February 11, 2021
Given the change of course that has happened in the world, we wanted to provide expert opinions on what aspiring graduates can do to start off their careers in an uncertain economic climate. We wanted to know what skills will be more important, where the economy is doing relatively well, and if there will be any lasting effects on the job market.
Companies are looking for candidates that can handle the new responsibilities of the job market. Recent graduates actually have an advantage because they are comfortable using newer technologies and have been communicating virtually their whole lives. They can take what they've learned and apply it immediately.
We spoke to professors and experts from several universities and companies to get their opinions on where the job market for recent graduates is heading, as well as how young graduates entering the industry can be adequately prepared. Here are their thoughts.
University of Massachusetts Lowell
Department of Biomedical and Nutritional SciencesWebsite
Jennifer Nicoloro Ph.D.: I believe that the COVID-19 pandemic has shed much-needed light on the medical laboratory science profession. Medical laboratory scientists (MLS) are an integral part of the healthcare team. These highly skilled laboratory professionals work behind the scenes to assist physicians and other healthcare providers by performing laboratory testing that aids in the diagnosis and monitoring of health and disease. It's estimated that more than 70% of medical decisions made by physicians are based on interpretation of lab results provided by MLS.
MLS are responsible for performing tests across multiple areas of laboratory medicine, including clinical chemistry, coagulation, hematology, immunology, immunohematology, microbiology, molecular diagnostics, toxicology, and urinalysis. Laboratory testing is detailed and can be incredibly complex depending on the methodology, which can employ manual, semi-automated, and completely automated techniques. But the critical part of the MLS skill set goes well beyond simply performing the testing or operating the laboratory analyzers. These professionals are responsible for understanding the pre-analytical requirements for each test - what type of specimen is required, how is the specimen collected and subsequently transported to the laboratory, along with maintaining, calibrating, and validating laboratory instrumentation to ensure test results are accurate.
Certified MLS are needed now more than ever as the COVID-19 pandemic demands more qualified individuals to perform laboratory testing. The profession has faced personnel shortages for years and according to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics the overall employment rate "is projected to grow 7% from 2019-2029, faster than the average for all occupations" www.bls.gov.
In my immediate area, Boston MA, we are seeing large sign-on bonuses, some upwards $10k, to recruit qualified MLS.
Jennifer Nicoloro Ph.D.: A degree in Medical Laboratory Science requires a minimum of 4 years of college. The most direct route to an MLS career is through a NAACLS accredited program. While the organization of each MLS program varies, all students undergo rigorous schooling and technical training.
Many MLS programs combine on-campus coursework with off-campus clinical experiences. Degree coursework provides foundational knowledge in normal and abnormal human physiology, major laboratory disciplines, and discipline-specific laboratory techniques. Clinical practicums provide real-world hands-on training on how to safely and accurately perform highly complex laboratory tests utilizing sophisticated methodology and instrumentation alongside certified professionals.
A majority of MLS have a certification and/or license to practice in the clinical laboratory setting. Certifications are offered through the American Society for Clinical Pathology (ASCP) or American Medical Technologists (AMT) with licensure depended on state practicing requirements. Certification and/or licensure if required by most clinical laboratories. The certification provides optimum salary and opportunities for career advancement.
Jennifer Nicoloro Ph.D.: I want to emphasize job security with a career in MLS. Most MLS graduates are juggling multiple job offers from diagnostic clinical laboratories, which include laboratories within hospitals as well as reference laboratories. Working in a diagnostic laboratory as a MLS upon graduation is typically recommended, though, this is an incredibly versatile degree pathway. MLS also work in other areas, such as diagnostic and biotech industries, veterinary clinics, public health, forensic science, and research.
New York University
Public Health Nutrition Program - School of Global Public HealthWebsite
Joyce O'Connor: As per the Bureau of Labor Statistics, "Overall employment of health educators and community health workers is projected to grow 13 percent from 2019 to 2029, much faster than the average for all occupations. Growth will be driven by efforts to improve health outcomes and to reduce healthcare costs by teaching people healthy behaviors and explaining how to use available healthcare services."
MPH PHN graduates who also have an emphasis in Nutrition will find employment in public health government agencies as well as community non profits. Responsibilities will include a foundation in nutritional science, nutrition related chronic disease, and nutrition interventions along with core public health skills. of data analysis, program planning , behavioral change and social determinants of health.
There will also be opportunities in the private sector, for example, in the food industry, corporate wellness and technology.
Joyce O'Connor: As mentioned above:
nutritional science implementation research skills
epidemiology and nutritional epidemiology Data analysis
General skills our graduates demonstrate that stand out to employers
Joyce O'Connor: For graduates with a Masters in Public Health in Public Health Nutrition (MPH PHN), this is the time they will need to rise to the challenge of the high rates of population needs of food insecurity, poor quality ultra possessed food diets and high rates of overweight/obesity and chronic disease along with the socio-economic downturn resulting from the pandemic. Although these are certainly not new issues at all, they have been exacerbated by the pandemic. These issues have also been brought to the forefront. This
Department of Human Sciences and DesignWebsite
Stanley Wilfong: I'm not really sure how to answer this. I think there will be an enduring impact on all of us. We can no longer take for granted the things that we used to enjoy doing. It's hard to believe that nine months ago, we could go to dinner and a movie without worrying about masks or about 25 percent restaurant occupancy (if the restaurants are even open) and only seeing movies, theater performances, and the like at home via live streaming. This just scratches the surface when you think about social gatherings (sporting events, worship services, birthday parties, funerals, etc.).
When all is said and done, will things go back to the way they were, or will there be a permanent "new normal"? How has the mental health of students been affected during lockdowns and quarantines? Did students actually learn (and will they retain) information taught in the different course formats (hybrid and online courses) as compared to traditional classroom settings? These are factors that could, indeed, have enduring impacts. On the upside, will this experience lead to graduates who are more adaptable and flexible in stressful environments? We'll have to wait and see.
Stanley Wilfong: Critical thinking skills top the list. Apart from the rudiments of nutrition sciences (food science, pathophysiology, biochemistry, medical nutrition therapy, nutrition counseling, food service management), graduates will need to be able to use their education, logic, and perception to problem solve. They will also need to hone their time-managements skills. Employers are continuously pressured to improve their bottom lines. Invariably, this means that managers are asked (told) to be more productive with less resources. Various technologies have made this possible, but they only go so far. Graduates must be able to work efficiently and effectively. This also speaks to the need for students to be tech-savvy, knowing what technologies are available and how to use them. Strong communication skills and emotional intelligence are also vital!
Stanley Wilfong: That really depends on what the students' goals are. I tell my students they need three things to get into a dietetic internship, graduate school, or a job - a strong GPA, leadership experience, and practical work experience. While students are undergraduates, they need to get involved in student activities and try to get positions of influence (president, vice president, etc.). The strongest resumes show offices or positions held in national or state student dietetic associations that are affiliated with the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Since our profession now requires a master's degree to be eligible to take the national registration exam, undergraduates should try to get experience in research. Finding a faculty mentor who is involved in an area of research that sparks their interest can help to facilitate that. Practical experience in food service or health care is beneficial as well. Other unique internship experiences can help their resumes stand out. I had a student who was selected as a NASA Nutritional Biochemistry intern - that really stood out!
Department of Sports Medicine, MS Nutrition Science ProgramWebsite
Diane M. DellaValle PhD, RDN, LDN: Yes, I believe there will be an enduring impact of this pandemic environment on our graduates - one of resilience and creativity. Our students are seeing that as professors and clinical instructors, we are thinking outside of the academic box to deliver education and engage in the classroom in order to give them the knowledge and experiences they need, regardless of where they are (e.g., on-campus or online). I know that this will enable them to be able to do the same - to think outside of the box, to be able to more creatively solve problems, and to be resilient when they need to be. This is also lending itself to more student-centered learning in all disciplines, which is ultimately better for the students!
Diane M. DellaValle PhD, RDN, LDN: For nutrition (and really any helping field), beyond resilience and their existing knowledge base, our graduates need to be creative critical thinkers, translators of science, and evidence-based practitioners. These skills will enable them to follow the path to which their passion leads.
Diane M. DellaValle PhD, RDN, LDN: For me, students who have had ANY "helping" volunteer and research experience and who can more importantly translate those experiences into reflections (e.g., what they have gleaned from those experiences and why those experiences drove them to where they are or helped them to get to where they are going) is key for me to understand.
The food and nutrition sciences division in the school of applied health sciences and wellness within the college of health sciences and professions.Website
Deborah Murray: I would anticipate more of a "slow start" to their careers. The population's need for community and clinical nutrition services will continue and actually grow over time, so our graduates will continue to enjoy career opportunities in those arenas. Telehealth will obviously be the preferred mode of delivery for nutritional counseling and education, but the jobs will be there.
Deborah Murray: Telehealth will drive the need for communication-technology proficiency. The ability to critically think and analyze a patient/client situation is key. Active listening and strong communication skills have always been paramount in our profession. A well-honed ability to work within a team context is also huge. As we anticipate the future, I also think marketing and business skills could be quite valuable as well as the ability to network.
Deborah Murray: Leadership and real-life experience. Many of our students at Ohio University earn various leadership certificates through our Career Leadership and Development Center. In addition, students that take advantage of opportunities across campus, like working as a peer mentor, supplemental instruction leader, and campus tour guide, to further hone their skills along leadership lines. Graduates who have accrued nutrition-related work experiences in hospitals, food service operations, WIC agencies, and food banks will have a better grasp of the working environment and will gain mentorship along the way. You can't beat that.