Med Tech Training Via Long-Distance Programs

More lab managers consider distance training to be one viable response to the MT shortage

CEO SUMMARY: Students from as far away as Oregon and Hawaii are using the online distance training program at the Medical College of Georgia, located in Augusta, to get their Bachelor of Science degree and medical technologist certification. Because many regions do not have a local MT training program, labs are demonstrating growing interest and support for online long distance learning.

ONLINE DISTANCE LEARNING (ODL) of medical technologists (MT) is still a whisper, but it could soon become the roaring voice to help resolve the growing shortage of medical technologists.

Because of the recognized national shortage of trained medical technologists (MT) and medical laboratory technicians (MLT), laboratories across the United States are taking steps to recruit people into the field and train them. However, one roadblock is the fact that few cities have active medical technologist training programs close enough to support their laboratories. One solution to this quandary is for local laboratories to affiliate with a med tech training program that incorporates long distance education.

Long distance training does work. For ten years, a med tech distance learning program at the Medical College of Georgia (MCG), in Augusta, has attracted students from throughout Georgia and as far away as Oregon and Hawaii. Whether students attend classes on-campus or via the Internet, they follow the same curriculum and share the goal of earning a bachelor’s degree in medical technology.

MCG started a distance learning program in 1993 that allowed Medical Laboratory Technicians (MLT) to complete the Bachelor of Science in Medical Technology via multipoint videoconferencing. In 1999, the then- new Chairman of the Medical Technology Department, Elizabeth Kenimer-Leibach, Ed.D., recognized that the Internet was mature enough to allow the program to teach a broader audience, one that had no previous clinical laboratory background. “We expanded to serve individuals with bachelor degrees in life sciences or those otherwise meeting core and science prerequisite requirements,” she said. “A grant from the Intellectual Capital Partnership Program (ICAPP) of the Office of Economic Development at the University System of Georgia provided the funds for this expansion.

“This grants program is intended to foster partnerships between business and academia,” commented Kenimer-Leibach. “The grant application was structured to include medical technology as a part of biotechnology. It’s opened up a new field of academic partnerships in healthcare.

“ICAPP grant money allowed us to substantially improve our distance learning resources,” she added. “We acquired the Tegrity System. This will allow us to digitally tape lecturers, zoom in on PowerPoint slides or demonstrations, and create multiple windows on the computer screen.

24/7 Access To Lectures

“This system allows the Internet student to be part of the on-campus class,” continued Kenimer-Leibach. “They hear the questions and see other students. It can be real-time for them. However, if their schedule does not permit real-time, they can download the lecture from our server or watch streaming video on a 24/7 basis.”

The online distance learning succeeds in med tech training because of close cooperation between participating hospital laboratories and the University. Since the inception of distance learning at MCG, some 50 students have completed degrees facilitated by either the GSAMS (Georgia Scientific and Academic Medical Systems, a statewide multipoint video- conferencing network) or, beginning in 1999, the Internet. For the fall term, 20 Internet students are expected to begin studies, with graduation scheduled for August 2005.

“Enrollment for the MT online distance learning program shows the power of the Internet,” observed Kenimer-Leibach. “Students projected to begin in Fall 2003 are from Oregon, Hawaii, and Georgia. Students from Arkansas, Illinois, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Washington are in various stages of completing core and prerequisite requirements.”

All Types Of Laboratories

“They represent small hospitals, military hospitals, and national reference labs such as Quest Diagnostics Incorporated,” said Kenimer-Leibach. “When a student is accepted, they must be associated with a labora- tory that will abide by the standards for MT certification set by NAACLS (National Accrediting Agency for Clinical Laboratory Sciences, the body that accredits programs of medical technology). To insure that the student will be successful, we visit the laboratory to verify that required standards are in place and mentoring support is available.”

Time zones and location are not a problem. Students can download class materials at any time and communicate with their professors via e-mail. “Several students have family or other job commitments that prevent them from real-time participation in the lectures,” explained Kenimer-Leibach. “They develop excellent time management skills and their dedication is obvious. Our distance learning students send us e-mails late in the evening and into the early hours of the morning.”

Until recently, all students accepted into the distance learning program had an MLT background. “We’ve expanded that now to accept students with B.S. degrees in life science—such as chemistry, biology, microbiology,” she noted. “We also accept ‘traditional’ students who have finished core and science prerequisites and want the BSMT degree.

“Unlike MLTs, these students need basic clinical lab skills,” she added. “Prior to the traditional internship experience, they need additional training in basic laboratory techniques to experience the psychomotor side of medical technology. To facilitate this training in the clinical sites, we have developed extensive ‘train-the-trainer’ materials, complete with detailed instructor’s manuals.

“We have large numbers of these ‘non-MLT’ students in the Atlanta area,” Kenimer-Leibach explained, “They can go to the nearby Gwinnette University Center, a University System of Georgia facility. Here they learn basic skills prior to the tradition- al internship experience.

Hands-On Lab Training

“MCG faculty travel to Gwinnette to teach this cohort group,” she noted. “Then students return to their clinical partners in the Atlanta area for their traditional internship experience. Their didactic training continues on the Internet concurrent with their laboratory training. Since most Internet students don’t have a local cohort group, their basic laboratory skills training is handled at the affiliated clinical site.”

Some regional divisions of the national laboratories want to use online distance learning to ease their shortage of MTs. Kenimer-Leibach recently started working with the Quest Diagnostics Incorporated laboratory in Atlanta. “Quest hires lab assistants with a B.S. science back- ground, and plans to pay their tuition as they go through our ODL MT program,” she commented. “Quest will ‘grow their own MTs’ through online distance learning.”

Kenimer-Leibach also works with hospital human resource (HR) departments. “HR departments contact me when they have science graduates seeking lab employment and the applicant is willing to pursue certification,” she stated. “We send the graduate our MT program materials and help them find a clinical partner so they can become either a ‘campus’ or an ‘Internet’ student.”

Reduction In Tuition

Although education is an investment in the future, Kenimer-Leibach recognizes that the Internet program must be cost effective for Internet students. “We hope to have an out-of-state waiver for Internet students outside Georgia by the fall. Tuition costs will be somewhere between out-of-state and in-state costs,” she said. “For Fall 2003 tuition, in-state and out-of-state students, are charged $1 and $535 per semester hour, respectively. However, ODL is cost-effective for us because we can train more students with the same number of faculty.”

How did students from as far away as Oregon and Hawaii get involved in a Georgia MT training program? “People find us through our Web site,” answered Kenimer- Leibach. “Because of the MT shortage, lab managers are looking for ways to help fill open positions. At the same time, MLTs and science graduates are looking to advance their education. We are ‘education brokers’ for future MTs and the Internet allows people to find us.

“For example, recently a student in Hawaii located us on the Web,” she
continued. “She suggested Tripler Hospital, a military hospital in Honolulu, as her clinical partner. We accepted her into the ODL program and will document the NAACL requirements at Tripler Hospital for the fall.”

Kenimer-Leibach has advice for lab managers looking to place staff members in the MT ODL program. “It is important for lab managers to recognize how important it is for their students to get professional support within the lab,” she observed. “On-site support by participating lab managers is fundamental to students’ success. Students need mentors and professional role models to provide guidance and motivation.

“That leads me to another point. Participating lab managers should be sensitive to a student’s exposure to those MTs in the local lab who grumble about their profession, but don’t take positive steps to improve the situation,” she noted. “These co-workers can have a negative influence on new students, who are generally enthusiastic about their new career choice. That is why it is important for lab managers to involve the laboratory staff in helping the student succeed. Since most students accept jobs where they train, lab managers should view students as new employees, since after training, there will be no need for orientation or recruitment costs.”

Rich Source Of Knowledge

Kenimer-Leibach also remarked on another aspect of human nature that sometimes affects the online distance learning process. “At first, some lab managers were apprehensive about our program. They thought students might put them on the spot with their new-found knowledge,” she noted. “However, we’ve found it to be just the opposite. Students view lab managers as a rich source of knowledge which complements class learning.

“We’ve also seen another benefit. Often the student’s enthusiasm and natural curiosity turns infectious in the laboratory. Other staff members become motivated to undertake their own continuing education,” observed Kenimer-Leibach.

“As a result of this interest in continuing education, we plan to request P.A.C.E. credits for those involved in the clinical education of our students,” she explained. “Along with other new programs in the laboratory field, we are actively developing a Master of Sciences program in Biomedical Technology. It focuses on molecular techniques with clinical applications. Like our undergraduate programs, it is Internet-based for ‘portability’.”

More MT Students

There might be national contracts with hospital chains and clinical reference labs on the horizon. Kenimer-Leibach is committed to bringing ODL to more students and clinical partners to aid in solving the MT shortage.

Because of family commitments and other reasons, some laboratory assistants, phlebotomists and others cannot go to a college campus to get their degree. ODL offers them a way to accomplish that. THE DARK REPORT sees ODL as a viable way to assist in reducing the MT shortage and expand the knowledge of the laboratory workforce. It is also another solution for the post- graduate training sorely needed in molecular diagnostics, genomics and other developing fields.

To find out more about the program go to: www.mcg.edu/MedTech/-MLT– Homepage.htm. Should your staff want to rate themselves as long distance learners, go to: www.mcg.edu/-MedTech/rating.htm.

How Lab ODL Training Started in Georgia

“OUR LONG DISTANCE LEARNING PROGRAM sprang from an effort to support education in rural areas,” stated Elizabeth Kenimer-Leibach, Ed.D., Chairman and Associate Professor at the Department of Medical Technology at MCG. “Back in 1993, Julia Crowley, Ph.D., then Chairman of the Department of Medical Technology at MCG, was awarded a federal grant to develop long distance education for rural areas.

“This grant allowed us to begin the first distance learning program delivered via the Georgia Scientific and Academic Medical System (GSAMS), a multipoint videoconferencing system,” she continued. “GSAMS sites are located in academic institutions, libraries and hospitals across Georgia. We delivered live lectures, transmitted via a T-1 phone line, to two of these locations.

“Our GSAMS program was structured to allow medical laboratory technicians (MLTs) to reach the medical technologist (MT) level in two years as part-time students, without ever coming to campus,” noted Kenimer-Leibach. “As new students, MLTs were given junior-level university experiential credit. Along with the two-year core requirements, they were able to graduate with a Bachelor of Science degree in Medical Technology while maintaining full-time employment.

“Obviously, because of the distance, our faculty could not teach psychomotor skills through Internet didactic training. This was accomplished by forming clinical partnerships with hospitals,” she explained. “Lab managers were eager to become part of the program, because even in 1993 there was an MT shortage in Georgia. They were willing to accept a student if the student worked at the hospital.

“It was a win-win solution for all parties,” she said. “That’s because 90% of the students stayed at the hospital where they trained for at least two years. During the next six years, we graduated three classes of students who never studied on the MCG campus.”

Internet Opportunities For Lab Learning

Here are examples of other schools that offer online distance learning programs in various aspects of clinical laboratory activities.

MLT Associate Degree

  • St. Petersburg College
    St. Petersburg, Florida
    www.spcollege.edu/hec/medlab
  • Barton County Community College
    Grand Bend, Kansas
    www.bartonccc.edu/mlt/default.htm

MT BS Degree

  • George Washington University
    Washington, DC
    www.gwumc.edu/healthsci
  • University of Texas Medical Branch
    Galveston, Texas
    http://sahs.utmb.edu/cls/
  • University of Kentucky
    Lexington, Kentucky
    www.mc.uky.edu/cls/CLS_Undergraduate_ Program/CLS_Undergrad_Prog.htm

Clinical Management & Leadership

  • George Washington University
    Washington, DC
    www.gwumc.edu/healthsci

Graduate Specialty Areas

  • University of Texas Medical Branch
    Galveston, Texas; Blood Bank Technology (SBB)
    www.utmb.edu/sbb
  • Michigan State University
    East Lansing, MI; Molecular Laboratory Diagnostics Certificate Program http://online-contined.msu.edu/program.asp?program=9
  • Partnership: CLMA and University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey
    Certificate in Clinical Systems Management
    www.umdnj.edu

Master of Science

  • Partnership: CLMA and University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey
    Master of Science in Health Systems
    www.umdnj.edu

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