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The Difficulties of Hiring a Lab Director

By: Tara Luellen, MA, Vice President of Laboratory Director Services, Lighthouse Lab Services

Laboratory Directors of clinical diagnostic labs are required to meet several qualifications to be approved by CLIA and/or an accrediting body as the Lab Director; amongst those qualifications are typically a doctoral degree and board certification if the Director is attempting to oversee High Complexity testing. However, some states have their own, specific, and oftentimes more stringent, qualifications that Directors must meet in addition to the requirements set forth by CLIA and accrediting bodies.

Given that these state requirements can sometimes change without much notice or mention and that Directors can oftentimes qualify in a number of different ways, this process can be difficult to navigate, especially when you may only need to hire a Lab Director a couple of times over the course of several years. Hiring for technologists and technicians will be something your lab undertakes on a more regular basis, but the hiring of a Lab Director oftentimes requires a different approach.

 

Why is a different approach needed?

As the number of requirements and qualifications Lab Directors must meet have increased dramatically over the past 20 years, according to the regulatory requirements set forth by CLIA, the resulting effect has been the drastic shrinking of the pool of qualified Director candidates. Additionally, while CLIA guidelines allow Directors to oversee up to five moderate or High Complexity laboratories at any given time, some states cap Directors at two or three labs, meaning they have less availability to work with other potential labs in this capacity.

Candidate programs are continuing to become more specialized, too, with candidates focusing on one particular and/or very specific area of expertise rather than receiving more generalized training. This leads to Directors being experts in a very specific area, but perhaps not emerging from their training programs with the ability or confidence to oversee additional areas outside their concentration. For labs that offer a variety of testing, it can be very difficult to find someone who meets all of the specific requirements for their test menu and also possesses the competency to do so efficiently.

It also appears training programs are graduating fewer and fewer individuals each year, which continues to exacerbate the candidate shortage. Another thing to consider is that a board certification is required in order to direct High Complexity testing, but these board examinations are only offered infrequently, some only once every year or two, which means it is taking longer for graduates to qualify as Director when board certification is required.

 

What does this mean for me as I hire a LD?

Many labs that are small- to moderately-sized, or have low- to moderate-sample volume and a minimum number of testing specialties, may benefit from a part-time Director. All of the same qualifications apply for a part-time Director, but the lab would hire this person as a consultant rather than a full-time employee. For those who are looking to make a full-time Director hire, below are some more in-depth strategies and things to keep in mind for that specific hire, given that we’ve learned approaching this differently than other hires can result in a much higher success rate. While the candidate must certainly make him or herself attractive to you for the position, you must also make your lab and company attractive for this caliber of individual!

  • Set your compensation apart from competitors

Because the candidate pool of individuals who will qualify to meet your lab’s specific needs is so small, and they are not all consistently looking for a new full-time position, these individuals command a much higher salary than most other lab staff, sometimes three-to-four times average compensation for Medical Technologists. Additionally, the compensation package as a whole matters beyond just base salary. Candidates at this level expect to see a bonus structure (typically 10-20% of their base salary annually), 401K plan, full benefits and relocation assistance, amongst other items they may negotiate on an individual basis.

Offering incentives such as bonuses that are tied to performance or meeting goals across time, as well as something like a flat sign-on bonus paid after 60-90 days of employment, are great ways to offer a better package to Directors while at the same time tying these bonuses to metrics that line up with your company’s goals and culture. This leaves you with less risk on the line given that the additional compensation is reliant on a certain goal or objective being met, and also allows you to offer a great package to a well-qualified candidate.

  • Widen your candidate pool through relocation assistance

Relocation assistance is also another way to attract good candidates. Why might a Director require relocation assistance when they receive such a high salary, you might ask? Consider that relocation expenses are not something these individuals would incur if they were not moving for the position. Additionally, it’s a great way to show upfront investment in the candidate while easing his or her transition to joining your team.

This doesn’t need to be a huge expense for you, however. Rather, most candidates are happy to receive a relocation assistance offer of $5,000-$10,000, which is a one-time cost for your business equal to less than 5 percent of their base salary, in most cases. Further, as Directors must work for years to obtain the education and qualifications necessary to direct a CLIA-licensed lab, they oftentimes have accumulated a home, a car and may have even started a family, all things that can compound the logistics of relocating.

Keep in mind all of the things you would need to do in order to accept a job out of state for your particular situation, and think about how having those costs offset by relocation assistance from your new employer would help alleviate some of the anxiety created by moving. This is a great way to get off on the right foot with your new Director and something they will typically look to negotiate if they will be required to move.

 

Next steps

So, how can Lighthouse Lab Services help you better your Director situation? We’d love to be the key to your success in hiring a new Director for your team! We can help you find the right full-time Director using some of the strategies outlined above. Alternatively, Lighthouse’s part-time Lab Director service offering can meet the needs of more small- to moderately-sized operations that don’t require a Director’s attention full time.

Our team of Lab Director experts is ready to help you in securing a qualified Director to meet your unique needs! Feel free to contact us today!

 

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