Newswise — The COVID-19 pandemic has made laboratory professionals in high demand, but recruiting remains a challenge. An exodus of experienced workers primarily due to retirement has left a need to intensify recruitment of the next generation of laboratory practitioners. While laboratory testing is important to clinical decisions in that it directly impacts patient treatment, the profession has been largely invisible to the public because it is behind the scenes, with little patient contact.  With the lack of awareness about the field, recruiting and retaining laboratory professional is, therefore, essential especially with demand expected to rise faster than average over the next few years, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics job outlook.  

Paul Z. Chiou, a lecturer in the M.S. in Clinical Laboratory Sciences-Cytopathology program at Rutgers School of Health Professions, co-authored a study in the Journal of American Clinical Pathology that examined strategies to recruit and retain qualified laboratory professionals by looking at personality traits of the current workforce. In a laboratory work setting, understanding personality types can serve as a complementary tool for creating the type of environment people function best in.  Utilizing this knowledge will help managers to create inclusive work environments for all personality types, to ensure optimal work and productive environments for all.

“Exploring the employees’ strengths and potential developmental areas will likely improve their job satisfaction and retention, as well as reducing the costly workplace turnover,” says Chiou.

Chiou and co-author Yuane Jia, an instructor in the school’s Department of Interdisciplinary Studies, discuss their findings.

Why is knowing personality traits important to recruiting laboratory professionals?

Jia: The more laboratory managers and program directors understand about the type of students the field attracts, the better workplace and programs can tailor their outreach, recruitment and retention efforts.

Personality traits are useful when predicting academic success for medical students. Data has consistently shown a correlation between specialized areas and personality types, such as personality preferences of those with higher proclivity for “F” or feeling in the assessment will often choose a specific specialty such as family medicine. In lab settings, understanding personality types can serve as a tool for creating the type of environment where people can thrive. The extension and application of the personality trait assessment in our study will be useful to further assist graduates entering the field of pathology laboratory medicine in evaluating between job offers ranging from academic and community hospitals to reference laboratories. The personality assessment tool may provide insights to assist new laboratory professionals the most appropriate work settings for them to thrive professionally and socially.

What did you find was the most relevant personality types for laboratory professionals?Chiou: We looked to establish an understanding between personality traits and preferred work settings. We surveyed 283 people from the pathology community, using the Myers–Briggs Type Indicator personality assessment, which is often used to determine psychological preferences in how people perceive the world and make decisions. The MBTI assessment organizes people’s personality styles across four dichotomies: Extraversion (E)- Introversion (I), Sensing (S)-Intuition (N), Thinking (T)-Feeling (F), and Judging (J)-Perceiving (P).  Each of these types has a letter, which are all combined into a four-letter personality type.  We found that “Introversion, Intuition, Feeling, Judging” (INFJ) is the most common medical laboratory personality type across the various laboratory work settings. This personality type is generally more cooperative with team initiatives and for working collaboratively to achieve the ultimate common goal of enhancing patient care. This is an important shift from the past, when laboratorians were limited to people who were observant and worked alone in ensuring that cases were accessioned, processed, and screened in an accurate and timely fashion. 

Today, laboratories are more interconnected with the rest of health care system and medical laboratory professionals are expected to be comfortable working in a team environment, outside of performing routine tasks.  

What do the findings mean for future of recruiting for laboratories?Chiou: The findings shed light on how employers can build on personality preferences of the current laboratory workforce to improve job satisfaction and laboratory productivity, quality and work culture.

As the laboratory workforce further expands on the division of labors to meet the incoming challenges in laboratory testing brought on by the increasing complexities of the health care and laboratory testing environments, the way laboratories are managed must also evolve. 

For example, managing someone with a preference for a “Sensing-Judging” [SJ] is very different than laboratorians with “Sensing-Perceiving” [SP] preferences. The SJ laboratorians generally value patience, diligence and loyalty and will relish assisting supervisors with preparing for laboratory inspections, and helping to edit standard operating procedures or keep track of continuing education requirements for managers. They will be valuable for organizations in keeping copiously detailed equipment upcoming state or professional inspections. The technologists with an SP preference, on the other hand, are typically those who enjoy flexibility and can easily adjust to new environments. They would enjoy cross-training and can be valuable as a backup for another department in a smaller laboratory to help with fluctuation in work volume. 

Lotte Mulder from the American Society for Clinical Pathology contributed to the study.