OC offering medical lab assistant program

Posted on October 6, 2020

By Ruth Campbell rcampbell@oaoa.com

Through its continuing education department, Odessa College is now offering a medical laboratory assistant program.

The program is the brainchild of Heather Patton, continuing education health careers director. It is a nine-month certificate program and costs $4,500. There are scholarships and payment plans available.

“It is in response to the shortages being experienced by our clinical labs and hospitals throughout the nation,” Patton said. “Through this program, I have created a career ladder for our students. The students here will start out as a phlebotomist, or they work in the community as a phlebotomist. That’s the only prerequisite for this program. Then they will enter the medical laboratory assistant program in order to be able to work in a laboratory.”

If you work in a clinical laboratory, you have to meet certain requirements through national regulatory agencies.

Medical technicians have associate degrees and medical technologists have bachelor’s degrees.

Medical technologists are able to perform all laboratory testing, which includes hematology, chemistry, blood banking, microbiology, mycology, urinalysis and other tests, Patton added.

“They’re really cool. They aid in the diagnosis of cancer, diabetes, auto immune diseases, heart disease and many others,” she said.

Patton said the reason she pushed so hard for this program is that people don’t understand who conducts their tests, specifically with regard to COVID-19.

“They think it’s doctors and nurses, but those aren’t the people who are doing it. It’s the laboratory professionals that are behind the scenes. They’re the ones who are processing the tests. They are the ones who are doing all the controls — the quality controls making sure everything is accurate, making sure the testing is in compliance and resulting it out,” she said. “They are the ones who are working behind the scenes in order to get all these results out to the public.”

Over the years, Patton said the number of schools graduating medical laboratory assistants has decreased. The age of the workforce also has increased and “the reduced visibility has created issues as well.”

“There are also limited schools that are available … in the country that offer this particular program, so what I’ve done is … a program in order to meet this need and demand,” Patton said. “If they met the minimum requirement of being a phlebotomist, they can go into this program and make it a stepping stone into getting their associate or bachelor’s degree in the laboratory setting. They would not have the same ability as a technician or a technologist, but they would have the ability to help that person out with setting up plates, loading the analyzer, taking out the biohazard, making slides. They are the person who is doing the hands work while the technologist is using their brain and analyzing what’s going on (with) the instruments and what are these results really telling me about the state of this patient,” Patton said.

Patton said she has worked in laboratories for 15 years, so I knew the need for medical laboratory assistants.

“If more people knew about this program, there would be, I believe, people from other areas that would be interested in it, especially laboratories who are short staffed, rural laboratories, so I’m hoping that this will be that launching point to help them,” Patton said.

She added that she hopes the program is as successful as she thinks it could be.

“I have a real passion for making sure that people who want to get an education have a launching point. I want to make sure that they have a starting point and that we can help them get to where they want to be. There are some people who want to be in health care. They don’t know what it is and we can help them identify that and that way they’re able to support their families, have health insurance, have a steady job. It’s very critical in this time,” Patton said.

Ruth Campbell covers education for the Odessa American. Reach her at 432-333-7765 or rcampbell@oaoa.com