Med Lab Students Discover Secret to Thriving in High-Stress Environments

Calm under pressure. Cool customers. Unfazed in high-stress environments.

Mount Mercy seniors Amanda Walker Mikita and Sossity Davis embody these characteristics. They are required to be: it’s their job.

As Medical Laboratory Science interns with St. Luke’s Hospital in Cedar Rapids, Mikita and Davis are two of the unsung heroes of the hospital world, tasked with testing patient samples sent to the Medical Laboratory by physicians. Such tests require a quick, flawless turn-around so that physicians are able to make a diagnosis and chart a course of treatment for their patients.

Luckily, Mikita and Davis thrive under pressure, and the skills they have learned in the classroom as Medical Laboratory Science majors have prepared them for the fast-paced career.

“I love that I have never had a day that was the same as any other day,” says Mikita, who is originally from Central City, Iowa. “I love the challenge of when it’s really busy or you are working on something really complicated. I love figuring things out.”

Following three years of coursework, in which MLS  majors focus on chemistry, biology and learning the theories behind laboratory instrumentation, students are required to complete an internship in the field prior to graduation.

Thriving partnership
Students are able to complete the internship at any hospital with an MLS internship program. Not surprisingly, Mount Mercy students gravitate to St. Luke’s because of its strong reputation and proximity to the University. Over the past 20 years, 27 students from Mount Mercy have completed the MLS internship and gone on to become successful technologists.

“The most important thing that I have learned [at St. Luke’s] is what MLS will be like as a career,” says Mikita. “I have been able to gain experience that I never could in a classroom setting, and I have been able to understand what it will be like working as a MLS. I have been able to confirm that this is the right career path for me.”

Coursework for MLS majors is tailored to give students a flavor of what they will learn in the hospital setting, and includes the study of bacteriology, parasitology, immunology, hematology, blood banking and clinical chemistry, with special study of chemistries such as drug detection and alcohol analysis. “Students learn the theory behind the instrumentation and they are taught to analyze properly so the information they are testing is accurate,” says Assistant Professor of Chemistry Kristopher Keuseman, who directs the MLS major.

‘Curious’ students
Keuseman notes that successful MLS students share common characteristics and motivations. “MLS students are hard working and interested in the sciences,” says Keuseman. “They are part of the engine that drives the hospital, even if they aren’t the public face. They are very curious.”

Lindsey Mullenbach, MLS program coordinator at St. Luke’s, agrees with Keuseman’s assessment. “The best students for MLS are those who like to solve puzzles and learn new things, are good at multitasking and can remain calm,” she says. “There are times when the laboratory is very busy and it’s important to focus on the job at hand and to work as a team with your fellow laboratorians. This is an occupation for people who want to work in healthcare, but may not want the continual patient interaction involved with other careers.”

As Mikita and Davis prepare to graduate this year, both are confident that the skills they have developed and honed at Mount Mercy and St. Luke’s will help them on the path to future employment – and to a rewarding career that they enjoy.

“When I started researching MLS, I fell in love with it,” says Mikita. “It would give me a career doing everything I loved: helping people, fastpaced, chemistry, microbiology, and working with gross stuff! I always have been fascinated by microorganisms: we can’t see them, but they are everywhere, and some of them we couldn’t live without, and others could kill us!”