Clinical Lab Technologists Giving Patients a Voice

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A doctor tells you, “We’re going to do some blood work and send it to the lab.” A couple of days later you are informed of the results. So how do those results come about?

A doctor’s diagnosis and treatment rely on the work of clinical laboratory technicians, also known as medical laboratory technicians – crucial and often unsung health professionals who collect, test, analyze and decipher to discover illnesses and disease.

Over 48 percent of registered laboratory professionals across the nation will be retiring over the next five years and need in the greater Pittsburgh region has never been higher. Pittsburgh also continues to be one of the highest paying regions for this field.

— U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

“We go behind the microscope and the results to see if there is a disease present,” said Christina Parfitt, a student of the Clinical Laboratory Technology (CLT) program.

Parfitt started as a Phlebotomy student at WCCC and is taking the next step to her associate’s degree in the CLT program.

The CLT program at WCCC awards the associate of applied science (AAS) degree to students who can then enter one of the most diverse and challenging fields in health care. The program covers 74 credit hours including clinical experiences in a hospital laboratory.

“Our practicums in local hospitals give us the chance to do the exact job we’d be doing in the field,” Parfitt said. “We’re doing blood testing and drug screens while getting hands-on experience.”

Laboratory technicians examine and analyze body fluids and cells searching for bacteria, parasites and other microorganisms. They also analyze the chemical content of fluids, identify bacteria that cause infections and test for drug levels in the blood that show how a patient is responding to treatments such as chemotherapy.

In addition to hospital laboratories, clinical lab technicians may test food and water for microorganisms, work in pharmaceutical labs to test medication, and work with agencies on environmental and biological testing.

“I really enjoy the microbiology (study of cells) and hematology (study of blood) aspects of the program,” Parfitt said. “You really appreciate how amazing life is from the tiniest cells.”

Crime scene investigators, popularized by the CSI television shows, also get their initial training through college clinical laboratory programs. Collecting blood and blood fluids at crime scenes and analyzing the sources give police definitive proof in various criminal investigations.

The program accepts 10 new students each year through a competitive application process. Students spend their first semester with laboratory work in the classroom setting studying microbiology and human anatomy. Following this, classroom segments are supplemented over the next three semesters with clinical practicums at local hospital labs.

The employment future is very bright for clinical laboratory techs, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Over 48 percent of registered laboratory professionals across the nation will be retiring over the next five years and need in the greater Pittsburgh region has never been higher. Pittsburgh also continues to be one of the highest paying regions for this field.

“Clinical lab technology is a very versatile program with varied career options,” said Parfitt, who will transfer to a four-year university in 2014 to specialize in autopsies. “This program can land you a full-time career or serve as a stepping-stone to your next professional goal.”

Jared Bundy

 

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