Why I Chose the Medical Laboratory Profession

I am always thankful to be working as a medical laboratory technologist, a career I am very passionate about. I remember my journey towards discovering my ideal career, and let me tell you, it was not an easy one. I was in a similar situation as many other students in high school, not fully aware of the full range of career options available to us. And since this crucial decision is made during the second half of high school, many students feel stuck, undecided, and anxious on their career choices prior to entering further studies. Students often choose an educational path during high school without making an informed decision of all the career options available. As a result, there are many new graduates who have trouble finding a job within their field and pursue additional programs in order to acquire more qualifications. I believe a thorough search of the vast number of career options available will help students make an informed decision.

maria in lab

It is crazy how unexpectedly I decided on pursuing the medical laboratory profession. I spent the majority of my childhood thinking I would work with animals, and in the fourth grade I proclaimed that I would be an animal activist! A few years later, I changed my mind and wanted to become a veterinarian. This career choice again changed in the eighth grade when our cat, Ben, was euthanized. I was entering high-school with no idea of what direction I would want to take in life.

It is unfortunate how stressed I was when I thought about my future during this time. I am usually a very goal-oriented person, and I like to map out any personal or professional goals that I may have. Even my classmates were surprised that I did not have a career in mind during this time. Throughout the next four years, I would go through various career ideas quickly: nursing, social work, and psychiatry. During this time, I was also keeping myself engaged with various hobbies and passions. I was in the school band, environmental club, social justice club, student council, as well as volunteering internationally and within my community. I was also (and still am) a “nerd”, enjoying math and science courses.

It is serendipitous how my decision to pursue the medical laboratory profession occurred just in time for university applications. Just a simple search on the university application centre website using the keywords “medical laboratory”, and there came up the university that I would spend the following four years: The University of Ontario Institute of Technology (more commonly known as UOIT). This program was different from other university’s programs, because it was geared towards a specific career and even had a year of clinical experience built into it with a clinical project. It is also only one of two accredited medical laboratory degrees programs in Canada (the remainder consisting of college diplomas). Looking back, it was beneficial for me to pursue a bachelor’s degree in medical laboratory science. After graduation, not only was I able to land a job in my chosen field, I was also able to apply to a master’s degree in Health Science Education at McMaster University, which I am still currently enrolled in part-time.

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UOIT Medical Laboratory Science Clinical Poster Day 2016

I love how much variety in work environments are present for medical laboratory technologists. To begin with, there are five main disciplines within the clinical laboratory that consist of hematology, histopathology, chemistry, microbiology, and transfusion medicine. Laboratory professionals can work in one or multiple disciplines, and the type of work differs between each discipline. I currently work in a core laboratory in a community hospital, and perform testing within the hematology, chemistry, and transfusion medicine laboratories. I really enjoy this environment because the work can vary day-to-day. Other than hospital laboratories, medical laboratory technologists can also work in private, public health, and research laboratories.

It is weird to think how a professional field that I had never heard of before would be such a perfect fit for my personal interests. One key indicator was that my enjoyment of math and science, particularly biology and chemistry. Another aspect that drove me to this career was that I was helping people, without interacting with them directly. I know that it may seem weird to hear, but I knew that if I had to interact with patients in critical conditions on a daily basis, my emotions would get the best of me. Even though medical laboratory technologists are rarely seen by patients, it does not mean their role is not important. Most patients that go into a hospital will have laboratory tests ordered on them in order to diagnose their condition or treat their disease. Medical laboratory technologists work on a large number of samples every day, analyzing and providing crucial diagnostic data to healthcare providers looking to diagnose and treat patients.

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Myself, in the UOIT laboratory, looking at a Gram stain under the microscope

The demand for medical laboratory technologists in Canada is currently high, and predicted to grow, due to retirements and a greater need for laboratory testing. High school students with interest in laboratory science and medicine should explore this exciting career opportunity!