Leeann Glander, a 2004 graduate of Wesley College in Dover, Delaware, had a great summer! She completed her final year of college at Monmouth Medical Center in Long Branch in August, 2004. The program was an intensive, on-the-job experience with more than four months of study in small classes, followed by a seven-month rotation through different jobs and stations in the Medical Center's laboratory. This last stint of Leeann's college career also included 50 weekly exams! She completed her first three years of school almost entirely on the Wesley College campus.
Says Leeann: "I knew that I wanted to go into science when I started college. My advisor suggested a medical technology major. The major provided me with hands-on experience before I graduated so I'd know whether or not I liked the work before I started a full-time job." Leeann's high school science grades were mostly Cs, she admits, because she didn't apply herself. Even so, she always took an interest in science. "You don't have to be good at something in high school to enjoy it," she says. "I knew that I had an aptitude for science, although I just wasn't motivated in high school to work at it."
"Medical technology," says Leeann, "is meticulous work that requires great accuracy. A medical technologist conducts tests on patients' lab specimens, everything from blood work to tissue samples. Every day you perform quality control tests on all the equipment and instruments, as well as chemicals and agents that are used," Leeann explains. "You have to make sure that everything is working well and that you're getting test results within certain reference ranges."
If the equipment malfunctions, or the chemicals or agents have been damaged in some way, the test results could be faulty. A doctor might then receive incorrect lab results that could conceivably become a matter of life and death for a patient.
Leeann explains that some of the tests can take a matter of minutes, others a few days. "For example, E. coli [Escherichia coli] bacteria take two to three days to grow in a culture before you have accurate results," she says. If a culture shows a positive result for E. coli, the medical technologist would immediately call the physician, as well as log the results into a computer for the physician to access.
Leeann notes that some lab tests must be completed immediately and the results relayed to an emergency room physician. "If someone comes into the ER and has low hemoglobin, we'll have those results in 10 minutes and call the ER," she says. Often the medical technologist makes decisions based on initial test results. "If a patient has elevated liver enzymes, you need to know why they might be elevated, when to call a physician, and when to conduct additional testing to get more detailed results."
Leeann regularly reads journal articles to learn about new developments in her field. "While the general principles stay the same, the methodology changes with new treatments and discoveries," she notes.
The medical technology field is badly in need of workers. "There are currently 2,200 positions open nationwide for technicians and technologists, and there are only about 65 graduates in this field in New Jersey in a year," says Leeann. "I've been told that starting salaries are about $42,000 to $46,000 a year."
High schoolers with an eye toward medical technology should take as many advanced science classes as they can, advises Leeann--not psychology or sociology, but sciences with labs. She suggests advanced chemistry, physics and biology. Leeann is currently interviewing for medical technologist positions. She took the American Society of Clinical Pathology certification exam, which is offered a few times a year, in September. Once a medical technologist passes the exam, she becomes certified, earning her the right to put the initials ASCP after her name.