Perhaps not surprisingly, COVID 19 brought to light the significant need for professional support in Canadian medical laboratories. Massive staff shortages affect patient wait times and ultimately patient care, as doctors rely on lab results to diagnosis and create treatment plans. While these challenges are real, so too are the opportunities for those looking to explore rewarding careers that are in high demand –such as medical laboratory technology.
Anderson College, in wanting to directly address this concerning shortage, recently launched its Medical Lab Technologist Hybrid program, offering a blended program that includes some online and in-class theory components, as well as hands-on training in its state-of-the-art lab. To support this dynamic program Anderson was fortunate enough to have a leading industry expert guide the implementation of the program, with knowledge and passion to share. We recently had the opportunity to interview our MLT Program Lead, Medical Lab Technologist, Kim Alkalay and there is no better person to offer insight into the program and what is in store for dedicated students.
Watch her interview here or scroll down to read it below:
Here is what Kim had to say …
Can you talk about your experience in this industry?
Certainly. I am a medical lab technologist and have been in the lab profession for 23 years now. I started out as a medical lab assistant/technician and for 10 years worked across Canada, in Ontario, B.C. and in Alberta. I then went back to school and completed my medical lab technologist diploma at BCIT. Seven years ago, I went into education and I’ve had the privilege of teaching at BCIT, SAIT and NSCC. I am currently working with Anderson helping with the implementation of Canada’s newest MLT program. Volunteer work is also important to me and I also sit on the board for the Canadian Society of Medical Laboratory Science (CSMLS), which is our national association and am a volunteer surveyor for Accreditation Canada. I also had the privilege of sitting on the board for the regulatory college of MLTs in Alberta, CMLTA.
What is the Medical Laboratory Technologist (MLT) program all about?
The Medical Lab Technology program is first of all about getting more lab professionals out into a field that is desperate for medical lab technologists, not just here in Ontario, but across Canada. This lab technologist program will train entry level technologists to work in multiple disciplines in a hospital, research labs and private labs and ensure they have the capability to analyze patient results, help with the patient’s diagnosis and treatment and be a part of overall patient care.
What will students learn and what can they expect from this program?
Students in Anderson’s MLT program will have the opportunity to learn the five main disciplines in the lab; microbiology, histology, chemistry, transfusion medicine, and hematology. On top of learning those five disciplines, they will also have the chance to learn specimen procurement (blood collection) and how to prepare the collected samples for testing.
The Anderson MLT program will also be teaching students molecular techniques. I am sure everyone is now familiar with molecular testing due to Covid-19. COVID PCR (polymerase chain reaction) testing is performed in clinical labs by MLTs. Our lab technologist students will learn the foundational knowledge of how PCR works. They will get to perform molecular testing in our labs at Anderson. Upon graduation, students will have the opportunity, to work in any of the multiple laboratory departments that interest them the most.
Can you tell us more about what students will do in the lab?
Students in Anderson’s MLT program, will first learn the theory portion, and then they are going to apply that learning in hands-on training in the labs here at the school. Those labs will be guided and supervised by qualified Anderson instructors who are the subject matter experts in their field. Students are going to be in labs using current and relevant technology that they’re going to work with out in the clinical lab environment. So, it’s going to be a great transition from the labs here at Anderson to the clinical training portion of the program at their practicum sites.
What is the difference between medical laboratory assistant/ technician and medical laboratory technologist?
The difference between a medical laboratory assistant/technician and a medical laboratory technologist is substantial. However, both professions play an integral role within the laboratory team that work together towards a successful patient-focused outcome.
Medical laboratory assistants, or technicians as they’re known here in Ontario, are the public face of the lab. They are the lab professionals who are trained to go out, interact with members of the public and collect blood samples for testing. They then bring those samples back to the lab, prepare them and deliver them to the appropriate department for testing. MLA/Ts can also perform limited testing under supervision, load quality control and specimens onto analyzers, perform equipment maintenance and more.
A medical laboratory technologist is a trained professional in the clinical lab who performs testing on the received patient specimens. Even though medical lab technologists are trained in specimen procurement and specimen preparing, their main role is understanding how to run the appropriate tests on the specimens, interpret the meaning of the results and communicate the results to the physicians to help with patient diagnosis and treatment. New MLT graduates are trained in all five main disciplines of the laboratory, along with molecular.
Who can take this program? Do you need any particular skills or past experience in healthcare to join the program?
For Anderson’s MLT program, prospective students do not need any previous healthcare experience. Anderson’s job is to train students and get them out into the clinical lab environment where they will have successful MLT careers.
If you do have any previous laboratory experience, understanding of how hospital labs function, or if you are currently an MLA/T, then it will be more comfortable coming into this diploma program. I think the students who will be successful in this program are students who are excited about the health and science fields of study, love to help others and have a strong sense of responsibility and accountability. Lab professionals are passionate people!
Can you tell us more about the practicum students have to complete? Where do they do it and how is it helpful?
All medical lab technology students will take part in a clinical lab practicum. When students have successfully completed their theory and lab courses at Anderson, the next stage will be to send them out into the clinical lab for some real-world experience. They will work within a clinical lab that Anderson has partnered with in and around Ontario (or possibly even somewhere across Canada). Students will attend approximately 32 to 33 weeks of practicum to complete their required hours. They will get to experience clinical lab testing with real patient specimens on a variety of different (and sometimes larger) analyzers under the supervision of assigned preceptors.
While students are at practicum, they will connect the knowledge that they learned at Anderson with what happens in real-time in the lab. This is where they begin to understand the interdependence of the different departments and how they work together to help patients. Students will be connecting the dots of the information that they learned at Anderson to build the bigger picture of the medical lab.
Can you tell us more about the CSMLS and CMLTO?
The CSMLS, Canadian Society of Medical Lab Science, is our national association for all medical laboratory professionals. CSMLS is the national certification exam provider for MLTs in Canada. Students must pass this exam to be able to work as an MLT in most labs in Canada (excluding Quebec). Additional roles of the society include professional development through online courses, personal liability insurance (PLI) for members, hosting the annual lab conference (LABCON), and federal and provincial advocacy for all lab professions. It is the national community that joins lab professionals together.
The CMLTO is the College of Medical Laboratory Technologists of Ontario, and it is a regulatory body. CMLTO is a self-governing regulatory college that does not advocate for MLT’s, but protects the public and ensures that they have access to effective healthcare. All MLTs in regulated provinces need to maintain annual registration with their college to practice, and in Ontario it is the CMLTO.
There is also a provincial association here in Ontario that MLA/T and MLTs can voluntarily join and that is the MLPAO, or the Medical Laboratory Professionals Association of Ontario. This association performs provincial advocacy, offers professional development in the form of online courses and promotes the profession of all medical lab professionals.
What job opportunities can graduates of this program expect? Do graduates of the program find employment easily?
Upon completion of their practicum, all students are required to write the CSMLS certification exam. Once they have passed, they can seek MLT jobs in private or public labs across Ontario. Often students are offered a job with the lab where they completed their practicum. Other roles for new graduates may include research, military, sales, and education. There are many avenues to take, but these other roles usually happen after MLTs gain some clinical experience working in the lab.
Right now, the outcome for employment is extremely good for medical lab technologists in Ontario and across Canada due to the shortage of medical professionals.
Do you have any words of advice for future students?
I think my words of advice for any prospective student looking into the Anderson MLT program is to do your research on what a medical lab technologist does, really know if this is your passion! I think having a passion for healthcare, for helping others and the science behind the lab technology is intrinsic to succeeding in the program. It is a fast-paced, intense program and it can be a little trying sometimes. But it is very rewarding when you graduate, get your very first job and that job is helping patients. Go do some research on the CSMLS, CMLTO and MLPAO websites. Find out if you have the passion and commitment to become an MLT.
Those looking at medical laboratory technologist programs, with a desire to impact patient care and support a healthcare team in need of dedicated professionals just like you, look no further. Start your medical laboratory technology career today! Learn more about the course here. Or if you’re looking to explore training for the medical laboratory assistant/technician profession, Anderson College has a track record for success in that too. Whatever your next career move, we are here to help. Book a virtual appointment with our Admissions team today!