Montana State University

First class begins training in new Montana program

August 4, 2008 -- By Evelyn Boswell, MSU News Service


Rob Hodous prepares to work with a microbial culture by sterilizing equipment in his incinerator. (MSU photo by Kelly Gorham).   High-Res Available

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MSU News Service
Tel: (406) 994-4571
msunews@montana.edu
BOZEMAN -- After years of working as a bank teller, laborer, warehouse worker, waiter and bartender, Rob Hodous decided to become a pharmacist.

He wasn't ready to attend college right out of high school, Hodous said. But when he hit 30, "I said I should do something with myself."

Realizing he loves science and lab work, the Glendive native who attended high school in Seattle enrolled in the pre-pharmacy program at the University of Montana. But eventually, expecting a second child with his wife, he says he lost some of his focus. He asked his adviser what he could do with the courses he had already taken and learned about a new Montana program that trains people to work in hospital laboratories.

The one-year "Montana Medical Laboratory Science Training Program" that began in May follows three or four years of prerequisites at Montana State University, MSU-Billings or the UM, said director Barbara Hudson at MSU. It also addresses a state and national shortage.

Hodous, now 35, is one of 12 students in the program's first class. In Bozeman for the summer, the students attend lectures on microbiology, blood banking, chemistry and hematology. They work in labs in Lewis Hall, the Student Health Service and Bozeman Deaconess Hospital. Starting this fall, they'll work in some of Montana's major hospitals for two semesters. Then they'll finish the program by working two weeks in Montana's rural hospitals. If they pass a national exam, they'll be registered medical technologists.

Becoming a clinical laboratory scientist, another word for medical technologist, seems to suit him better than pharmacy, Hodous said.

Bridget O'Brien of Billings, an MSU senior in Bozeman, said she learned as a freshman that Hudson was trying to develop the new program. Happy it was approved and she was accepted, O'Brien said it lets her stay in Montana instead of moving to North Dakota, Washington or Colorado for similar programs.

Katie Hovland of Great Falls, 23 and a UM graduate in microbiology and medical technology, said she eventually wants to do research. In the meantime, she plans to work as a medical technologist.

"It's going really well," she said.

Hudson said she spent five years laying the groundwork for the new program, so she was ready when the Montana State Legislature appropriated funding through the workforce development program and the Office of the Commissioner of Higher Education. She applied for a grant and in 2007 received a $557,000 training grant and $265,000 for equipment. Montana hospitals also supported the program. Eight hospitals together contributed $300,000 in matching funds. Sixteen hospitals donated a total of $63,000 in cash.

"It's a critical program," Hudson said.

Medical technologists test blood, grow cultures and do other lab work that lead to diagnoses. A recent Mayo Clinic study estimated that 70 to 80 percent of all diagnoses require some sort of lab testing, Hudson said. If a hospital doesn't have enough technologists or sends samples away for testing, the delay puts hospitals and patients at risk.

Georgia Rosales, lab manager at the Clark Fork Valley Hospital in Plains, said she sees a definite need for the new program.

"We currently have two full-time positions open," she said.

She added that the average age of medical technologists across the nation is 53, and they're at a stage in their careers where they don't want to work the more undesirable shifts.

Clark Fork Valley Hospital, a 16-bed critical access hospital, donated cash toward the new program and will have at least one student working there next year. The same is true for Barrett Hospital and Healthcare, a 20-bed critical access hospital in Dillon.

"We are very much interested in having Montana students train here in Montana and hopefully when we have openings, they will be interested in coming here or at least they will be interested in coming here to look at our community and see what it has to offer," said Larry Goss, lab manager in Dillon.

For more information, visit http://www.montana.edu/wwwmb/index.php?page=medical-laboratory and http://www.montana.edu/cpa/news/nwview.php?article=5043

Evelyn Boswell, (406) 994-5135 or evelynb@montana.edu