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Proof Positive:Test Results Show that Medical Laboratory Technology Students Make the Grade
Photos and Story by James Hill
by James HillIn January of 2001, two PCC graduates learned they had achieved the highest certification exam scores in the country in their field of medical laboratory technology. One earned the top score on the National Certifying Agency (NCA) test, and another on the American Society for Clinical Pathologists (ASCP) exam. Denise Kowalski, 35, of northeast Portland scored the highest results on the NCA exam with a scaled score of 94. Gretchen Hill, 34, of St. Helens received the highest score on the ASCP test with a scaled score of 876. Hill’s score was particularly impressive since the next highest score was 849. Both now work for Legacy Health System with Kowalski in the toxicology department where she primarily analyzes illegal drug screens, and Hill tests specimens for the in-patient lab at Emanuel Hospital.Terry Emmons, Medical Laboratory Technology instructor, says the reason students perform well is, "we have a very good program and a dedicated staff, plus we have good students. They are very interested in this field and work very hard. The combination of faculty and students produce these types of results."Hill has a bachelor’s degree in biotechnology from Portland State University and said the test results shocked her. "Like most people I just wanted to pass and I was surprised by how well I did,"she said. "I was pretty sure I would pass, but not like this. It was a combination of everything, from good instructors to my scientific background."Kowalski, who has a bachelor’s degree in chemistry from Washington State University, had been working as a chemist for five years when she decided that she wanted to get into medical laboratory technology. She said she felt ready for a change and wanted a job where part-time positions are readily available."I studied really hard all year, but I didn’t expect to score highest in the nation,"Kowalski said. "I was surprised, but pleased. The PCC instructors treat you as a person not just a learning sheet; they set you up for success. I would highly recommend the program to anybody willing to be challenged and stretched more than they thought possible."As a group, the class of 2000 performed well on both the exams, with three placing in the top 5 percent of the country. On the ASCP test, the students’ average was almost 200 points higher than the national mean. Twenty-one PCC students took the tests. A partnership with Legacy gives the PCC program a student lab at Emanuel Hospital’s laboratory. Students work there with the PCC curriculum to understand the basics of the laboratory technical work. Two college staff from the program, Carol Enyart (instructor in Medical Laboratory Technology) and Steve Marshall (instructional support), are stationed at the hospital to help students with their class load.Employers like Legacy need employees who can look past the obvious. "In this day and age the machines are so sophisticated, it was once thought that anybody off the street could run these instruments,"said Carol LaBrie, manager at Emanuel Hospital’s laboratory. "However, they need to know the theories, so that they are sure there isn’t a problem."PCC also has students perform internships at Providence Health System, Kaiser Permanente Health System and Willamette Falls Hospital.