Medical laboratory science scholarship awardees make a difference

July 24, 2018

Ten years ago, the American Proficiency Institute (API) created a scholarship program to award college students with ability and interest in medical laboratory science. Through its scholarship awards, API supports the next generation of laboratorians. At least five scholarships are awarded each year, and more than 50 awards totaling over $100,000 have been presented during the last decade.

What impact have these awards had? What became of these promising students: did they enter the laboratory profession, or find another career path? Thirty-one past recipients were contacted to find some answers.

Joining the profession

Kaitlyn Schmidt, a 2014 API Scholarship recipient, now works as a clinical laboratory scientist at Lutheran Hospital in her hometown of Fort Wayne, Indiana. “I absolutely love what I do,” she explains. “This is an interesting field and it constantly intrigues me.”

Michelle Horstman (2013) is a clinical laboratory scientist at St. Elizabeth Hospital in Appleton, Wisconsin. This past year she accepted a lead role in hematology and support services for the laboratory, and she has also served for two years on the ASCLS-Wisconsin Board of Directors. “This has been such a great experience,” she says. “I am able to drive positive change for the lab and our patients. I hope to continue serving the community I live in and helping make healthcare a better product for each patient.”

With degrees in molecular/cellular biology and biochemistry, Casey Penland (2015), now a clinical laboratory scientist at Children’s Hospital Colorado, shares that sentiment. “It’s my goal to continue to provide quality results to the kids and families we serve,” explains Penland.

Sharie Mae Gonzales David (2015), a clinical laboratory scientist specializing in blood banking at the Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center in Maryland, is considering her future options, including the pursuit of a master’s degree as a pathologist assistant or becoming a Blood Bank Specialist. “Future medical laboratory science students should strive to reach their goals,” she says. “Whether we work directly or indirectly with patients, it is important to know our worth in the field: without a diagnosis, there is no prognosis.”

Diego Solano (2008), now administrative laboratory director at Abrazo Arizona Heart Hospital, outlines his goals as a lab leader. “I plan to continue to lead the laboratory I work for to provide high-quality results for patients using the current best practices and leading technology.”

One of the most recent API Scholarship recipients, Heather Hansen (2017), a junior at Texas State University, sums up: “I am a hero in training.”

Creating a lasting impact

Some awardees ultimately pursued different career paths—but they are quick to say that their training and education in clinical laboratory science helped them in their chosen careers and created a lasting impact in their professional lives.

Aaron J. Lin, a scholarship recipient in 2012 who graduated from Louisiana State University Health Sciences Center (LSUHSC) in New Orleans with a bachelor’s degree in medical technology, talks about the arc of his career and about that impact. Lin is now in his fourth year of medical school at the LSUHSC School of Medicine. “Though I spent some time getting to know the specialties that are intimately involved in the workings of the lab like pathology, hematology, oncology, infectious diseases, and internal medicine, I’ve ultimately decided to specialize in something quite different. I’ll be going into Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation.”

“I wear my clinical laboratory scientist pin on my white coat,” notes Lin. “I think the field is highly underappreciated. Many training physicians don’t understand or respect the lab for what it does to ensure patient safety. I will always remember my roots and speak up for the lab when I can.”

Lindsay Jolly (2009) added a master’s in public health to her medical technology degree. Jolly is a microbiologist for the Tennessee Department of Health. She also serves as the Infection Control Officer and holds a seat on the Biosafety Committee for the Laboratory Services Division of the department. Committed to giving back to the community, Jolly works with the Tennessee State Training Coordinator. She participated in a roadshow of the Laboratory Response Network, informing others in locations across Tennessee about hepatitis.

Expressions of gratitude

On one point the 31 recipients were unanimous: all expressed heartfelt gratitude to API for helping to pave their way. “I remember the phone call I received when I was named a recipient,” notes Kaitlyn Schmidt. “I teared up—it meant so much to me! Not only did I feel special to be one of five students in the U.S. to be chosen, but financially it helped me out tremendously. This scholarship gave me a jump start in a career that I am extremely passionate about, and I am forever thankful for the opportunity.”

Jessie VanderLaan (2015) from East Lansing, Michigan, adds, “Receiving the scholarship from API was an honor. Not only did the scholarship help me financially; it reinforced my confidence to persevere and advocate for this profession.”

“We had no expectations of these students other than to help support their education,” explained Daniel C. Edson, API President. “To discover what they have achieved to date is heartening.”