Lab Technicians: Is a Travel Job Right for You?
Nearly every career has an “appreciation day” set aside once a year. But did you know lab technicians enjoy an entire appreciation week?
And for good reason: You are the unsung heroes of medical facilities. Your attention to detail can save lives. And at the moment, you are working over-time to process millions of COVID tests every week.
In the last few years, more MLTs have been taking their skills all over the U.S. by becoming traveling lab technicians. The job is lucrative, it’s flexible, and it’s in high demand. Dr. Brandy Gunsolus with Augusta University Medical Center described the situation: “We’ve been facing a laboratory personnel shortage for a number of years, and the COVID pandemic just exasperated the situation right now. We’re basically running on fumes on what we call travel laboratory scientists.”
Is it time to expand your horizons? Maybe—and maybe not. We’ll help you:
- Learn the life of a travel lab tech
- Find a position in today’s market
- Weigh pros and cons
- Know what to expect during a transition
What Does a Travel Lab Tech Do?
As you can imagine, you’ll have the same responsibilities as you do at your current facility: lab setup and maintenance, sample preparation and testing, and taking copious notes.
But instead of a permanent position with a single facility, you’ll work with a staffing agency specializing in healthcare travel. You might cover for a staff member taking a leave of absence or fill an emergency shortage at busy facility. Assignments are typically 13 weeks long.
Sherry Solomon, MLT, ASPC, finds incredible fulfillment in her traveling career:
“Traveling has opened up a whole new life for me…I have the ABSOLUTE BEST JOB EVER! There’s no other way I could have met the wonderful people that I have had the honor of meeting. Aside from the people, the places are amazing! I have learned so much about my profession & the great people with whom I share it. There is never a wasted day as long as you’re learning.”
Traveling has worked well for Sherry and many others. Could it work for you?
Considerations for Choosing the Travel Life
Let’s look at some things to think about before you pursue this position.
If COVID-19 has you itching to get away and you can’t justify a vacation, this may be your excuse to get on a plane. Yes, you’d be working—but weekends are for exploring new places! And how often do you earn income while traveling and have expenses covered? This could be a dream job!
On the other hand, leaving home—even for just 13 weeks—may not work for you. Do you have at-home obligations to your family, community, or pets? Is your schedule rigid? The life of a traveler may be attractive, but you’ll only enjoy it if a flexible lifestyle allows it.
According to ZipRecruiter, the national average pay for MLT travel jobs is $67,161/year, with the top 3% up to $128,500! Compare this to a standard MLT job: the average salary is $56,014/year, with the top 4% making $94,500.
As a traveling lab tech in high demand, you’re also in a great position to negotiate. Besides a great base salary, you may be eligible for bonuses.
That said, you may experience fluctuation in pay rates per assignment. It’s important to create a strong budget to plan for this. In addition, make sure you study the benefits plan: does the staffing agency cover medical insurance and retirement?
The travel and compensation are tempting in themselves, but many techs love the job’s sheer flexibility. Your staffing agency will check with you to make sure the job will work with your schedule—and if it doesn’t, you might get the next one.
Some people thrive on change. They get bored with the same routines, coworkers, and procedures. They’re always looking for new experiences.
Is this you? You’ll do great as a traveling lab tech.
But then there are the consistency-lovers. Routine feels safe. Learning new things takes energy.
If this is you, it may be best to stick with your current facility.
It may sound stressful to find a new job every thirteen weeks and juggle the logistics of travel and temporary lodging. Stationary lab techs don’t have to find new jobs every thirteen weeks, and they don’t have to deal with travel logistics.
Luckily, your staffing agency will provide all the support you need. They’ll find the gigs for you and cover your plane ticket, rental car, and lodging.
Do check with your agency to find out which expenses are and are not covered.
Personal Risks: MLTs are familiar with the risk of exposure to pathogens in the lab.
But MLTs traveling during a COVID-19 pandemic are required to take an extra layer of precaution: airports, hotels, and restaurants are all potential places of exposure, and entering the “bubble” of a new group of coworkers could be an opportunity for a viral transmission.
MLTs are the experts when it comes to pathogen safety protocol. But if you are in a medically fragile category, it may be best to stay close to home.
Professional Risks: Rodney E. Rohde, Professor of Clinical Laboratory Science at Texas State University, highlights the burnout medical technicians are experiencing because of COVID-19. “To put it bluntly, your life is in the hands of medical laboratory professionals…Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic in the U.S., we have performed approximately 213 million tests and counting. And now we are tired. We hear the calls for more testing. Many of my…colleagues…are exhausted and dealing with burnout or thoughts of quitting.”
When required, some labs run 24/7 to accommodate the influx of samples. Long hours result in a higher chance for error—and long hours working in an unfamiliar facility can exacerbate that risk. It’s crucial for traveling MLTs to practice exceptional self-care, emotionally and physically, while working away from home. Add peace of mind with a professional liability plan customized for medical lab technicians.
A quick internet search reveals dozens of staffing agencies with open positions for traveling technicians. Recruiters also post on well-known sites like Indeed, Monster, and LinkedIn, which alone has over 10,000 results for the search term “travel medical laboratory technologist” all over the United States.
“Traveling Medical Technologists and Medical Laboratory Technicians” is a Facebook group with over 2,500 members. Recruiters post job opportunities daily, making it easy to apply or get more information.
Don’t forget to update your resume, and highlight specific interests and skills that will attract recruiters.
- Make sure your potential employers know that you’re actively seeking the traveling life. Keyword: relocation.
- Give examples of your ability to adapt to changes in the workplace, since your workplace will be changing often.
- List references who will testify that you can jump in wherever needed and work on any team.
The live interview may be the most stressful part of the entire experience. Refresh yourself on common interview questions for lab technician roles and learn how to answer questions about high-travel jobs in general.
Get Covered. Get Moving.
Professional liability coverage is required for all contract lab technicians. That’s why NOW insurance tailors your policy to your specialty. Whether you work full time or take advantage of a flexible schedule, we’ll help you find the exact amount of coverage you need—and no extras. You can travel freely, knowing you’ll be covered if a claim arises. The right insurance company will:
- Cover you wherever you work
- Protect your personal assets in case of a lawsuit
- Help you secure a specialized attorney, if needed
- Have significant experience with Medical Professional Liability policies
Wherever you travel, no matter who you work with, labs large or small—there’s always the possibility you’ll be subject to a claim of negligence or error.
Don’t wait to protect yourself. Get peace of mind NOW with a quote from our quick and easy application.
And make sure your boss knows to send out a perfunctory email during Medical Laboratory Professionals Week to thank you for handling bodily fluids as a profession. You deserve it.