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UWF Lab Sciences Program Earns Accreditation Renewal

UWF Clinical Laboratory Science

  The Clinical Laboratory Sciences Program at the University of West Florida has been reaccredited for seven more years by National Accrediting Agency for Clinical Laboratory Science. UWF is one of only four schools in Florida with an accredited lab program. 

Dr. Behan explains,  "It's important to have an accredited program to meet the standards that are nationally set so that our students are doing exactly what anybody in any other state is going to do and then they are free to move to another state too."

What sorts of jobs does the Laboratory Sciences Program prepare students for?

"Within the lab there are many different job descriptions. The program at UWF is a bachelor's degree program so the graduate is called a medical laboratory scientist and they're qualified to perform, unsupervised,  high complexity testing. If a person wants to be a laboratory director they may become what is called a clinical chemist and that would require them to be either an MD or a PhD and to also have a fellowship in clinical chemistry. It's not necessary to go to that route. We're affiliated with area hospitals and I don't know of any that have a PhD as the lead. It's usually someone who has a medical lab scientist degree like we offer here."

Do laboratory scientists interact with patients or only do workups in a lab? 

"It depends on the size of the hospital. We're affliated with small hospitals in the area like Santa Rosa Medical Center and Gulf Breeze hospital and there, the people who run the test will also participate in collecting the samples and meeting the patients themselves. At larger hospitals, like Sacred Heart hospital, they have staff that collect the samples so the people in the lab don't usually interact with the patients."

How many students are in the program at UWF?

"We graduate about 30 students per year. We're called a limited access program and the reason that we are limited is that our students do a two semester internship at a large hospital lab and we have to have those placements for them. It's the best part of the program, as far as I'm concerned,  I also trained this way...and my clinical internship was my best year of college, I really enjoyed it."

Is UWF's program a foundation for future PhD work?

"Yes. For example, for myself, because I earned this degree. I graduated from a program like this and went straight into a PhD program, did not do a Master's program in between. Students can earn a PhD in several  different things, in biology or clinical laboratory sciences or health sciences and still become that clinical chemist we talked about."

Is clinical chemistry becoming much more important in medicine today?

"I would like to think that, but I'm going to have to say not necessarily. However, clinical chemistry in other departs of the laboratory, play a very important role. Some of the other departments, if I may add what those are, in the medical lab, in the clinical lab the major departments are clinical chemistry, microbiology, hematology, and transfusion service or blood banking. You will recognize some of the diseases we diagnose in clinical labs: diabetes, about one in four elderly people have diabetes. So if you don't have it yourself, you know someone who does. We also diagnose and monitor hyperthyroidism and hypothyroidism, cystic fibrosis. Toxicology is becoming a very big section for us too."

As technology progresses, how are you looking ahead?

"We are looking five years ahead and I am very excited that we are looking at increasing the amount of molecular biology in our curriculum because what we are seeing is that we can get much more rapid diagnoses by probing the genomes, especially the microorganisms, so it's been conventional for us to diagnose, say, a viral infection like hepatitis by looking for the patient's antibodies, so what that requires is for the patient to be infected and build up enough of those antibodies for us to detect and that's what is called the window period. But with molecular diagnostics we can actually look for particular genes in the virus that we found in the person's blood or body fluids or tissue. So instead of waiting for maybe four or six weeks until the test is positive we can find out i f they are positive within a few days of infection. So we've got to be prepared to offer that kind of technological training to our students."

For more information visit the UWF Department of Clinical Laboratory Sciences.

Bob Barrett has been a radio broadcaster since the mid 1970s and has worked at stations from northern New York to south Florida and, oddly, has been able to make a living that way. He began work in public radio in 2001. Over the years he has produced nationally syndicated programs such as The Environment Show and The Health Show for Northeast Public Radio's National Productions.