Medical laboratory scientists are the hub of medicine. There is more to just your doctor's visit or treatment in a hospital. There is a team that takes you on and helps diagnose you through a series of tests to determine your course of treatment. It is one of the most important jobs in the medical field and one that is sometimes overlooked by many. I had the pleasure of interviewing one of my best friends, Kameron Gravelle who is currently in the process of going through his medical science laboratory program. He opened my eyes to how tough his program is mentally, and how the pandemic has changed the way of learning for students wanting to enter the medical field. It is rigorous but throughout the sleepless nights, constant studying, and sacrifices, your about to learn that a career like this is one to go after.
Kameron attended community college in our hometown of Wenatchee, Washington where shortly after he was accepted at Washington State University for his bachelors’ program. Kameron originally had his heart set on a major in the agricultural field but was not sure that was his exact path. He met with a student advisor and explained how much he loved science. His advisor recommended that he take a microbiology class and after that, he was hooked. He started steering away from the agricultural side of science and explored other options through different recruiters from WSU. They had different people from graduate programs and jobs that came to visit, and Kameron was thinking more towards working as a lab scientist after numerous people in that field came to tell their stories. After more research, Kameron decided he wanted to become a medical laboratory scientist.
Kameron’s journey has been far from easy. It has taken a lot of hard work to get to where he is today. After graduating from WSU, he applied to a competitive certification program. This program only accepts 12 students, and they get anywhere from 30-60 applicants a year. It requires a bachelor's in 5-6 specific different fields of sciences. He applied late to Heritage University in Toppenish, Washington where he got an interview but was not accepted into the program. Kameron decided to take this opportunity as a way to get some work experience at the WSU research lab. He did not see this as a long-term job, and the interest had started to decrease. He started considering lab jobs with the CDC and the FDA but after six years of schooling that did not pique his interest either. He reapplied to the same program at Heritage University in the fall of 2019 much earlier this time and secured a spot. What Kameron did not realize was that not only was doing a program like this going to test him in ways he could not imagine, it would add a whole other test of doing it in the midst of a pandemic. The skepticism would start to not only set in for him but for his entire class as they all had to learn in a completely different way.
With COVID-19 now into effect, everything was twice as hard. There was no slow-down time, classes were completely virtual over Zoom rather than being in a traditional classroom setting. The only classroom they got to experience was one week a month on campus to have lecture and lab time. Kameron had never taken online classes before and always benefited from in-person learning because he could focus much more. Kameron emphasized how going into this field is very much a “hands-on experience” and now that COVID-19 was taking away the “hands-on” type of learning, it made it much more difficult once they got into the clinical rotation of their program. Clinicals began in January of this year and run through August. When they first started the lab assistants that were helping these students really had to adjust to the fact that they had little to no hands-on experience and had to use what knowledge they had to the best of their abilities. You started to learn how truly hard it was for a newcomer to jump in based on a new wave of learning.
The hardest part for science, technology, engineering, mathematics, or STEM majors is it requires a lot of work for what they are doing. The concepts are tougher, the workload increases dramatically, and the idea of a traditional college student schedule with breaks and time off was a thing of the past. The amount of information this program teaches you is more than you could ever comprehend. Exams are every eight weeks. Then you have tests or quizzes which range from 40-50 questions every week, along with your textbook reading and other assignments. Your time management is tested to the limits. Kameron said it is such a struggle sometimes to separate the work and take some time for himself because it can eventually pile up and you can start to feel behind.
Clinicals have been the best part of the program for Kameron because you take everything you learned five months prior just from a textbook and a professor and apply it. They run patient samples, analyzer machines, and the side of the lab that is not so behind-the-scenes, phlebotomy which is drawing blood from patients and then running tests on their samples. Kameron enjoys the phlebotomy aspect because sometimes being on the other side of the lab and not interacting with the patient you forget that there is a face to the name on the label. I think this gave Kameron an opportunity like many to go out of their comfort zones and learn all parts of what a Medical lab is inside and out.
As Kameron is nearing his final months in his clinicals, his hopes with his career are first finishing out his program and immediately taking his Board of Certification exam so he can become a certified Medical Laboratory Scientist. He has thought about after getting experience in his career potentially going to PA school and becoming a physician assistant, which is common for a lot of lab techs to do, but it is something he does not plan on doing right away. He hopes to secure a job either in a hospital or reference lab setting and just to enjoy his career after working so incredibly hard for it!
If you're interested in pursuing a career in the medical field like laboratory or testing, consider it. Now more than ever, it is a high-demand job and labs are everything. It is the epicenter of our medical world and they are the ones helping detect the health of the future. People forgot how important labs are in contributing to patient care when it comes to your medical team. So, remember, when you are getting a test whether it's for COVID-19 or even a standard blood test, be patient. Laboratory scientists are working as fast and as hard as possible to ensure that everyone is taken care of equally. Take a minute to appreciate the people behind the doors that learn so much and take the risks of coming into close contact with life-threatening bacteria and diseases. These are the heroes under the white coats and goggles, and they deserve much more recognition.