How the Medical Laboratory Science Program impacts patient care

Penn Medicine’s outreach program ensures that patients and physicians can rely on the best-trained medical laboratory scientists is the goal.

When a patient has blood drawn, the sample is then sent to the lab, and within the next few days, a physician will call and share their test results—a diagnosis or other insight to guide treatment. But what exactly happens in “the lab”? That’s where the medical laboratory scientists come into play.

Alison Steinmiller in a face mask at a computer in a lab.
Alison Steinmiller enrolled into the MLS program in her final year at the University of the Sciences. (Image: Penn Medicine News)

Although they rarely interact with patients face-to-face, a medical laboratory scientist is an unsung hero who helps physicians determine patients’ conditions and treatment plans. Some of these scientists at Penn Medicine received their specialized training for board certification right at Pennsylvania Hospital’s (PAH) Medical Laboratory Science (MLS) program.

Commonly referred to as detectives in healthcare, medical laboratory scientists collect evidence—patient samples, such as blood, tissue, and other substances—and investigate the specimen for clues to a health issue.

At PAH, the medical laboratory scientists, who work various departments including Hematology, Microbiology, Chemistry, and Blood Bank, begin their day by starting up high-tech instrumentation and running quality controls to ensure that the devices provide accurate measurements and reliable results for the more than 1.4 million tests PAH’s labs perform annually.

A medical laboratory scientist may identify that a blood sample is low on platelets—a common effect from chemotherapy—which may require a patient to have a platelet transfusion to reduce risk of hemorrhage. Or they may receive a sample with bacteria and perform a susceptibility test to determine which antibiotics would treat an infection. In short, whenever a health care provider says something needs to be “sent to the lab,” the medical laboratory scientists are the individuals examining that sample.

Ensuring that patients and physicians can rely on the best-trained medical laboratory scientists is the goal of the MLS program.

It was thanks to a chance meeting at the time clock in the Farm Journal building just last year that the long-established MLS program may become a model for recruitment and retention of professionals in other roles. Marylou Osterman, Cancer Program coordinator and a member of PAH’s Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Committee, got into a conversation with Steinmiller, her newly hired colleague, about Steinmiller’s positive experience with the MLS program.

“As part of the DEI workgroup, we promote professional development and career opportunities for incoming and current staff,” says Osterman. “The MLS program allows trainees to become familiar with their work environment and network within the hospital, which creates an easy transition into a full-time role. We’ve been discussing this successful structure and brainstorming how we can expand it to other areas at PAH.”

Read more at Penn Medicine News.