No mad scientists here

Oct. 1, 2009

No mad scientists need apply,” screamed the publicity
announcement from the American Proficiency Institute (API) about the
scholarship program API inaugurated last year. The organization hoped to
attract the best and brightest medical-technology students to continue
in the laboratory science professions. Nearly 300 college juniors and
seniors applied for five awards.

“We wanted to do our part to support the laboratory,”
explains Daniel C. Edson, API president. “The caliber and commitment of
the students was so impressive that we decided to continue the program
this year.” For 2009, API will be offering five more student
scholarships of $2,000 each. For application information, please see
 or the API Facebook page.

Who are these laboratory professionals of the future?
Here is a glimpse into the aspirations of two API 2008 award winners,
Tena Ewing and Diego Solano.

Stombler: How did you become interested in the
clinical laboratory? What has been your best course – and why?

Ewing: At 12, my daughter developed hypertension.
I decided to go back to school to learn more about how to help her. My
intention was to pursue a degree in nutrition. When I signed up at
school, I saw by happenstance a pamphlet for the med-tech program and
decided to pursue that instead. Microbiology and blood bank are my
favorites. These disciplines seem more hands-on; although in hematology,
doing differentials can be a challenge, too.

Solano: In high school, my science teacher was a
phlebotomist and medical technologist. She taught us all about
microbiology. I fell in love with micro because of all her stories on
leukocytes, microorganisms, blood draws, and the importance of
diagnosing patients. She told me about medical-technology school. I went
to college majoring in biomedical sciences and then attended
medical-laboratory science school. Microbiology is my love because it is
so different, especially working with cultures. Two cultures of E
can mean completely different things. My attention to
fine detail and the day-to-day differences all make the work exciting.

Stombler: The need for more laboratory professionals
has been discussed for years now. What can we do to attract more
students into the profession?

Ewing: I am not sure what is being done in high
schools, but once I did not even realize there was such a program. We
need to get out to the high schools and let the students know about
these clinical laboratory sciences programs, like the one at the
University of Massachusetts. We should also attend the educational trade
shows and encourage science teachers to discuss this career option in
high school classes. Kids love hands-on activities, so we should promote
the laboratory as hands-on. There is so much theory behind clinical
laboratory science, but the hands-on is a very attractive component.

Solano: Just getting out there and making
students aware of the program, especially at the beginning of college.
Particularly in these hard economic times, this is a growing profession.
Once students learned about the medical technology program, they were
interested, but most did not have the initial course requirements
completed. Friends in college wanted to pursue the medical field but did
not want to complete the years of training for an MD degree. If they had
been aware of the clinical laboratory careers earlier, they could have
avoided making last-minute course decisions. Many people do not even
know what a medical technologist is. I often have to explain, “You go to
the doctor and he requires your blood, urine, or sputum for tests. Well,
that is what I do: the tests!” There needs to be more education about
the professions now. For career days at colleges, organizations like
ASCLS, CLMA, and others should get out there and let people know of this
great opportunity. My school in Denver had a great way of getting the
word out and explaining what we do. Hospitals need assistance in the
laboratory and need to advertise more. Frankly, everyone has a bit of
responsibility for getting people interested. Even getting people from
the local community to tour the laboratory and see what we do would be

Stombler: Now that you have come to the end of your
studies and experienced the laboratory first-hand, what would you have
liked to learn more about? Are you currently working in a laboratory? If
so, what are you doing, and where do you see yourself professionally in
five years?

Ewing: At the University of Massachusetts, we had
a great program. We learned about so many different things; they pretty
much covered everything. As I focus on microbiology, maybe I will need
more in-depth information. The microbiology lab of the Lahey Clinic
recently hired me. The people there are great and most have been there
for years. I would like to work between micro and molecular. There is so
much new information coming out in molecular, so much more to learn and
accomplish. I really can never stop going to school. Through the coming
years, I can see taking one class a semester.

Solano: Molecular is where the profession is
headed, and I would have liked to have had more background in this area.
We had just a brief introduction to it in med-tech school. I did learn
about PCR in a previous job. I am currently working in the microbiology
department at the University of Colorado hospital. I would like to
become a more competent medical technologist and stay in microbiology.
In the future, med techs will need to understand diseases and the human
response to diseases, as well as how machinery works and how to
troubleshoot machinery. We need to factor in the technology component in
the future. The field is headed for more automation.

Robin Stombler, president of Auburn Health Strategies
LLC, works with corporate leaders, association and government
executives, and entrepreneurs to maximize ideas and advance products and
services. She has more than a decade of experience representing the
laboratory community.