November 21, 2012By Lance Baily

How to Increase Lab Staff without Increased Budgets

Imagine having four extra staff members to help with the hands-on work necessary to make a special event run smoothly, or additional sim techs to help run multiple labs at the same time.  Expanding your medical simulation staff support can be easier and more affordable than you think.  To find out how let’s take a look the Clinical Simulation Center of Las Vegas, which has both student workers and volunteers working in the facility daily.

medical simulation student workers

How to gain thousands of hours worth of free help

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Back in May of 2009 when the CSCLV first began, we launched with 5 key staff. Two Sim Techs (one with an IT background), a clinical lab coordinator, a director (myself) and an administrative assistant. The team quickly realized we were overwhelmed by the amount of work necessary to both develop and operate the new 31,000 square foot facility which provided over 80 faculty and 500 learners with new services. Gabe Olivera, the CSCLV’s original lab coordinator, had a background in volunteer management with connections to the local chapter of the United Way. Gabe helped us connect with local leadership from the United Way which required us to fill out some minimal paperwork and create a specific job description for the position of “Sim Center Volunteer”. Within a month we had our first volunteer working two 4-hour shifts a week who helped setup and tear-down skills lab equipment, copy documents, rearrange storage closest and help turn-over simulation lab rooms between scenarios.

Now, there are about four volunteers working at the center at any given time, helping cover most of the week with additional hands-on help to the staff. Thus, the center has gained thousands of hours of no-cost support by individuals interested in learning more about healthcare technology, medicine in general, or who are just interested in being of service.

Keep reading by clicking the link below to learn about other ways to gain extra support for minimal additional cost…

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These volunteers are all unpaid but received a lab coat and a certificate of completion with the number of hours volunteered at the their end of their service, and free lunches from time to time during special events. It’s important to note that the staff is required to manage these volunteers directly and still are still responsible for all the work volunteers are tasked with. Furthermore, the staff continue to develop and oversee their program departments but have more time to do so now that some of the menial day-to-day hands-on work can be carried out by others, once trained properly. Once trained, volunteers work extremely well for helping to turn over sim lab rooms, if given all the items necessary with easy to follow instructions and proper direction. Do not have volunteers do more complicated work for the following reasons: a) it does not look good to higher administration to have volunteers doing the advanced work your staff are getting paid to do and b) volunteers are not accountable and will rotate out sooner than permanent staff.

Be sure to look up all the guidelines your institution requires specific to volunteers and be sure to go through the appropriate channels as well as complete the necessary paperwork. Some institutions do not actually allow volunteer help (which is beyond me) but if that is the case, consider the next level of support: student workers.

Student Workers Build Bridges to Increased Sim Center Productivity

While volunteers are fantastic, most centers could immediately benefit from extra help by more skilled workers but are financially unable to bring on more full-time staff. Enter the student worker! Student workers earn hourly pay which is often far less than that of a professional and do not receive salary benefits such as healthcare or medical coverage. Deans of the three schools invested in the Clinical Simulation Center of Las Vegas wanted to expand simulation courses to nights and weekends, which none of the professional staff had been hired on to do. The Clinical Simulation Center was able to gain access to 40 hours of extra help a week for a fraction of the cost of a salaried employee by hiring two part-time student workers. One student primarily works as an administrative assistant role while the other helps with running simulations. Initially these were temporary positions to help get the staff through Fall, which is the busiest time of year but eventually these positions became ongoing line-items. Of course, the positions change hands over time as students finish school or enter more challenging school years. Again like the volunteers, student workers answer to the staff running the department they work in and are expected to keep busy or go home. Staff are still responsible for all the work tasked to student workers and are freed up by their additional support to spend more time focusing on higher level needs like scenario programming or server updates. Of course, you should expect more from your student workers than volunteers. Student workers should call-in if they are to be sick, report on time in professional attire ready to work and create quality work in an efficient manner.

Create a symbiotic relationship and everyone wins

Remember that both volunteers and student workers should receive some serious benefits by working for your sim program. Provide these folks with quarterly reviews so they can hear about their strengths and better learn how to grow out of their weaknesses. Consider additional support such as opportunities to learn resume-building and interviewing skills and slowly increase their responsibilities over-time, cross training them in different departments as much as possible. This not only provides them with a better learning experience for their future careers but also enables you to call upon them to help out in different sim lab departments if an employee calls in sick. Reward your volunteers monthly with a free pizza lunch or other quarterly benefits that show you appreciate them, and be sure to include student workers to staff lunches or outings so that they feel apart of the team as much as possible. Provide student workers with a wage increase at the one year mark if expectations have been exceeded, because finding quality student workers can be harder than you think.

Take hiring seriously

Even though these are not full time permanent positions your team should still take the hiring process very seriously. The Clinical Simulation Center of Las Vegas has fired numerous student workers and let go of a small number of volunteers who do not respect the responsibilities of their position. Be sure to post an accurate job-description of the types of tasks, wages, and personality types your group is interested in. Interview candidates with as much as your team present as possible, since these folks will be working side-by-side for potentially years to come. If a student worker shows up late to their interview without calling ahead of time to let you know, chances are they will bring the same level of disrespect to the position on a day to day basis. Some students of today just don’t appreciate opportunities to work as much as we may have in our youth, so be sure to look for this quality and other crucial perspectives during the interview. Ask all the standard questions you would ask a full-time employment candidate including:

  • What would you do if you woke up sick?
  • What would you do if suddenly realized you had a big test next week when you were scheduled to work at the lab?
  • What would you do if a supervisor called in sick and there were two events that now needed your attention?
  • Tell us about a time you had a conflict with another individual at school or work and what you did to resolve it?
  • What would you do if it was Friday at 3pm and you have finished your work but you were scheduled that day until 5pm?
  •  Tell us why you want to work here out of all the on-campus opportunities?
  • What is your next semester’s schedule look like?
  •  Are you a morning person and can you handle early morning work schedules?
  • Are you available nights and weekends if need be?
  • What are you strengths / weaknesses?
  • What are your educational and career goals? Etc.

Some of these questions may seem obvious but you would be surprised at the answers you will hear. Some students have never had a part-time position before and will flat out tell you that they don’t see a problem with not calling in when sick, as no one expects that at school. Let them know they will be trained in their responsibilities but that they will be expected to become more self-sufficient over time and will have monthly reviews. Finally, let them know that others have been fired before for slacking or inappropriate behaviour so that they know your program is serious about worth ethic. That being said, these are just common sense items to consider and while it does take time to find the right fits, the benefits to everyone involved are well worth considering now.

extra staff healthcare simulation

Conclusion: Extra help is a must for all Sim Labs

Running a sim center is hard to do and takes a lot of “wheel spinning” to keep up with the initial development and ongoing needs. Read my other article on increasing efficiency for daily sim lab operations but what if you still can’t get higher supervision to bring on extra staff? Start with a volunteer program and a student worker assistant to quickly and cheaply expand staff profiles and allow paid staff to focus on bigger issues. Once you have proven the worth of this additional staff in terms of increased output, increased quality of learning, and staff moral it will be easier for administrators to consider more permanent or ongoing support in a variety of ways. Again to use the CSCLV as an example, we hired one of our best technically-mined volunteer to be a part-time Sim Tech through a one-year LOA contract. By the end of the year we were already approved to develop a permanent job description and hired a great worker who had already been a team-player for two years!

Does your sim lab get help from student workers or volunteers? Leave us a comment below and share your best tips for bringing on and working with extra help!

Want to hear how one school was able to jump from 1 staff member to 28 in just two years, or about other great ways to increase output without additional funding? Check out the 15+ hours of HD-recorded administrative specific content stream-able at! Topics covered include Collaborative Simulation Program Development, Funding Sources & Models, Clinical Educator Training & Buy-in, Research Development, Daily Operations, IT Structures & Issues, Increasing Utilization, Business Development & Revenue Generation.

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