Parkinson School of Health Sciences and Public Health Medical Laboratory Science

Hiding in Plain Sight: the Medical Laboratory Scientist

“We’re on the front lines of medical diagnostics – and health care,” said Kamran M. Mirza, MD, PhD, MLS(ASCP)CM founding Program Director for the MS degree in Medical Laboratory Science. Managing and running a lab, identifying and differentiating cells, and understanding pathologies, are all central to the work of medical laboratory scientist.

Even though a patient is more likely to spend time researching and selecting a surgeon or specialist rather than a pathologist, 70 percent of medical decisions are based on lab results. Those crucial results determine a patient's course of treatment.

Training Health Care “Detectives”

Dr. Mirza remembers a call he received from the lab late one evening last winter. A young patient had been transferred to Loyola University Medical Center (LUMC) from two separate hospitals where he had been treated for a viral infection. Medical laboratory scientists at LUHS had immediately picked up that his blood smear showed abnormal cells.

After viewing the patient’s cells under a microscope, Dr. Mirza identified those “other cells.” The diagnosis? Acute myeloid leukemia. Today, following the correct diagnosis and chemotherapy, the young patient is on his path to recovery. If it weren't for the pick up by astute medical laboratory scientists, that patient would have continued to be inappropriately treated for a viral infection.

“We are offering a new degree – an MS in Laboratory Science -- to train the next generation of these health care ‘detectives’ and develop leaders in the field,” said Mirza. Medical laboratory science combines the fields of medicine, biology, chemistry, and technology, and has multiple areas of focus including immunology, cytogenetics, and histology to microbiology and bioinformatics. It’s a dynamic field where problem-solving and inter-professional collaboration are front and center.

At Parkinson School of Health Sciences and Public Health, first year curriculum is in the classroom where students focus on several different areas: from immunology and cytogenetics to molecular diagnostics, hematology, microbiology, laboratory leadership, coagulation and bioinformatics. The second year involves a clinical practicum. Faculty hail from both Parkinson and Stritch School of Medicine and have their own research labs; students can pursue opportunities to work on bench research, connecting classroom learning with lab work. Also, during year two, students complete an open-ended capstone project through which they can collaborate with a variety of partners in industry, regulatory authorities and researchers.

Social Media Engages Students

Along with classroom and lab learning, Dr. Mirza uses social media to engage, inspire, and teach students. (And yes, there’s #TwitterHomework, too!). For example, in his pathology rotation, Dr. Mirza asks students to create (or reactivate) their Twitter accounts. Their #Twitterhomework: tweet a minimum of one pathology-related item (#PathElective) every day. Of course students must adhere to HIPAA guidelines and include disclaimers about the views expressed being their own. Dr. Mirza has spoken about this emphasis on Twitter as a pedagogical tool at several national conferences.

“This new paradigm is derived from a continuation of the idea that we can, and should, access information immediately – because it’s right there at our fingertips,” said Mirza. “Not only does Twitter index updated information well, it presents it in a highly succinct form and is enhanced by the ability to add photomicrographs – a visual diagnostician’s dream,” he said.

“Where else can we unravel the mysteries of human disease than in a lab?” said Mirza.

When a patient’s condition is not identifiable in a clinic visit, as in the case of Dr. Mirza’s young patient, a specimen is required. And it’s the medical laboratory scientist’s knowledge, eyes and detective skills that bring the diagnosis to light.

Parkinson School of Health Sciences and Public Health

A career in medical laboratory science combines the challenges of medicine, pathology, basic sciences, and clinical laboratory sciences. Learn more about the Medical Laboratory Sciences master program.