Each person to graduate from URMC’s first in-house clinical laboratory technology training program has tentatively accepted a job at UR Medicine Labs at Strong Memorial Hospital where the group is expected to start work this summer.
This is welcome news for the institution, and comes at a time when the number of available licensed medical technologists in New York State is critically low.
The training program was launched in 2017 after URMC ended a longtime partnership with Rochester Regional Health. The curriculum is comprehensive, including both lectures and hands-on work under one roof. Students receive instruction from technical staff and supervisors who work in the clinical labs, as well as Pathology and Laboratory Medicine faculty.
In its first year, the lab education team already views this program as a direct pipeline of licensed staff to help combat the statewide shortage. Upon their hiring, the 11 new graduates plan to work in labs including Clinical Microbiology, Automated (Chemistry) Lab, Flow Cytometry, and Toxicology.
“I am very excited by the success of our first graduating class,” said Melissa Allen, director of operations for UR Medicine Labs. “This is a testament to the hard work of everyone involved from our education manager, education coordinators, bench-level trainers, faculty, staff, and students.”
UR Medicine Labs supports an ever growing service region that performs testing for patients of affiliate hospitals including Strong Memorial, Highland, Strong West, FF Thompson (Canandaigua), St. James Mercy (Hornell), Noyes (Dansville), and Jones Memorial (Wellsville).
It also has more than 40 draw clinics scattered across Monroe, Genesee, Allegany, Steuben, and Livingston Counties to provide convenient options for patients.
UR Medicine Labs staff collectively performed more than 8 million patient tests in 2017 alone.
To learn more about the medical technology training program or to apply, visit their website.
UR Medicine Labs is a large operation with many moving parts. From phlebotomists who draw blood at patient clinics across Monroe, Genesee, and Livingston counties to couriers who transport the specimens to locations where testing is performed.
More than half of these outpatient specimens are sent to the outpatient (OP) laboratory on Ridgeland Road in Henrietta.
Much of the building is leased by the Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine, and also houses the Microarray Lab, Clinical Trials, Lab Outreach, Client Services, and Courier Services.
The OP lab has a staff of 12 who run tests six days a week. While a large portion of outpatient tests for UR Medicine Labs are performed there, the lab can sometimes go unnoticed due to its location, says lab manager, Liz Peterdy.
“I think people are surprised to know how much we do and that we have the large equipment that they have at the main lab (at Strong Memorial Hospital),” she said.
Besides the chemistry and hematology areas, the lab at Ridgeland has a fully staffed specimen management and reference lab.
Pathology first began leasing space in the building in 2008. The following year, a lab was set up to allow for testing of clinical trials specimens. More equipment was added to accommodate outpatient testing, and volume has continued to grow ever since.
Today, the lab at Ridgeland tackles a wide scope of work. There are a combined 4 million clinical trials and outpatient tests performed there every year.
Helping Build Something
Clinical trials specimens come from patients participating in a variety of trials for new or experimental treatments.
These specimens are received from across the U.S. and beyond, and their results will be used for the development of treatments for anything from Parkinson’s disease to infertility, or certain types of cancer.
“The CT samples are definitely unique to this lab,” said assistant lab supervisor, Jason Thomas. “The majority of our work is outpatient, but the CTs are interwoven with those clinical samples, which make very unique challenges,” he said. “We have interactions not just with the samples, but with the CT team.”
This means assisting with outside audits that ensure the lab is compliant with regulations for clinical trials testing. Each step of the process, from the time the specimens arrive to when their results are reported, is calculated with great care.
“With all of that, we look at the structure of everything we do and scrutinize our processes – more, I think, than other labs do,” said Thomas.
From a lab perspective, it’s often gratifying to know that you’re playing an important role in helping patients.
“We get a lot of feedback from our clinical trials team and a lot of satisfaction from seeing the results used in the studies when they go on for FDA submission,” said Peterdy. “It’s really rewarding to see that you are helping them build something.”
The lab’s days at Ridgeland Road are numbered as the department prepares to move all of its operations to Bailey Road. The first phase of the relocation project is breaking ground in October 2017 and the Ridgeland team is slated to move into the space by early 2019.
Being the “first” lab at Bailey will be an adjustment as it moves into a larger space adjacent to other testing areas, but is expected to improve communication and workflow as labs come under one roof.
Kelly Brewer is a technical specialist who works at Ridgeland’s chemistry lab. She said she likes the current location because it allows her to do a variety of things.
“I get to work Chemistry, Hematology, and it’s a small enough group that we all get along,” she said. “We’re like our own little family.”
Brewer said she looks forward to relocating, though it will mean changing the way things are now.
“It’s going to be different, but I think it’ll be good,” she said.
Top: Liz Jackson, MT, tracks samples at the Chemistry Laboratory.
Above: Erika De Almeida, MT, reads blood specimen tubes in the Hematology Lab at Ridgeland Road.
On Monday, Aug. 28 UR Medicine Labs and the Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine were pleased to welcome 12 new graduate students who are taking the first step toward a professional laboratory career.
The program is sponsored in the Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine. The class of 2018 is the first group to complete all of their training at the University of Rochester.
After passing a state licensure exam in the spring, those who complete the 2-semester program will be qualified to work as certified Clinical Laboratory Technologists, commonly referred to as medical technologists or “med techs.”
Many of the trainees have bachelor’s degrees in biology or related scientific field. They come from area colleges including SUNY Brockport, RIT, UR, SUNY Geneseo, University of Buffalo, and St. John Fisher College.
Cheryl Gardner is one of the students who, like many of her classmates, is going back to school after her career path took some unexpected turns. She was laid off from her software job in 2015 and decided to use the opportunity to finish her bachelor’s degree in biology.
After graduating, however, she soon learned that many jobs in her chosen area of study required advanced degrees or job experience. She then learned about the new program at URMC – which thankfully offered both. For her, the prospect of having a license to practice in the clinical laboratory offered the chance to finally have a stable future.
“This is my fourth career,” said Gardner. “I have worn many hats, but I look forward to spending the rest of my career in a lab.”
The U of R Clinical Laboratory Technology program has a comprehensive curriculum including both classroom education and real world practical lab experience.
Since 2006, it has been more difficult for clinical laboratories across New York State to fill vacancies due to changing requirements. Instead of just needing a bachelor’s degree in an applicable major, employees were required to have 1-2 years’ worth of additional education and pass a certification exam.
The med tech program offers the opportunity to become certified and land a job fairly soon, said Scott Kirkley, M.D., Vice Chair of Pathology Education.
He explained that having just a biology or biotechnology degree does not guarantee that you’ll find a job in the medical field.
“Not everyone goes on to get a PhD or goes to med school, so we need alternatives.” said Kirkley. “This job (as a medical technologist) is in demand and it is a satisfying career with many opportunities for advancement."
Read more about the program here: UR to Launch New Clinical/Medical Technology Program
One hour can make a big difference when it comes to helping organ transplant recipients. Saving five hours makes an even bigger difference.
For people who have opted to become organ donors, the moment when this wish becomes a reality often comes after an unexpected trauma or illness. In those moments, every step must move quickly to make a transplant successful.
The Serology Laboratory at Strong Memorial Hospital performs a wide range of tests. Some of their most specialized testing is performed in conjunction with Finger Lakes Donor Recovery Network (FLDRN) to screen potential organ donors for a variety of infectious diseases, as required by national policy. Until recently, some testing had to be sent 5-6 hours away to an offsite lab in Philadelphia, PA.
This changed in February 2017, when Serology’s donor testing lab at Strong expanded their services and began performing Nucleic Acid Testing (NAT) for HIV, Hepatitis B and Hepatitis C. Now, all of the required donor screening tests can be performed under one roof. The testing is performed after a potential donor has been identified, medically evaluated and consent/authorization for donation has been obtained.
For recipients who are waiting for an organ to become available, every minute counts. Having access to new testing capabilities helps the coordinators at the FLDRN who work around the clock to coordinate transplants.
“It also assists our transplant program by being able to turn these tests around more quickly so the donation process and organ recovery can take place sooner,” said Dan Wheeler, supervisor of Serology, Immunology and Molecular Virology at URMC. “The longer the process drags on, the more opportunities there are for complications.”
For example, a donor’s heart and lungs must be transplanted into a recipient within four hours of the time they are recovered from a donor; a donor’s liver must be transplanted within 12 hours and their kidneys must be transplanted within 24 hours. The donor testing lab, led by supervisor Lindsay Ryan, is staffed by five transplant technologists who are on-call 24/7/365 when new cases come in. The sooner the serology results are reported, the sooner the actual organ transplants can begin.
Rob Kochik, executive director of the FLDRN says that until now, New York State has never had a laboratory that performs NAT testing on a 24-hour stat basis. Kochik and Marilyn Menegus Ph.D., Associate Director of Microbiology at URMC, have been working collaboratively to establish the lab at Strong Memorial Hospital.
Kochik says it’s exciting to have access to a local lab for all pre-transplant testing since this expansion saves hours of travel time that used to delay the transplant process.
“This saves us five or six hours of waiting, in particular, when we’re trying to move as quickly as possible to coordinate a donation,” said Kochik. “Literally, this will help us save more lives. We could not be more excited and appreciative of the hard work that the lab is doing to put this in place.”
In addition to partnering with FLDRN, Strong plans to perform testing for other organ procurement organizations in Buffalo and Albany.
Pictured above: The team of medical technologists at the new sereological donor testing lab includes (from left) Ryan Sorensen, Lauren Brooks, Lindsay Ryan, Nicole Desisto, Alycia Haueise, and Baltazar Yeban Calunod Jr.
They say the best way to learn is to teach, and for the first time ever, licensed laboratory technologists at URMC will do just that through a new clinical laboratory technology program.
The program will provide full-time clinical lab education for prospective medical technologists, with lectures and hands-on clinical training leading to an advanced certificate. The University and the New York State Education Department have approved the program, and it will welcome its first class of students in fall 2017.
Applicants must have a bachelor’s degree in the biological, chemical or physical sciences and have completed the coursework required for state licensure.
The University had previously partnered with Rochester Regional Health System (RRHS) to provide clinical training to students who received the lecture and exam portion of their training at Rochester General Hospital (RGH), but will now provide both facets of training on its own.
Vicki Roberts, program director and manager of education for the Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine, says the region needs every training program working at full capacity to fill a growing number of vacancies in the field.
“This is a benefit to the University and the region because it gives people who are unable to find a practical application for their degree entry into a licensed professional position,” Vicki says.
In 2006, New York State changed its licensing requirements for medical technologists (“med techs” or MTs). This law meant that staff who previously needed a B.S. degree in an applicable major must now complete 1-2 years’ worth of additional clinical training and pass a certification exam in order to be state-licensed.
While many MTs were “grandfathered” in when the law changed, others have balked at the new, more demanding educational requirements. This has made it more challenging than ever for employers to fill vacancies in the lab.
Leadership’s hope is that this new training program allows UR Medicine Labs to have a steady pipeline of trained, certified technologists to fill these vacancies as we grow and affiliate with more partners throughout the region—from Strong Memorial Hospital (SMH), Strong West and Highland hospitals, to medical campuses at FF Thompson in Canandaigua, Dansville, Wellsville and Hornell.
“UR Medicine’s need for additional licensed medical technologists could not be more urgent,” says Kathy Parrinello, chief operating officer of SMH. “This training program allows us to bring in current and prospective medical technologists to train in our excellent labs at SMH, graduate, and get their licenses so we can hire them into positions,” she adds. “We are grateful to Vicki and the entire team for their diligence and perseverance in bringing this program to fruition.”
The majority of lab staff at URMC is comprised of licensed MTs that work around the clock to perform a range of diagnostic tests. These tests help doctors learn what’s making patients sick and properly diagnose and treat them.
Med techs work in labs including Blood Bank and Transfusion Medicine, Microbiology, Chemistry and Hematology, Flow Cytometry and Bone Marrow Testing, Molecular Diagnostics, Surgical Pathology and more.
Geoffrey Harris (right) spent the last four years as Education Coordinator in the Hematology Lab. He’s one of many MTs that will serve as instructors in the new program.
“When everyone in a lab is an instructor and everyone teaches, it keeps people on their game,” Geoffrey says. “You realize this is a good thing for the whole lab and I think it makes everyone stronger.”
The new class will have between eight and twelve trainees who must complete 35 credits of non-clinical work and 720 hours of clinical experience before taking their certification exam.
People like Caroline Brown (right) know what it’s like to have a long path to licensure. She works in Clinical Microbiology, which is one of the largest labs at SMH—in terms of staffing and number of specimens.
When she started as a med tech at URMC, she simply had a B.S. degree. She took time off for family reasons and soon found that returning to work was not as easy as she’d hoped.
“In that timeframe, the licensing all came into being and I fell through the cracks,” Caroline says. “I had to do something in order to get back into the lab.”
She was accepted into the RRHS training program, which she completed, and later returned to UR as a licensed MT. Today she teaches trainees like herself who are hoping to grow their careers.
Teaching means MTs have new responsibilities on top of their regular workload, taking extra time and preparation to educate students.
For Caroline, that means strategically preparing live cultures days in advance so that students are able to simulate the work that licensed techs perform on a daily basis. This kind of prep is critical in making students’ experiences as authentic as possible so they are prepared to work in a lab.
Caroline says playing a part in this instruction is the best way to give back so others can have the same opportunity she did. “I feel for the future of the career in the lab,” she says. “We need people who want to learn and want to be here.”
The Medical Technologist program is now accepting online applications. For questions, contact Vicki Roberts at (585) 276-3688 or Vicki_Roberts@URMC.Rochester.edu.
You may also like