CEO SUMMARY: Many clinical labs experiencing a shortage of trained medical laboratory scientists (MLS) in their city continue to overlook how the use of distance training programs could help them attract and retain top-performers. Leaders of the clinical laboratory scientist (CLS) distance training program at Georgia Health Sciences University (GHSU) say distance students are enthusiastic and learn just as much as their in-classroom peers. It is one reason why GHSU has added an MLS masters distance program.
IN MANY COMMUNITIES, clinical laboratories lament the shortage of skilled medical laboratory scientists (MLS) and clinical laboratory scientists (CLS). Yet these same labs seem to overlook the opportunity to use distance training programs as a useful way to recruit and retain more MLSs.
To learn about the value that MLS/CLS distance learning programs can provide, THE DARK REPORT caught up with Barbara L. Russell, Ed.D., MLS (ASCP), SH (ASCP). Russell is Associate Professor and Program Director of the Program of Clinical Laboratory Science (CLS) at Georgia Health Sciences University (GHSU) in Augusta, Georgia.
GHSU (formerly known as the Medical College of Georgia), operates one of the nation’s oldest MLS/CLS training programs. It was established in 1938.
In 1993, a distance learning program for students who were already medical laboratory technicians (MLT) was instituted. Then, in 2002, the distance learning program for students who had no laboratory training was started. “Distance learning at GHSU, has been a great success,” stated Russell. “Since 2002, 62 distance learning students have graduated from this CLS program.
“Our distance learning program curriculum is identical to the campus-based learning program, except where the student laboratories are performed,” she noted. “While on-campus students perform this activity in campus laboratories, the distance learning students—like those in Oregon and others outside the Augusta area—perform their laboratories at clinical affiliates, such as PeaceHealth Laboratories in Springfield, Oregon, and Good Samaritan Regional Medical Center in Corvallis.” (See TDR, January 9, 2012.)
GHSU recently beefed up its distance learning program to make it easier for distance learning students in Georgia to complete the laboratory requirements. The innovation is a fully-equipped, state-of-the art mobile laboratory.
This 11-by-53 foot mobile lab was introduced in the fall of 2010. It is parked in Lawrenceville, Georgia, at Gwinnett Health System Medical Center and is used by distance learning students in the Atlanta metro area. These students perform their student laboratories in the mobile laboratory, under the direction of a GHSU faculty and at the sites of their internships, which are at affiliated clinics in Atlanta.
Gregory C. Passmore, Ph.D., CNMT, (certified nuclear medical technologist) is the Interim Department Chair of Medical Laboratory, Imaging, and Radiologic Sciences at GHSU. He stated that, “This mobile laboratory makes it possible for us to provide a convenient hands-on learning environment for GHSU’s distance learning students in the Atlanta metropolitan area. These CLS students need access to a medical laboratory for portions of their online programs.
Master of Health Science
“Another enhancement to the distance learning opportunities for clinical laboratory professionals is an entry-level graduate CLS degree: the Master of Health Science in CLS (MHS-CLS),” said Passmore. “This is for students who have a baccalaureate degree and want to obtain their CLS degree. The curriculum has all of the content included in the bachelor of science in CLS (BS-CLS) degree. It also provides advanced competencies in each content area, advanced practice courses, and research courses that culminate in a capstone evidence-based research project.”
“Our MHS-CLS program is offered through distance learning and is identical to the campus program here at GHSU,” added Passmore. “Classes are built upon the same in-class lectures that professors give to students in the GHSU residency program. These lectures and instruction modules are uploaded to the distance learning program’s Web content.
“Online distance learning attracts students with an independent learning style,” added Passmore. “These classes are asynchronous and are student-centered. Educational resources that support this learning include email, electronic mailing lists, threaded conferencing systems, online discussion boards, wikis, blogs, text and voice chat, telephone conversations, videoconferencing, and even meetings in virtual spaces that can facilitate sharing among the online classroom’s network of students at any time.”
Lab administrators and pathologists will be interested to know that distance learning is proving to be equally effective as the more traditional classroom approach. “Studies comparing online and classroom education outcomes have not found much difference between the two,” affirmed Passmore.
“Moreover, although some distance learning students voice the concern that they miss the person-to-person interac- tions of a traditional classroom, the access they have to faculty and other students via the methods I mentioned earlier makes up for that,” he said.
Lab educators at GHSU have not overlooked the rapid growth in molecular diagnostics and genetic testing. “Both the BS-CLS and MHS-CLS distance and campus students are exposed to molecular techniques through didactic, student laboratories, and internship courses,” noted Russell.
“In addition, the MHS-CLS program has a separate six-week Clinical Molecular Methods Internship course,” concluded Russell. “In this course, students learn advanced techniques in molecular testing. They develop skills that could be used in research and development (e.g., such as how to design polymerase chain reaction based assays to detect DNA sequences of choice).”