Below is a short interview with Phillip Erick, MLS (ASCP). In this interview, Erik will introduce the field of Medical Laboratory Science and answer a few questions about individuals who may be interested in entering this field of study.
Can you please give us a brief intro of yourself?
“Hi. I’m Justin Phillip, and I am a Medical Laboratory Scientist. I’m from southern California and graduated with my Bachelors of Science in Medical Laboratory Science two and a half years ago. Since then, I have been working as a Medical Laboratory Scientist (Medical Technologist) at a hospital laboratory.”.
Why did you choose to study Medical Laboratory Science?
“I was not originally a Medical Lab Science major when starting college. To be honest, the first few terms, I was not sure what to major in. I just knew that I eventually wanted to go to medical school. Most of my close friends who were also pre-med were biology or biochemistry majors, so i was already considering myself by default a biology major.
In the middle of my second quarter, one of the local allied health universities came and had a small booth in my campus. It was then when I was introduced to the option of studying medical laboratory science. I’ve always been aware of medical technologists (med techs), but never really thought about studying to become one, let alone find out the education required.
The more I searched into the profession, the more attractive it became. I was especially attracted to this major because unlike other undergraduate degrees, medical laboratory science is an actual professional field where you can work as a nationally licensed laboratory personnel (through the ASCP). Also, this study allows you to have an in depth investigation of the clinical sciences. All of these lessons will definitely prove to be helpful in my future desire to study medicine. Lastly, studying MLS will give me a comfortable exposure to the health care setting, again better prepping me for studying and practicing medicine.
It didn’t take long for it to click… I should to major in Medical Laboratory Science (MLS). More than anything, I decided to take this route because in my thought process, I thought it was an exceptional stepping stone to medical school (I’m happy I chose MLS!)”.
Where did you study Medical Laboratory Science?
“After finishing my prerequisites, I transferred to the Medical Laboratory Science Program at Andrews University, Berrien Springs, Michigan. They have a 3 + 1.5 type program where you would complete about 3 years of prerequisite courses, before entering the actual MLS program. The MLS program consists of both the didactic (class) and practical (clinical) studies.”.
How was your experience during the Medical Laboratory Science program?
“In one word, the training program was RIGOROUS. It was by far the most challenging scholastic period I have been through. Prior to the program, I have taken very difficult upper division university science courses, but usually more than 2 or 3 at a time. During the program, you take nothing except for upper division clinical science classes: Hematology, Immunology, Microbiology, Immunohematology, and Chemistry.
Our program at Andrews University was divided into the didactic period (10 months) and clinicals at a hospital teaching laboratory (6 months). During the Didactic period, in addition to having a full load of classes, we had a full load of labs everyday. Our days in the classroom/lab would normally be from 8am to 5pm Monday-Thursday, and half days on Friday. This does not include the many hours needed to study, complete homework, and prepare for exams. INTENSE is an understatement.
The Practical Period is the time to use everything that has been learned in the classroom to an actual clinical setting (40 hours, 5 days/week). You will working with actual patient specimens and calling results (under supervision ).”.
Any suggestions or tips for how to succeed during the Medical Lab Science program?
“Take one day at a time. Don’t get too caught up on the amount of work that needs to be performed. Instead, tackle down one task or study one principle at a time. Also, unlike other sciences where you may succeed by just memorizing facts, focus on fully comprehending concepts. This will go a long ways in your success in the program. Last but certainly NOT least, make time to rest! There will ALWAYS be an assignment to do or a test to study for. Even so, find a way to set aside a small precious time to take a break and relax. I personally recognize the Sabbath, so I take a break from all school work and studies on Saturday mornings and afternoons.”.
How did you study for the ASCP MLS exam?
“I purchased the study manual provided by the ASCP. I devoted about one whole month to review all of the subjects in the manual. The sample questions were especially helpful in giving insight to how the test will be. My emphasis while studying were to recap all of the underline subjects, not spending too much time on each subject’s specifics.”.
How is your current experience working as a MLS?
“Terrific! I am currently working as generalist at one of the major medical facilities in southern Tennessee. I work the graveyard shift (11pm– 7am) and work through all of the departments. I realized that your colleagues and coworkers have a lot to do with your overall work experience. I am blessed to be a part of a wonderful team. Having cooperation as team is very important in our lab due to the amount of workload we get. There are many times where we have to rely on each other’s help to get through each period.
I don’t think there is another undergraduate degree that while allow me to have the amount of job safety and future as Medical Lab Science. Although I plan to continue my career in the medical field (Planning to start medical school this fall), I am grate for the opportunity to work as a MLS for the last 2 1/2 years. I am very pleased with the exposure to the medical field, the experience of starting a professional career, and a more than enough “new-graduate” salary.”.
What is your overall opinion about this field and profession overall?
“Honestly, I don’t think Medical Laboratory Scientists (or Medical Technologists) have the regard and appreciation they are worthy of. Considering the importance that the lab has in our present medical field, its incredible how many people don’t even know what Medical Technologists are! This maybe has to do with the reality that laboratories function “behind the scenes” in most hospital locations, so patients and even health professionals frequently forget who works on the specimens just after they are sent off.
I always remember once while working blood bank and issuing out a unit of blood, the nurse asked how many weeks of “on the job” training it needed to become a blood banker. I tried to keep my cool when I informed her that Medical Laboratory Science is a professional field that requires at least a 4 year bachelors degree (many programs now are taking up on average 5 years to finish).
I think that our career is heading in the right direction in terms of increasing public credibility and recognition. I feel that the recent merger which established the National Board of Certification (American Society of Clinical Pathologists) has started a push for our profession in the forward path. Ultimately though, I personally think that Medical Laboratory Professionals will need to eventually start their own sort of national association separate from the pathologists, like other health professions (of course i’m sure ASCP would not appreciate this… lol).
Apart from that, I think our line of work is exceptional! I feel that to be delighted working in the lab, you have to be OK with working behind the scenes. If you can have a healthy sense of fulfillment, understanding that you are playing an important role in treating many patients, without the actual patient encounter, you will do well! During very hectic shifts, it can be very easy to become discouraged at the amount of tiresome “lab” work. When this happens, it might help to take a short 5 minutes break and actually check out some of the patient bedrooms. Putting a face to the many specimens you are working with transforms your perspective on the work you do. The physician’s ability to efficiently and effectively treat patients is contingent on your lab results!”.
Any suggestions to individuals who are interested in this occupation?
“One fact we all know for certain, there will ALWAYS be people who require health care treatment, which suggests there will ALWAYS be a need for medical laboratory professionals. Whether you are looking for a gratifying [secure] long term career, or a challenging yet satisfying college degree to be a stepping stone to more advanced studies… i STRONGLY recommend the Medical Laboratory Science field. Pursuing this course is certainly rewarding and will definitely open up many more doors of opportunities. Best of luck!”.