3 + 1 = Medical Laboratory Science

Katie at McCollum Science Hall on the UNI Campus.Have you ever heard the term found major?  Many students arrive at college planning to be a classroom teacher, an accountant, or a musician.  Before 2020, very few new students arrived planning to go into public health.  More often students who graduate from UNI with a public health major arrive wanting to do something in medicine or to find a career where they can help people and then find Public Health.  It is a found major.

Katie Steffen started at UNI as an education major with a science minor. She says, “I had always been interested in health care and my biology classes pushed me to shift my focus in that direction rather than education”. 

In her classes, she met several students who were a part of the 3+1 partnership between UNI and Allen College Nursing Program.  But, it wasn’t until one of her friend’s mom talked to her about Medical Lab Science careers that she discovered she could put her two interests together to pursue a career in medical science.  Katie found the 3+1 UNI/Allen College Medical Laboratory Science (MLS) program.

Last spring, Katie finished her 3 years at UNI and over the summer she began her year in the Allen College MLS program.  When she finishes next spring, she will have a biology degree from UNI and be a Medical Laboratory Scientist.  UNI STEM caught up with Katie to learn more about this program and the career of Medical Laboratory Scientist.

The MLS program at Allen is a 3-semester hybrid program.  Classes provide background knowledge and prepare students for their other experiences.  Katie says that the classes focus on the tests that are run within the lab and how to use the lab results to help determine possible conditions of the patient.  Most of the classes are online and at your own pace.  Katie says, “This flexibility is very nice while working. We also had labs where we went to Allen College's campus.” 

The labs provide one level of hands on experience learning about equipment, building lab skills and techniques, and becoming comfortable in the space.  Besides classes and labs, the 3rd element of the program is clinicals.  A clinical is a hands-on working experience in a medical field.  It is basically an internship in health or medicine.

“We have 80 hours of clinicals in four different lab departments. Two of those departments we cover in the fall and the other two in the spring. I just finished my fall semester rotations. Our learning is based around four main lab areas including hematology [the study of blood, blood forming organs, and blood related diseases], chemistry, microbiology, and blood banking,” shares Katie.

Katie first became interested in a lab-based career while taking science lab classes at UNI.  Her three years at UNI also helped her build foundational knowledge so that she could be successful in her current classes. 

Covid-19 has causes everyone to adapt, especially health fields.  Katie explains how Covid-19 has affected her experiences in the 3+1 program, “Covid forced us to modify some of our on-campus/in-person labs. Additionally, we had to move up our clinical rotations to earlier in the semester. Thankfully, we were able to accommodate fairly easily. Working in healthcare, we have had to adapt to dealing with Covid-19 on a daily basis. The lab plays a critical role in the pandemic and Covid testing so the lab has experienced lots of changes and while it is a challenge, it is also part of the job and I am excited for this career.”

After beginning her time at Allen, Katie plan decided that after graduation she would seek a position in a reference lab.  She explains, “Reference labs receive and test samples from a number of clinics that don't offer the specific testing patients need in house. I really enjoyed the experience I have had in the chemistry department while in clinicals, so that would be ideal.” 

It is exciting to be able to announce that Katie has secured a position in such a lab!  She has a part-time position at Pathology Labs - UnityPoint Health which will become full time when she graduates this spring.  Congratulations Katie!

Marcy Seavey, UNI STEM Coordinator