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Medical technology offers students a healthy future

December 13, 2021
 C Sukowski

Courtney Sutkowski found the right major at Clarion when she picked the medical technology program. It combined her love of biology and chemistry and offered a bright professional future.

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought attention to all health careers, but one health career in particular has grown in relevance and need.

Medical technology is one of Clarion's more than 175 programs of study, and it offers a healthy future for the student who excels in biology and chemistry.

Medical technologists solve the mysteries of a person's health and provide a clearer picture of a person's physical well-being. The position was in demand in all 50 states prior to the pandemic, and its need has only increased.
A medical technologist tests and analyzes blood, body fluids and tissue samples. Medical technologists also are responsible for operating and maintaining the equipment used to analyze specimens.

When Courtney Sutkowski was a student at Clarion, she was unaware of a major that combined her favorite scientific disciplines.

"One day while heading to a class, I walked by a bulletin board with information regarding the 3+1 medical technology and biology degree program at Clarion," Sutkowski said. "I had no idea that a career like this one existed where I could combine my love of chemistry and biology and my desire to help others. Since that day, I have become tremendously passionate about laboratory medicine and its impact on patient lives and our healthcare system as a whole."

Sutkowski is now a clinical operations manager overseeing the blood bank and microbiology departments at a hospital near Reading, Pennsylvania. She has master's in health administration and is a certified Medical Laboratory Scientist with the American Society for Clinical Pathology, the gold standard certification for clinical laboratory personnel.

During the pandemic, Sutkowski managed a large laboratory outreach operation for a multi-hospital healthcare system. In this position, she oversaw 16 outpatient laboratories, inpatient and courier phlebotomy services and logistics for specimen transport. Her team consisted of approximately 100 phlebotomists, couriers, logistics and other support staff.

She received a Platinum Quality Award from the healthcare system for the work she completed during the COVID-19 pandemic.

"The experience I had at Clarion and during my clinical rotations at an affiliated hospital have given me the experience to be able to be an effective operations manager," Sutkowski said. "I have worked in every part of the laboratory, have a decade of phlebotomy experience under my belt, and I can utilize my technical laboratory knowledge to troubleshoot the many problems we see daily."

She has mentored other clinicians on proper laboratory techniques and completed the Lean Six Sigma program, which helps workers improve processes by reducing non-value-added time.

"The project I led to complete my Green Belt (a Lean Six award) resulted in an organization-wide change to reduce the number of daily sticks patients had to endure and eliminate unnecessary blood collection in the middle of the night when patients should be sleeping," Sutkowski said.

During the height of the pandemic, her team also launched a COVID clinic where patients could safely have bloodwork done. They conducted testing in nursing homes, pop-up clinics and urgent cares in their community where "we streamlined the process to collect, transport and then test thousands of COVID-19 specimens per week."

Like Sutkowski, Linda Olmstead '82, D.O., was drawn to the medical technology major because of her love of practical science and the combination of biology and chemistry in one field.

"The laboratory is filled with instruments that require special expertise to operate, and I wanted to work in that environment. Also, as a college student, I wanted a major that offered definite employment opportunities after graduation. Biology is somewhat non-specific, but graduates with a medical technology degree were very much in demand by employers, which is still true today," Olmstead said.

Olmstead decided to attend medical school in Philadelphia to become a doctor of osteopathic medicine, then completed a pathology residency at the Cleveland Clinic. While she was in medical school, she worked as a med tech during the summers, weekends and evenings.

"This was a great advantage to me as a well-paying part-time job during med school, and also as a practical laboratory background that most physicians don't acquire at all," Olmstead said.

She now works as an anatomic and clinical pathologist. She believes that one of Clarion's greatest assets is its quality education – especially for local students.

Linda Olmstead
Linda Olmstead D.O. worked through medical school as a medical technician. She found that the pay and the hours enabled her to become a doctor.

Sutkowski and Olmstead agree that Clarion faculty made a difference in their education.

"When, as a sophomore, I decided I would like to apply to medical school, the pre-professional committee made some requirements of me in order to recommend me for medical school, Olmstead said. "They required higher-level coursework and an improved GPA, and they gave me two semesters to accomplish this. The result of this challenge was that I worked harder than I ever had before and was eventually accepted into medical school. At a larger university, I don't think I would have gotten this individual attention."

The medical technology program also enables students to get work experience while they pursue their degree.
Sutkowski worked as a phlebotomist at Clarion Hospital during her junior and senior years.

"At that time, the hospital reserved specific positions for med tech students to learn phlebotomy and other basic laboratory skills prior to their 12-month clinical rotation," Sutkowski said. "I learned an incredible amount and was also able to gain much needed work experience in the field to add to my resume."

Sutkowski said she landed her first full-time job as a clinical laboratory scientist before graduation.

The hope is that one day Clarion and area hospitals will collaborate to create a pipeline to fill positions.

Olmstead anticipates that UPMC, in particular, and local universities will work in cooperation for mutual benefit, as there is an acute need for trained laboratory staff.

"Clarion would like to attract more students to its programs, and UPMC would like to have a source of qualified health professionals to fill job positions. These goals could be accomplished by working together," Olmstead said.
The program offers job security in a variety of ways.

"I am truly in love with what I do. This career path is one of the most impactful on patient lives and probably one of the coolest things I could have chosen to do," Sutkowski said. "The hospital laboratory is the first to see a blood cancer on a microscope, the first to detect an infectious disease, the first to detect bacteria in the bloodstream. Seventy percent of all diagnostic decisions are made based on clinical laboratory results, and I feel absolutely blessed to be a part of it. Not only that, but this career path affords tremendous flexibility with many different futures if the hospital laboratory is not for you."

For more information on the Clarion University medical technology program, visit us online.


Last Updated 12/13/21