CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Unemployment in the Charlotte region is at 10.5 percent. There is a place, though, where qualified applicants are in demand.
NewsChannel 36 was given access into the medical laboratories at Carolinas Medical Center, where the shortage of laboratory professionals is expected to increase in the next four years.
"I like solving the puzzles. Every specimen is a puzzle," said Pat Meech, a medical laboratory scientist with nearly 34 years experience.
She is a self-admitted science nerd and thoroughly enjoys helping doctors find that all important diagnosis.
"The better I know my job, the faster I get an answer. And the faster the patient will get treated," she said.
The labs are non-stop and a part of the hospital patients never see. That's one reason why Meech says her career is often an unknown.
"The statistics are that 75 percent of people in the program didn't even know the lab profession existed," she said.
Betty Anderson runs the School of Clinical Laboratory Sciences at Carolinas College of Health Sciences.
"There is probably going to be a 14 percent vacancy between now and 2014 because the baby boomers will start retiring," she said.
A part of Carolinas Healthcare System, the college's one-year medical technology program accepts just 12 students a year.
"They have to have a baccalaureate degree in a science," said Anderson.
They get classroom experience, but it's the work in the actual laboratories that really prepares them for the job.
The program has a 100 percent passage rate and Anderson says her students are hired immediately. Specialties range from hematology to chemistry and immunology.
"There are jobs in all of these areas," Anderson said.
It is complicated and important work which afforded Pat Meech a career filled with flexibility while staying in high demand.
"When I moved, I found a job. I had kids. They let me work flexible hours. That flexibility and the fact that you can always find a job made a really nice work life balance," Meech said.
According to the Carolinas College of Health Sciences Web site, the average starting salary is $36,000 annually in medical technology. But it can be much more depending on your experience and specialty.
In addition to the school at CMC, several other colleges in the region offer training in laboratory science, including phlebotomy and lab tech assistants.
April 18-24 is Medical Laboratory Professionals Week. Meech is eager for more people to find out about the profession she absolutely loves.
"I want them to find out about it, and certainly we have such a shortage that we're always looking for qualified laboratory professionals," she said.
For more information on this program, visit http://www.carolinascollege.edu/Academic/medical_tech.cfm.