Faced with challenges in the recruitment of qualified clinical geneticists, City of Hope is supporting Assemblymember Warren Furutani’s efforts to modernize California’s lab employee licensing laws.
|Meliza Huynh and David Senitzer are key City of Hope laboratory professionals. (Photo by Alicia Di Rado)|
California has not kept pace with rapid changes in health care, and outdated state regulations slow down the licensing process for laboratory professionals, explained Lawrence Weiss, M.D., chair of the Department of Pathology. “We are losing qualified applicants for our genetics-related positions to other states,” he noted.
Furutani’s legislation proposes changes that would make California’s licensing process for clinical laboratory professionals more efficient. The legislation is scheduled to receive its first review by a state Senate committee in June.
As an institution that sees many patients with genetic disorders or who need matched tissue for transplantations, City of Hope depends on highly trained and specialized clinical lab personnel. Knowledge of human genetics is expanding, and clinical geneticists are increasingly necessary to provide accurate information to patients.
For example, if a patient’s blood test reveals anemia, the patient could have a simple iron deficiency, but anemia can also be a symptom of myelodysplasia, which can lead to leukemia. It takes a geneticist — in this case a cytogeneticist — to analyze the patient’s chromosomes and provide results.
Unfortunately, in California, it takes at least a year to complete the licensing process for a clinical lab professional. It takes 18 weeks alone for the state’s Laboratory Field Services group, which handles licensing, to determine whether a license application is complete and ready for processing.
Two people currently are waiting for their California licenses to practice at City of Hope, Weiss said. One of them directed a complex lab in another state for seven years but still awaits a California license nearly a year after turning in an application. In the meantime, City of Hope must turn to consultants for help, which adds to health-care costs.
These challenges come at a time of high demand for these scarce experts. Fewer than 1,400 people nationwide have the proper training and educational background to do this work.
In City of Hope’s nationwide search for an assistant geneticist, 10 applicants have been lost to labs in other states due to California’s slow licensing policies, Weiss said.
“Our medical institutions in California must have the greatest expertise within their clinical laboratories,” said Furutani, who serves on the Assembly’s Select Committee on Career Technical Education and Workforce. “It’s time for our licensing processes to match today’s medical needs.”