LMP Introduces Novel Strategies to Upskill Staff and Build a Brighter Future for Lab Medicine in Ontario

Ontario is experiencing a shortage of medical laboratory technologists (MLTs) and other lab professionals. The pandemic has only exacerbated the problem.

In an effort to avoid disruption to our exemplary service, the Laboratory Medicine Program (LMP) at UHN has found innovative ways to upskill and resource existing staff. 

“As one of the biggest hospital labs in Canada, we had to find ways to continue providing care while not adding stress to the system,” says Christine Bruce, Senior Director, LMP. “So, we looked at how we could cross-train our MLTs.”

As part of the LMP Practice Council’s Aces in Their Places strategy, each manager in LMP is now responsible for defining one high-value task that MLTs from other departments can learn.

“This will help us maintain competency until the broader lab industry – educators, government, and advocacy groups – align on a strategy and make a change,” says Christine.

Julia MacIsaac, an MLT at the joint UHN/Sinai Health Microbiology Lab, was one of the first staff to participate in this initiative and learn a new skill in a new discipline. After three years in microbiology supporting COVID testing and bacteriology, Julia expanded her skills and accepted a part-time job in LMP’s Chemistry lab.

In February 2023, she learned to perform RALI-Dx™ IL-6 Severity Triage Tests on the department’s new Squidlite machine. This test helps identify severe inflammatory response in patients with COVID-19, and aids in determining the risk of intubation with mechanical ventilation. This test, for this specific indication, was developed in collaboration with clinical leaders at UHN and received Heath Canada approval in 2022. UHN Core Lab was approached in December 2022 to help conduct a research implementation study to evaluate its usefulness.

“We needed extra support to get this test validated very quickly,” says Dr. Vathany Kulasingam, Division Head, Clinical Biochemistry. “Julia helped support 24/7 coverage and rapid turnaround time.”

The new machine went live at Toronto General Hospital’s Core Lab on January 6, 2023.

“It’s great to get exposure to different disciplines because we learn it all in school and it’s a waste not to use it,” says Julia. “It can also be useful across disciplines, now that I’ve been trained on the Alinity machine here, if I wanted to go into virology in Microbiology, I’d be more prepared as I have a better understanding of the machines and the QC (Quality Control) and the reagents involved,” she says.

In addition to cross-training MLTs, LMP has created a new way for Medical Laboratory Assistants (MLAs) to expand their skills.

In a novel approach, LMP has created the Advanced Laboratory Technician role. This will enable MLAs under a Medical Directive of the hospital to perform duties typically performed by MLTs. This summer, MLAs will have the opportunity to apply for a new microcredential through The Michener Institute of Education. The first microredential offered by Michener in September 2023 will be biochemistry, and LMP will sponsor 15 eligible employees to participate.

“We recognize the depth of talent they have and want to find ways to promote them and support their career development,” says Christine. “It’s a long-term resource strategy and an employee enrichment strategy.”

Staff can anticipate a call for applications in June.


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