Education

Laboratorians: Behind the Scenes Detectives


Microscope
By Kurt Koopmann | August 04, 2017

When a person has a medical appointment they expect to see their physician and a nurse. The one person they may not see that plays an important role in their health care would be a clinical laboratory scientist, often called medical technologists. You could also call them your medical Sherlock Holmes.

When this year’s graduating class from the School of Health Professions at The University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston walk across the stage at Moody Gardens on Aug. 11 at 2 p.m., there will be 41 receiving either their bachelors or master’s degrees in clinical laboratory sciences and joining the ranks of health care sleuths.

“Many people consider us medical detectives,” says Vicki Freeman, chair and professor of UTMB’s department of clinical laboratory sciences. “The people we educate are the ones that work in the labs processing specimens that come to them from patients. They perform the tests that go back to physicians, allowing them to make decisions on how to treat patients.”

Laboratorians tend to be an unseen profession. Working behind the scenes, they process the tests that a physician orders. If a patient requires a transfusion it would be their job to make sure the blood is good, making for a safe transfusion.

Clinical laboratory scientists work with all body fluids such as blood, urine, stool, synovial fluids and more.

A majority of disease identification and treatment plans are based on laboratory results, which is why training clinical laboratory scientists is so important.

“A bad lab result is worse than no lab result at all,” Freeman said.

If a patient receives a lab result that was not been performed properly, that can cause harm. A medical technologist’s job is to make sure that does not happen.

Students enrolled in the program can receive a baccalaureate or masters level degree. UTMB is also one of only two universities in the United States that offers a doctoral degree in clinical laboratory sciences.

Student Ashley Johnson will be walking across the stage at graduation to receive a bachelor’s degree in clinical laboratory sciences. It will be her second bachelor’s degree but if she had it to do over, she would have worked toward her CLS degree from the beginning.

“After I became more knowledgeable about what CLS was, I realized it was a hidden gem in the medical field and I fell in love with it,” says Johnson. “I love the hands-on experience. I love being behind the scenes. People think it is just looking at blood on a slide but it is much more.”

The field is also one that provides good employment opportunities after graduation.

She quickly found a job. “I applied for four positions and got callbacks from all of them. The job I accepted and already started working at I interviewed for on Friday morning, received a callback on Friday afternoon and got the job on Monday,” Johnson said.

With more than 200,000 registered laboratories in the U. S., the need for clinical laboratory science professionals is sure to grow. UTMB’s program will continue to play a big role in the state of Texas and nationally to make sure the health care industry’s need for qualified laboratorians are met.

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