Students in Action: Tiffany Belgarde

Senior Medical Laboratory Science undergraduate Tiffany Belgarde talks INMED, rural healthcare, and her next steps


Thanks for your time, Tiffany, and for driving down here.

I needed to be on campus anyway. I had my final comprehensive [exam] today. We do that at the end of clinical rotations for the M.L.S. major. We have a 52-week clinical rotation, and students get sent all over the U.S. for that. We start in the summer—May to August here at UND. Then we go straight to clinicals off-campus from October to May.


And how’d the exam go?

We don’t have results yet, but I think it went all right. Hard— very hard. [laughs]


What brought you to UND’s Medical Laboratory Science program?

I first went to a two-year college in the Dunseith area where I received my degree to be a medical lab technician. So I decided to continue my education here and get the bachelor’s degree.


And the clinical rotation you just mentioned was in Thief River Falls in your case?

Yes. I’ve been living there for the rotation. I lived here in Grand Forks last year for school, but I’m from Dunseith, North Dakota, way up north near the Canadian border. It’s part of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa.


So you’re graduating finally—what’s next? Back to Dunseith?

I plan to start working—not sure where yet, but here in North Dakota. I have a few job offers in the area, but haven’t decided. I plan on working as a generalist for now, which means working in every department of the laboratory. I want to get more experience in that role before specializing.


What are some of the specializations you have the option of choosing?

In the lab you can specialize in things like blood chemistry, hematology, microbiology, or blood bank. In the future I might like to specialize in blood bank or chemistry. I like the blood bank because I love the hands-on work it consists of, such as the blood typing and screens of patients, cross-matching, antibody identifications, and so on. It’s a department with a lot of responsibility.


Any interest in continuing on with education at this time?

Nope. [laughs] I don’t plan on going back.


I appreciate the firmness of that answer—you do have two degrees already…

I’m very appreciative of the education I got here at UND. I’ve learned an extreme amount of information that I had to take in and the instructors here in M.L.S. make sure you’re going to be successful. That’s one thing I’ve really appreciated because I know that the money I spent here will be worth it in the end. The instructors for the Essential Studies classes were good too. I took the general chemistry and physiology courses here. I also took a lot of “work-out” classes. [laughs] You know, relieve stress.


On that note, you’re coming from a rural community and have some interest in maybe going back to work in such a setting. Are there particular health needs or “stresses” you see in more rural parts of the state that you hope to address with your M.L.S. degree?

Back home we have an IHS [Indian Health Service] hospital and that’s it. And so I chose this degree because while they do have four-year degree folks working in the hospital they need more. Due to staff shortages there are a lot of patients that need to be sent off to the larger cities in the state—they only do minor procedures and cases where I’m from. There are two colleges within 20 miles of Dunseith, which includes a nursing school and the MLT or phlebotomy program I mentioned. So we’re able to fill some of the positions [for healthcare workers], but there’s still a need.


Did you notice any differences in procedures or culture between the colleges and clinics in Dunseith, Grand Forks, and Thief River relative to what you’ve been taught in the classroom, or urban versus rural settings?

Not really. For the most part, the labs throughout the U.S. try to maintain a consistent set of results. So, Fargo and Thief River both have to agree on their results, which are based on specific lab methods. And it costs a lot to do these procedures. For example, for a hospital to process something like a CBC [complete blood count], which ninety-some percent of patients get, can cost up to $100. A comprehensive metabolic panel or CMP—another common test—can cost up to $300. So, it’s very expensive.


Also, you’ve been involved with UND’s Indians into Medicine (INMED) Program, right? Can you describe what that organization provided you as a student?

Yes. My first summer that I moved here I joined the INMED Program, in part because I was coming from a small college with fifteen students per class to this big school and I was… very scared. [laughs] And INMED gave me an outline of what to expect in my fall semester, a built-in community here on campus. Last November I had the chance to give a talk about the M.L.S. profession to other INMED students and told them what my years here consisted of—my clinical rotations, exams, summer practicum—and talked about the major in a general way. It was helpful.


Historically, in the world of U.S. medicine there was a separation among the disciplines both in the educational setting and professional world. That’s changing, of course, especially at UND with our interprofessional education curriculum, but did you get that sense of separation among professions in a smaller program like INMED?

No. I felt like everyone was welcomed by the people there— you were always welcome to ask any questions or walk right through [faculty] doors. With INMED you have students from all majors and programs, and there’s not much separation. You all become friends in the end. I worked a lot with [INMED College Coordinator] Kathleen Fredericks. She was a big part of my experience. Kathleen is very involved with the students—she was the one we met with every day, she emailed us daily, and always reminded us that the program was there for us if we needed anything. I applied for the INMED program not really knowing what it was or what we would be doing, but she made sure to guide us throughout the program.