Upgrade in the laboratory
UND’s Department of Medical Laboratory Science receives a new blood analyzer courtesy of Sysmex America.
Medical Laboratory Science (MLS) students at the UND School of Medicine & Health Sciences (SMHS) are getting an upgrade.
In May 2021, the Department of Medical Laboratory Science at the School learned it was to be the recipient of a new Sysmex® XN-450 automated hematology analyzer. The analyzer was a gift from Sysmex America, a global laboratory technology company that provides diagnostic analyzers, reagents, and information systems for laboratories, medical colleges, and healthcare facilities throughout the hemisphere.
And to hear MLS program Chair Brooke Solberg tell it, the donation came none too soon.
“Often educational programs like ours get older analyzers donated to them – from a clinical affiliate or from a lab where one of our former students works that is replacing it with newer technology,” said Solberg. “While we certainly use and appreciate those donations, the opportunity to have a brand-new one is very exciting.”
Part of why the gift is so significant, added Solberg’s colleague Heather Gilbert, manager of the School’s Dr. Robert and Charlene Kyle Medical Laboratory, is that this new machine is exactly the type of technology being used in hospital and clinic laboratories now—and in some cases is even newer than analyzers in area labs.
“And our students get to use it,” Gilbert said. “It’ll help them connect the dots a little bit.”
As Gilbert explained, human blood is comprised of plasma, a liquid, and solid cellular components: white blood cells, red blood cells, platelets, and so on. What this analyzer allows program students to do now is assess more accurately the different levels of these components in blood samples, giving users a better complete blood count. It also can assess other body fluids as needed.
“Early on, our focus is more on the theory and manual side of things, so later in the program when students get to their clinical rotations and see all of the automated and hi-tech pieces, there can be a steep learning curve,” she added. “Being able to expose them to this technology sooner is huge—not only on the application but on solidifying their understanding of clinical knowledge.”
Solberg added that earlier exposure to this type of equipment also takes some teaching pressure off of the program’s affiliated clinical sites, which is helpful given that many of them are facing staffing shortages.
According to Gilbert and Solberg, the program was exploring the purchase of a new analyzer with Sysmex when the donation essentially fell into their laps.
“It was a no-brainer for us,” smiled Sharon Johnson, director of Hemostasis Business Development for Sysmex, who worked with Gilbert and Solberg on the analyzer’s acquisition. “When we see somebody who’s doing good work – what a joy it is to be able to place something brand new in a place that has done so much for medical laboratory science. The effort Heather made to keep an older instrument up and running for her students showed that the program values hands-on, instrument training in the classroom. So we decided an ‘upgrade’ was in order! Why wouldn’t we want to partner with a school that puts its money where its values are?”
The Sysmex Education Partners program began in 2014 and has donated 20 automated hematology instruments to schools with MLS programs, said Johnson. Recipients include traditional two- and four-year colleges, as well as technical schools and hospital-based programs designed for students who have already earned an undergraduate degree.
UND fit several of those categories, said Gilbert, referencing UND’s affiliation with Mayo Clinic and other clinical sites across the region, and UND’s distance, histology, and “categorical” programs for working laboratory professionals.
“They told us the size of our program in comparison to others made us that perfect candidate for their [educational] program,” Gilbert said. “We’re quite large for an MLS program. We have a diverse student population as well. That was significant. We’re not only for on-campus 18-to-22 year-olds – we have a lot of non-traditional students that complete our programs.”
Or as Johnson put it, the SMHS “has made major investments to create a positive learning environment for many medical professions, including [Medical Laboratory Science]. It feels really good to be able to put an instrument in a place where they appreciate it.”
The gift totals approximately $100,000 and includes ancillary analyzer supplies for three years. The machine itself was installed over the summer and is now being used by MLS students of all levels and tracks, which, added Solberg, will be good for much-needed recruitment purposes for the profession.
“We are seeing desperation at some medical labs,” said Solberg, referencing the shortage of medical laboratorians that the pandemic exacerbated. “Individuals from health systems are reaching out to us non-stop – to help connect them with former and upcoming graduates they could hire. People had reached out before, but the number of requests has really grown lately. We want to do everything we can to help them.”
New technology at the School is one way to start.
“As a company led and driven by laboratory scientists, we focus on the important work of supporting the professionals that provide the insights to determine next steps for treatment,” stated Andy Hay, Chief Operating Officer of Sysmex America. “We are very proud to partner with the UND SMHS as we continue to promote the next generation of laboratorians.”