MLS majors at BGSU step into important role during COVID-19 testing
Students help administer nearly 27,000 tests at height of pandemic
By Bob Cunningham ’18
Even before the COVID-19 pandemic hit, there was a shortage of medical laboratory scientists and technicians. And now, they are needed more than ever.
COVID has proved how valuable medical laboratory scientists and technicians can be.
Medical Laboratory Science (MLS) students played a significant role in Bowling Green State University's COVID-19 response. Seniors majoring in MLS helped administer nearly 27,000 COVID-19 tests on the Bowling Green campus, highlighting the need for medical laboratory professionals in the health care workforce.
MLS professionals are devoted to the diagnosis and management of illness by analysis of blood, body fluids and tissues. They perform hundreds of laboratory tests that are used by physicians to determine the cause of illness and the extent of injury.
MLS students administer COVID testing
The University introduced new safety measures to manage the health of its campuses and keep classrooms, residence halls and dining facilities open. Through local, regional and statewide partnerships — and with the help of the MLS program — BGSU conducted 26,882 COVID-19 tests.
In Fall 2020, BGSU secured thousands of rapid COVID-19 tests from the state of Ohio, running hundreds of tests daily at Memorial Hall with results in 15 minutes. The on-campus testing drastically increased COVID-19 testing opportunities for all students, faculty and staff ahead of the Thanksgiving holiday.
In the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic, testing was a scarce resource with limited testing availability and long turnaround times. In November 2020, Wood County Hospital, in partnership with BGSU and the Wood County Health Department, implemented state-of-the art Thermo Fisher Real-Time PCR technology for COVID-19 testing.
In late October, the Ohio state government encouraged institutions of higher learning to develop screening programs, with a focus on testing asymptomatic individuals. They deployed a shipment of the new Abbott BinaxNOW rapid antigen tests to assist in compliance with this new mandate. Working with the BGSU administration, the MLS program was tapped to help develop a plan to help assist in an on-campus testing site.
“Our University was able to partner with the local hospital clinical laboratory,” said Jessica Bankey, MLS program director and associate clinical professor at BGSU. “Through collaboration, policies and procedures were developed to ensure that all off-site testing would follow the standards and regulations the hospital lab had in place through its accreditation. Creating a testing plan and working with clinical managers to create a plan of action was the easy part. Locating enough staff who also had the proper qualifications proved to be the biggest complication.”
“Our program became instrumental in creating that onsite lab or clinic.”
MLS program receives 10-year accreditation
The MLS program at BGSU, recently accredited by the National Accrediting Agency for Clinical Laboratory Science (NAACLS), is positioned to grow, Bankey said.
At BGSU, students have access to new laboratories at Moseley Hall that are equipped with a variety of instruments, providing students extensive hands-on experience. Students learn from dedicated faculty who also work in the field.
Nationwide shortage of MLS professionals
Bankey said she receives daily messages from health care facilities asking for help filling positions for MLS professionals, whose 2020 median annual pay was $54,180 according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
“In the laboratory community, we are all painfully aware of the staffing crisis that the clinical laboratory is facing across the nation,” Bankey said. “The ongoing pandemic has only exacerbated staffing issues related to the ever-increasing workload caused by COVID-19 testing and pressure to increase capacity to meet demand. Here in northwest Ohio, our local health care system was stretched thin as it attempted to staff its community COVID-19 testing center and urgent care facility.”
“Not a day goes by where I'm not getting at least two to three messages either through email or social media asking if we have any recent grads for positions that they need filled,” she said. “So, we're looking at trying to grow and expand our program.”
MLS will have its largest class start in the fall with 21 students; typically, a cohort tops out at 16 students.
“We are growing our program and attempting to fill a much needed staffing void in the health care community,” Bankey said. “Students are all required to do a clinical externship at a local hospital or an affiliated hospital, and they will be doing their externships in the year of 2023."
Internships and careers
BGSU students in the MLS pursue a guaranteed 18-week clinical practicum at one of 13 affiliated medical centers. Internship programs provide students with hands-on learning and allow them to apply their knowledge to real-world problems and situations.
Internships provide a mode of networking as well as making invaluable contacts with practitioners and professionals in the field.
Within six months of graduation, 100% of MLS graduates report they are employed, in graduate school or starting a business.