Fargo Medical Lab Tech Student Shifts Course in Pursuit of Healthcare Career
Think for a moment about the definition of the word “practicality.” What does it mean to you? Are you thinking buttoned-up accountants discussing sound investment strategies? Perhaps you envision an insurance salesman droning on about risk management? Or maybe it means shirking the fun path for the responsible one. Practicality to you might look frighteningly boring.
It doesn’t have to be.
Fargo medical lab tech student Brittaney Lettow has found a new career focus that, while practical, is far from dull. Here is how she plans to help doctors diagnose potentially life threatening diseases.
A new, old field
Lettow is no stranger to the medical field—she grew up with Type 1 diabetes and has spent many hours traveling to and from doctors’ offices. The hours spent at these offices may have planted the seed for an eventual career in the medical field, but it wasn’t apparent to Lettow when she first attended college.
She earned bachelor’s degrees in psychology and creative writing from Minnesota State Mankato. Lettow says her experience in college was fun but when it was time to look for a job in her chosen field there just weren’t many available.
"I keep a little sticky note on my computer at home that says 'school first' as a reminder of what my priority is right now."
She eventually settled into a billing position at Essentia Health in Fargo. The job may not have been exactly what Lettow had in mind for a career, but she says she enjoyed working in the medical field and it helped open her eyes to other potential careers and inspired her to return to school.
After some research, she narrowed down her choices to two programs from Rasmussen College—surgical technologist or med lab technician. She chose the surgical tech program and enrolled in 2012.
Lettow says her reasoning for choosing the program was influenced in part by her desire to be right in the action, and it doesn’t get much more exciting in healthcare than front-and-center in an operating room.
Lettow continued to work at Essentia Health while making good progress in the surgical tech program. That progress would come to an abrupt stop, however, when complications from diabetes made it impossible for her to complete her clinical externship as she is unable to safely stand for extended periods of time.
The news was disappointing for Lettow, but the reasoning was hard to dispute—there’s no place in an operating room for a tech who may faint.
Lettow didn’t let the complication derail her education, though. She made a quick switch into the med lab tech program. And now that she’s seen both programs she thinks she should have started out in the med lab tech program as it fits better with her interests.
The appeal of the program for Lettow comes from the hands-on investigative nature of the coursework. There can be a lot of interesting things going on in blood or specimen samples when taken under the microscope, and Lettow says that her instructors have done a great job of fostering her curiosity.
“My biology teacher [Amy Dusek] has done a great job. I really loved biology and … I loved her explanation of how terrifying and adorable prions are,” she says.
Although Lettow has settled into a subject that fascinates her, there’s still the challenge of actually finding the time to complete school work while working at least 30 hours per week on an overnight shift.
“I think what I’m most excited about is getting the experience; it’s actually being there, hands-on, in a lab, handling samples and seeing what actually goes on.”
Many people would bristle at the thought of working overnights, but it’s worked well for keeping Lettow on a consistent schedule. The brief window of time she has each day between returning from class to leaving for work has become “homework time”—it’s long enough to get things done, but not enough time for distractions.
Lettow says the key for her success despite the busy schedule is to be constantly mindful of what’s most important.
“When it comes to homework I go into it with the mindset of being willing to spend as much time as necessary to get it done,” Lettow says. “I keep a little sticky note on my computer at home that says ‘school first’ as a reminder of what my priority is right now . Even if that means I can’t go out with friends or take a vacation, I know it will be worth it in the end.”
The finish line
Lettow has about one year of traditional class work to complete before beginning the med lab tech clinical externship. Though the externship is still at least a year away, Lettow says she is currently trying to save money as it will be a full-time commitment and she will likely need to reduce her work hours to accommodate it.
Financial planning aside, Lettow says she’s looking forward to the opportunity to apply what she’s learned in a real laboratory setting.
“I think what I’m most excited about is getting the experience; it’s actually being there, hands-on, in a lab, handling samples and seeing what actually goes on,” Lettow says.
Not only will she get an up-close look at what it’s really like working in a medical lab, she’ll also earn valuable experience for when the time comes for her to apply for jobs. Her job hunt is still a ways off, but her finish line is almost in sight.
She hopes to graduate with an associate degree by late 2015, but until then she’ll have to keep listening to the sage advice of the sticky note on her computer.
Has your previous educational experience left you without a lot of career direction? A medical laboratory technician associate degree is a practical way to help get your start on the front lines of the growing medical field. If working in a lab isn’t for you, check out what else the Rasmussen College School of Health Sciences has to offer.