Medical Virologist Becomes MLS to Expand His Horizons
Monday, December 12, 2011
From his first day as a medical virologist, Steven Dickson fell in love with bugs. “The ability to isolate this bug from this person and help the patient get better and assist the clinicians with containing public health viruses, deeply intrigued me,” he said. “I want to solve the mystery of the disease and solve the puzzle of why, when, where, and how.”
In pursuit of solving this mystery, Mr. Dickson ran diagnostic tests for the H1N1 virus with the Utah State Public Health Laboratory and worked in tandem with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to monitor the virus globally and analyze the flu strain to create the most effective vaccination. He participated in emergency preparedness scenarios for a mock epidemic with Homeland Security and the state of Utah by transmitting the taint of laboratory specimens to other divisions.
During his four years as a medical virologist for Utah State Public Health Laboratory, Mr. Dickson learned more about microbiology every day. However, he realized that by becoming a medical laboratory scientist he would broaden his horizon.
“More education is always positive,” said Mr. Dickson, who will graduate as a medical laboratory scientist (MLS) at the University of Utah, Salt Lake City, in October 2012. “The medical laboratory science training gives me more areas to expand my knowledge beyond microbiology such as blood banking and chemistry. The world is out there, and I feel as though I can do anything with an MLS.”
“Steve Dickson is a very engaging young man,” said Karen A. Brown, MS, MLS(ASCP)CM, Program Director at the University of Utah, Salt Lake City. “He’s adjusted and is doing very well in our MLS program. He asks good questions and helps other students when necessary.”
Medical virologists have transferrable skills to become MLSs, according to Ms. Brown. During the Great Recession, she has seen a surge of post-baccalaureate track students who already have bachelor’s degree in biology, chemistry, or microbiology, and even career experience who decide to return to school to become medical laboratory scientists. At the University of Utah this year, Ms. Brown has an equal number of post-baccalaureate students and traditional students.
The post-baccalaureate students take the fast-track route of two semesters of courses and a clinical rotation. “These students are attracted to the MLS because it offers them more flexibility and mobility than some other careers in science,” Ms. Brown said.