Nationally Accredited Medical Lab Science Program Serves Critical Need

Michigan Tech campus in fall reflected off Portage Canal
Michigan Tech campus in fall reflected off Portage Canal
The need for medical laboratory scientists is enormous, particularly in rural areas. Michigan Tech's recently accredited Medical Laboratory Science program will help address that need.

Michigan Technological University’s Medical Laboratory Science program has received first-time accreditation from the National Accrediting Agency for Clinical Laboratory Sciences.

It took four years and stacks of documentation, but Michigan Tech's Medical Laboratory Science program has earned first-time accreditation by the National Accrediting Agency for Clinical Laboratory Sciences (NAACLS).  

“By qualifying as an accredited program, the Medical Laboratory Science program is earning the type of recognition it deserves,” said Provost Jackie Huntoon. “For many years, the faculty, staff and students who have participated in this program have maintained high standards, and I am happy to see them recognized for their achievements.”

Chandrashekhar Joshi, chair of Michigan Tech’s Department of Biological Sciences—which houses the Medical Laboratory Science (MLS) program—said the effort was “enormous. We are extremely excited to see all this hard work, under the leadership of program director Karyn Fay, come to fruition.”

The Need is a Crisis

The need for medical laboratory scientists is enormous, particularly in rural areas. Fay called the situation “a crisis. If we can’t graduate qualified people, hospitals are going to start hiring less-qualified people,” she warned.

Michigan Tech has taught medical laboratory science since 1941, originally as medical technology. It has evolved over the years to medical lab science, which is the major diagnostic arm of medicine.  

The question about accreditation arose when more and more hospitals—where MLS students must do a six to nine month practicum after they earn their Bachelor of Science in Medical Laboratory Science—stopped supporting and started closing their accredited education programs. There are now only three hospitals in Michigan accredited to offer the MLS practicum, required before graduates can take national boards and get certified, Fay explained.

So Michigan Tech, with the full support of the president, provost and dean of the College of Sciences and Arts, took on the monumental task of getting accredited itself by NAACLS.

Accreditation is Hard to Get

NAACLS accreditation is not easily achieved. NAACLS is the premier international agency for accreditation and approval of educational programs in the clinical laboratory sciences and related health professions.

One of the goals of accreditation and approval is the protection of students, in addition to the assurance of program quality. NAACLS is committed to the principles of honesty in reporting, professional integrity and ethical conduct among officials of its programs, staff and volunteers. 

Michigan Tech’s work involved a preliminary study of the MLS program, a self-study, a site visit from NAACLS, and correction of any deficiencies before the NAACLS executive board met in September and accredited Michigan Tech’s program. “The wonderful thing was, there weren’t any deficiencies to correct, which is virtually unheard of for a first-time program accreditation,” Fay said.

The five-year accreditation—the longest initial accreditation offered by NAACLS—enables the University to affiliate with hospitals throughout the Upper Peninsula, elsewhere in Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota and across the country. Already, Michigan Tech has affiliated with 11 new hospitals where MLS graduates can do their practicum.

“This allows us to grow our program,” Fay said. Tech’s MLS program now has about 80 students who are spending three or four years in classes and labs on campus plus completing a practicum.

Every MLS Graduate Gets a Job

There is such a demand for medical laboratory scientists that every graduate of the Michigan Tech program gets three or four job offers, often before they have even graduated, said Fay. They usually earn a starting salary of around $50,000, and wages are going up as the need for qualified lab scientists increases. “There is such a shortage of workers that hospitals are eager to affiliate with us,” Fay said.

Michigan Tech’s MLS program is already expanding. The program has hired Kelsey Johnson as MLS practicum coordinator, and Johnson was recognized this year by the American Society of Clinical Pathology with its Young Ambassador Award for her recruitment efforts and outreach to high school students. Fay won the Michigan Tech Distinguished Teaching Award in 2016, and the third member of the MLS program faculty, Brigitte Morin, received the University’s Distinguished Teaching Award this year.

“We are lucky to have such amazing medical laboratory scientists and teachers running this program,” Joshi said.

Michigan Technological University is a public research university founded in 1885 in Houghton, Michigan, and is home to more than 7,000 students from 55 countries around the world. Consistently ranked among the best universities in the country for return on investment, Michigan’s flagship technological university offers more than 120 undergraduate and graduate degree programs in science and technology, engineering, computing, forestry, business and economics, health professions, humanities, mathematics, social sciences, and the arts. The rural campus is situated just miles from Lake Superior in Michigan's Upper Peninsula, offering year-round opportunities for outdoor adventure.