Column: Minnesota West MLT program fills critical need
The profession of medical / scientific laboratory technician is often referred to as the “hidden profession” because the work of a medical laboratory technician (MLT) often takes place behind the scenes. Their work is essential and provides empirical and scientific data to assist healthcare providers with information crucial to the diagnosis, treatment and management of a patient’s health. About 70% of physician-patient interactions are influenced by laboratory test data. Decisions are made based on test results – these are often important decisions that entirely affect a patient’s overall health. It’s no surprise that medicine and lab testing are so important to the healthcare team.
There is a critical shortage of medical laboratory technicians in the immediate region and across the United States. According to statistics from the Bureau of Labor (BLS 2020), MLT positions are expected to increase by more than 7% between 2019 and 2029. This growth is more than double the average increase in demand among other occupations in the United States. .
In my last year of high school, I didn’t know which college degree to specialize in. I knew I liked science, math, and research. I also knew that I wanted to work in the health field. My older brother told me about microbiology. Then, on my first day in college, my roommate told me that she was majoring in medical laboratory science. I had never heard of it, but it suited me perfectly.
So what does an MLT do? MLTs collect and prepare samples for analysis, analyze blood and body fluids, test drug levels, match blood suitability for transfusion, analyze samples for microorganisms, and determine antibiotic sensitivity if necessary, use automated and sophisticated laboratory equipment and computer instruments capable of simultaneously testing and performing quality control.
Laboratory tests and courses include clinical chemistry (biochemical analysis of blood and body fluids), hematology (diseases of the blood and bone marrow), immunology (study of the immune system), immunohematology ( typing and cross-matching for blood transfusion compatibility), microbiology (study of bacteria, fungi, and parasites), and analysis of urine and body fluids (analysis of urine and other bodily fluids).
The Minnesota West Community and Technical College Medical Laboratory Technician Program is located at the Luverne Center. The program lasts two years (three semesters in college and six months clinical in a hospital laboratory). The MLT program started in 1994. Classes are taught by instructors who have years of experience, and some also work in a hospital laboratory. Classes are enhanced by hands-on lab testing in a state-of-the-art student lab.
Upon completion of the academic and clinical requirements, the student will receive an Associate’s Degree in Applied Science and be eligible to take the National Certification Exam. Placement in this area is currently 100%. The student has the opportunity to further their degree while working as an MLT in several online Bachelor of Science programs. He / she may even progress and receive a Master of Science or Doctor of Science in Clinical Laboratory Science.
Although MLTs are designed to work in a hospital or clinical laboratory, there are also employment opportunities in water analysis laboratories, reference laboratories, public health laboratories, pharmaceutical companies, fertility clinics and veterinary laboratories.
Fellowships are available through the Minnesota West Community & Technical College, professional laboratory societies such as the American Society of Clinical Laboratory Science, and other laboratory sites.
Dr Rita Miller is the director / instructor of the medical laboratory technician program.