Medical technologists and clinical laboratory scientists will study the hottest new genetic technologies
There’s a new bachelor’s degree program in molecular diagnostics that will help expand the number of medical technologists (MT) and clinical laboratory scientists (CLS) available to work in the nation’s clinical pathology laboratories. The announcement was made last month by Ferris State University (FSU) in Big Rapids, Michigan.
“Continued growth in personalized medicine has created demand for practitioners with this skill set,” said Ellen Haneline, Dean of Ferris State’s College of Allied Health Sciences. “Combined with expansion on our local medical community, these factors were the impetus for establishing this cutting-edge degree program centered upon molecular diagnostics. This new degree will enable Ferris to become a recognized leader in providing clinical laboratory education and will particularly fill a need for this type of training in West Michigan.”
Haneline said that the molecular diagnostics program will enroll 24 students initially. Over the next four years, this will expand to a capacity of 128 students. Students will spend the first three years at the Big Rapids campus, completing required biology and chemistry courses, as well as general university academics. For their fourth year, these students will transfer to the FSU-Grand Rapids campus to complete specialty courses in molecular diagnostics in a new $500,000, state-of-the-art laboratory.
“The proximity to the research and diagnostic laboratories in Grand Rapids will enhance the experiences of the students enrolled in the program,” she said, noting students must complete a 12-week internship in a molecular laboratory to hone their skills.
Sequenom Center for Molecular Medicine in Grand Rapids is among local labs providing molecular diagnostic services, including three genetic tests. Sequenom Laboratory Director Daniel H. Farkas, Ph.D., said molecular diagnostics is the newest field in laboratory medicine and it has enjoyed double-digit growth over the last 10 to 15 years. “All pathology laboratory testing is, of course, personalized medicine,” he pointed out, “but in the genetic era of medicine there will be a strong demand for medical technologists and laboratory scientists who are skilled in using DNA characteristics to determine if a patient will respond to drug treatments, as well as for other clinical purposes. Growth in this field will be enormous.”
“Graduates of the Ferris State molecular diagnostics program are expected to be a ‘hot commodity’,” noted Farkas. “These individuals will have the most up-to-date training in the highest-demand new molecular technologies. These include next-generation DNA sequencing, mass spectrometry, and bio-informatics,” he observed. “While salaries for these graduates would be similar to other medical technologists, because of their training in molecular diagnostics, these graduates will be attractive to industry laboratories, which generally pay higher salaries than hospital-based clinical laboratories.”
“At this time, Ferris State does not plan to offer molecular technology as a ‘distance learning’ degree due to the heavy emphasis on hands-on laboratory work,” stated Haneline. “However, once the program is established, post-baccalaureate certificates to enhance skills of practicing laboratory professionals will be offered in a distance-learning program.”
Currently, there are five accredited molecular diagnostic programs nationally: a master’s degree in this field is offered at Michigan State University and bachelor degree programs are offered by the University of Kansas, Northern Michigan University, SUNY Upstate Medical University, and the University of Texas. Haneline said that Ferris State will seek accreditation as soon as possible within the guidelines of the accrediting agency. Ferris State is currently seeking a director to implement the program. Interested parties can view the job posting on the university’s website.
Both the volume of molecular diagnostic tests and the number of molecular assays are increasing at a steady pace. This creates a strong demand for medical technologists and clinical laboratory scientists with skills in molecular testing. Although many medical technologist training programs have been slow to recognize this and incorporate more molecular and genetic science in their curricula, that is likely to change as prospective students swamp the nation’s handful of molecular training programs with applications for enrollment.—P. Kirk