Medical Laboratory Technology students assist diagnosis of COVID-19

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April 20, 2021 – Medical Laboratory Technology students at Western Piedmont Community College have spent the last academic year working behind the scenes of the coronavirus pandemic.

Photo of the members of the 2021 WPCC Medical Laboratory Technology Program

Front row (left to right): Dean Tullis, Noe Lopez, Kelly Heckelman and Jessica Hollifield. Second row: Cindy Garcia, Sarah Downs and Natalie Crump. Third row: Aaron Fox, Nicole Abernathy and Logan Scott. Not Pictured: Fatima Iftikhar.)

Since August, 11 second-year MLT students have completed their required clinical training and supported laboratory professionals in testing for COVID-19. These students will graduate WPCC this May with ample training and experience.

“Entering clinical practicum at a hospital site during the COVID-19 pandemic, where healthcare is facing many uncertainties, was a daunting step for our MLT clinical students in August,” Beverly Berry, MLT program coordinator, said. “Every student was ready for the chance to learn, so they can join the healthcare team to fight the virus and help patients. I am truly amazed by all of the students in the program.”

Approximately 70% of all medical diagnoses depend on laboratory test results. Their work is crucial, especially for the COVID-19 pandemic. The CDC states that in the U.S., laboratory professionals have performed more than 380 million COVID-19 laboratory tests since the pandemic began. Laboratory professionals have also played a role in fulfilling orders of convalescent plasma being used to treat COVID-19 patients.

“We are needed now more than ever, as we perform the testing to determine if a patient is positive for COVID-19,” said MLT student Natalie Crump. “I think lab technicians are often overlooked because we work behind the scenes, but we truly do play a vital role in patient care.”

Crump’s clinical placement is with Carolinas HealthCare System Blue Ridge. Other students have held rotations this year with UNC Caldwell, Frye Regional Medical Center, Iredell Heath System, Atrium Lincoln, Atrium Cleveland, Wilkes Regional Medical Center and Rutherfordton Regional Medical Center. MLT students complete a minimum of 960 practicum hours by graduation during their second year in preparation to enter the laboratory field.

In addition to the second-year clinical students, there are 13 first-year students in the program training on the WPCC campus. This cohort will begin their clinical practicum in the fall.

April 18-24 is National Medical Laboratory Professionals Week, coordinated by the American Society for Clinical Laboratory Science and related organizations. Celebrated annually, the week allows the public an opportunity to understand and appreciate professions in medical labs. WPCC celebrates this week with the MLT program students and recognizes their contributions.

“Before entering the medical laboratory program, I had no idea the expansive tasks that techs perform daily to assist physicians in diagnosing patients,” said second-year student Dean Tullis. “But after spending the last year as a medical laboratory student, I understand that medicine would not be possible without the lab.”