In mid-January, 24 students in the Medical Laboratory Science (MLS) program transitioned from being in the classroom full-time to clinical rotations in the Mayo Clinic laboratories. During this time, each student completes a total of nine rotations. All students share seven common rotations, which include the Bacteriology Laboratory, Central Clinical Laboratory, Hematology Laboratories, Immunology Laboratory, Phlebotomy, Transfusion Medicine, and Renal Analysis Laboratory. In addition, each student has a Microbiology Laboratory elective and a Chemistry Laboratory elective. Rotations range from one to six weeks in length and have an MLS student capacity ranging from one to eight students.
It is an exciting time for us as students as we finally get some “real world” experience in our chosen field of study.
My first rotation was through the Central Clinical Laboratory (CCL) with two of my classmates. A lot of the testing that occurs in this lab is in chemistry and highly automated. Walking into the lab on the first day, I felt a little overwhelmed. CCL is a large lab that is filled with many large analyzers. While our education in clinical chemistry had focused on the various analytes that are tested and the methodologies used to perform such testing, my experience actually working with the complex machinery used for clinical testing was incredibly limited, and the idea of operating the equipment in this laboratory seemed daunting. However, I soon realized that a primary purpose of clinical rotations is getting exposed to aspects of the clinical laboratory that we, as students, haven’t been able to experience yet. Our rotations are used not only to apply what we already know but also as an opportunity to continue learning new things about MLS.
CCL is organized according to the analytes that are tested for and the analyzers used to complete such testing. During our two weeks in CCL, we had the opportunity to rotate through almost all of the testing areas. At each testing area, we worked directly with the technologists and learned about the analyzers and the testing performed. We had the opportunity to prepare and load patient specimens onto the analyzers, evaluate patient results that were flagged by the analyzers, complete any additional manual testing that was required, verify and finalize patient results, and run quality control testing. Critical thinking and consulting the lab’s detailed procedures are essential skills to have in order to evaluate patient results. It is necessary to ask questions such as: Is this result real, or is there something that caused an inaccurate result to be produced? Does this result match the patient’s history or other test results? What steps do I take to verify if this result is real? As students, we also received sets of unknown specimens that we independently ran on the analyzers, interpreted, and suggested possible clinical conditions that could cause the results we obtained.
Our rotation through CCL was a balanced mix of employing our knowledge from the classroom and being shown a feature of laboratory science that we, as students, did not have much experience in.
When it came to evaluating patient results and knowing the methodologies used by the analyzers, we had the opportunity to use the information from our education. When it came to actually operating the analyzers, we were able to get hands-on experience with a component of clinical chemistry testing that was new to us as students. Overall, our CCL rotation was a valuable and insightful experience that gave us our first glimpse of the reality of MLS.