology program within its health and human services department to mitigate workforce shortages experienced nationwide.

The courses will be available at the downtown Wilmington campus, 411 N. Front St.

Novant Health and other healthcare organizations in partnership with the Coastal Carolinas Health Alliance collaborated with CFCC leadership to strategize a way to meet the rising demand for trained lab techs, said Kevin Briggs, New Hanover Regional Medical Center administrator of laboratory and respiratory care services.

“The need is at its greatest in the past 10 to 15 years,” he added. “Healthcare needs have grown with a larger population to serve in general and improved life expectancy.”

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects employment of medical lab techs to grow by 10% through 2030, faster than the average for most occupations. It also estimates nearly 26,000 job openings for clinical laboratory techs annually. 

“Although the pandemic likely influenced some who were already contemplating retirement or other career opportunities, most of the vacancies are simply a result of typical attrition and a growth in our population,” Briggs said.

CFCC vice president of academic affairs Dr. Jason Chaffin said the college regularly evaluates workforce development needs of the community and creates new programs to address them. To do so, leadership secures letters of support from local employers and stakeholders for the creation of the courses, which is then reviewed and approved by the college’s curriculum committee. 

The board of trustees then has to give approval before receiving final authorization from the North Carolina Community College System. This process began in spring of 2021 for the Medical Laboratory Technology course, and CFCC will be one of 16 statewide community colleges to offer the program.

“Laboratory technicians are a critical link in the chain of providing patient-centered care,” CFCC nursing instructor Carolyn McCormick said. “Nurses rely on their expertise daily, as they run most of the laboratory tests while a patient is in the hospital. They are an integral part of a patient’s clinical care team.”

Briggs confirmed Novant Health hires dozens of medical laboratory technicians annually. Though the hospital would not reveal the number of shortages they’re experiencing in the field currently.

“We at Novant Health have not been immune to growing demands for laboratory professionals, and we recognize this career as a key area of focus from a talent acquisition standpoint to serve our community,” Briggs said.

The Coastal Carolinas Health Alliance’s Laboratory Directors Team, a collaborative workgroup representing hospitals and healthcare systems, estimated the region will need more than 80 additional medical laboratory technicians and assistants in the next five years, Chaffin explained.

The national median wage in the field is $52,155, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. 

Those who graduate from CFCC’s two-year course will earn an associate degree in applied science and should possess the skills to perform laboratory procedures that aid in diagnosing, preventing and treating diseases. 

Studies will focus on specimen collection, quality assurance and reporting, and recording and interpreting findings. This includes those involved with viral detection, which has become more commonly used since the beginning of Covid-19.

“There certainly seems to be more interest in these fields since the pandemic,” CFCC vice president of academic affairs Dr. Jason Chaffin said, “which is likely due to the heightened awareness we all have of how important these professions are to the care we receive from our healthcare providers.”

After completing the degree, graduates are eligible to take the American Society for Clinical Pathology (ASCP) Board of Certification Exam. The ASCP certification, founded in 1928 as a global gold standard, is an independent process that verifies a trained personnel’s knowledge and competencies, Chaffin explained. Many providers, including Novant Health, require the certification for employment.

Students can apply for the medical laboratory technology program starting Feb. 15.

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