Nikki Riddle, of Bird City, Kan., prepares to have her blood drawn Tuesday by her classmate, Brittany Lamb, of Arapahoe. The women are studying to become medical laboratory technicians at North Platte Community College.
One of the most lucrative and in demand professions in the field of health care is also proving to be one of the most overlooked.
The need for medical laboratory technicians (MLTs) is rising dramatically, but few are stepping into the open positions. It appears the shortage will get worse before it gets better.
"I heard this week that there are 76 job openings for MLTs in Nebraska," said Martin Steinbeck, MLT program director at North Platte Community College. "That's unheard of. There just aren't enough students going into the program, and it's a trend statewide and nationwide. Across the country, there were 328,200 jobs for MLTs in 2014."
Martin Steinbeck, director of the medical laboratory technician program at North Platte Community College, explains a concept to Nikki Riddle, of Bird City, Kan., on Tuesday at the NPCC Health and Science Center. The need for MLTs is rising nationwide.
About half of all MLTs were employed in hospitals in 2014. Others worked in doctors' offices or diagnostic laboratories collecting samples and conducting tests to analyze body fluids, tissue and other substances.
"The nurses put it in a cup, and we test it," said Steinbeck. "You name it – everything from diabetes and cancer to Zika and West Nile Virus."
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, more technicians will be needed to diagnose medical conditions as the country's population ages.
The Bureau predicts that employment of MLTs will grow 16 percent, or by approximately 52,100 jobs nationwide, from 2014 to 2024. That's faster than the average for all occupations.
"Basically, my generation is retiring and really starting to use the health care system," said Steinbeck. "Rural areas, especially, are struggling to find trained MLTs. As a result, many small hospitals are importing them from other countries like the Philippines."
He believes another reason demand is high is because MLT is not a highly visible career and is, therefore, often a missed opportunity.
"When people think health care, they think doctors and nurses," said Steinbeck. "MLT is just kind of one of those hidden professions."
If that's true, then the field might just be one of the best kept secrets out there. According to the Bureau, the median annual wage for MLTs was $24.30 per hour, or $50,550 per year, in May of 2015.
"It's definitely a well-paying job," said Steinbeck. "It's perfect for those who are detail-oriented and those who want to have a job in health care, but with less direct patient contact than, say, a nurse."
Because MLTs use state-of-the-art computer-driven instruments, the career is also a great choice for people who are good at math, science and computers.
"The best part, though, is still the demand," said Steinbeck. "NPCC has a 100 percent job placement rate for all of its MLT students who actively seek employment. They're hired before they even graduate."
More information about the college's MLT program is available through Steinbeck, (308) 221-6430, or firstname.lastname@example.org.