By Kate Hunger
Department of Physician Assistant Studies Admissions Chair and Assistant Clinical Professor Leticia Bland wasn’t sure about her path after graduating high school, so she decided to join the U.S. Air Force. When she asked the recruiter to recommend a career that paid well and offered transferrable skills to the civilian world, she was given assigned a medical laboratory science.
“It was the best decision I ever made,” says Bland, DHSc, MPAS, PA-C.
Bland served in the military for 27 years. She earned her associate degree through the Community College of the Air Force, which allowed her to gain national certification through the American Society for Clinical Pathology. She attended night school to earn her bachelor’s degree and medical technologist certification. With her national certification, she was able to work in civilian laboratories, as well.
As a generalist, Bland worked in a wide range of areas, including microbiology, urology, hematology, serology, customer service, blood bank, chemistry, and shipping. Her specialties were microbiology and parasitology, which she says sparked her interest in dermatology, epidemiology, community and global health.
“My favorite area of work was the front desk, where I was able to meet, talk to and get to know our patients,” she says.
Bland discovered a lot to love in her ten years working in medical laboratory science and found that it prepared her for her next step—becoming a physician assistant.
“My training as an MLT / MT provided me with a strong foundation in math, science, and medicine that made me a qualified applicant in several other fields medicine and prepared me well for my education as a physician assistant,” she says. “Aside from gaining clinical and analytical expertise, there are several transferable skills—multitasking, ability to work under pressure, adaptability, flexibility, interpersonal skills, problem solving, organization, teamwork and conflict resolution.”
Medical laboratory scientists are critical members of health care teams and their behind-the-scenes work directly impacts the quality of care patients receive, says Bland, who still relies on her medical laboratory science background when caring for patients as a physician assistant.
“I always refer to the knowledge I gained as an MLS. It provides me with a better understanding of diagnostic evaluation and its clinical application, and I think it helps me to make better decisions for my patients regarding their plan of care.”
A strong foundation in math and science, curiosity and a passion for problem-solving are key traits for those who wish to be medical laboratory scientists, Bland says.
“If you’re in the lab, you’ve got to have some kind of love for math and science,” she says. “You have curiosity, and you want to continue to learn.”