Jenna Key confidently pricked the finger of her patient for a cholesterol test. The Alabaster native never thought she would be performing lab tests on real patients right out of the gate, but she is — because she is a first-semester student in the Master of Science in Clinical Laboratory Science (CLS) program at the University of Alabama at Birmingham.
“It’s a unique experience for a first-year student,” says Key.
After just a few months in the program, Key, along with other first- and second-year CLS students, is working in a joint effort at UAB HealthSmart, a wellness center in downtown Birmingham that provides free health evaluations. The students are testing sugar and cholesterol levels and performing other lab tests for patients.
“This partnership provides CLS students with the opportunity to talk with the patients, perform the analysis and discuss the results one-on-one with those patients,” says Michelle Brown, M.S., clinical educator coordinator and assistant professor in the CLS program in the School of Health Professions.
Clinical laboratory scientists work behind the scenes diagnosing and monitoring the progress of diseases and treatments. Meeting patients face-to-face is unfamiliar, however, and it has been an eye-opener for Key.
“We commonly work with samples and a microscope,” says Key. “This experience reminds us we are dealing with patients. We get to see first hand the impact we are having on the patients, which makes you well-rounded.”
Theo Smith, program administrator for HealthSmart, says the students have been a great asset, enhancing the center’s preventive services by allowing the nurses more time to dedicate to their patients.
“The students, along with Michelle, have been able to run the lab independent of the nurse present, which has allowed our daily lab schedule and process to be extremely efficient,” says Smith. “The students have assisted with improving our lab quality assurance measures and overall documentation process.”
Other UAB faculty and students are also partnering with HealthSmart, including groups from School of Health Professions’ Department of Nutrition Sciences, the School of Nursing, School of Public Health and School of Medicine. The CLS students are currently helping out a few days a month, but that could increase to once per week next semester.
“In the coming weeks, we will be engaging the CLS students to assist us with developing measures to maintain and manage laboratory supplies and inventory,” says Smith.