By Melanee Terry
Students in the Medical Laboratory Technology program have dealt with a lot of changes to their education this school year, but with the assistance of their professor, Leigh Belair, the entire program has stayed resilient in the face of adversity. As the Program Director for MLT, Leigh has been a leader and role model for everyone in the program as they navigate the pandemic.
The University of Maine at Presque Isle’s MLT program is very different from any other program on campus. They are an accredited program with the National Accrediting Agency for Clinical Laboratory Sciences (NAACLS) and must meet the guidelines established for laboratory education. UMPI’s MLT program is a collaborative program with the University of Maine at Augusta and Leigh instructs students at both campuses. As the Program Director, Leigh also works closely with UMA’s MLT program site coordinator to deliver MLT curriculum, recruit students for the program and lab profession, and perform other administrative jobs.
MLT courses have only slightly changed post-pandemic. Since UMPI’s MLT program is collaborative with UMA, the courses have always been delivered digitally, through video. Adapting to online learning was not as difficult for MLT students as it might have been for students in other university programs.
“All MLT labs are held live either at UMPI or UMA. The only real change since the pandemic began is that I teach from home via Zoom versus on campus,” Leigh said.
There have also been a few changes inside the MLT classroom. A few seats in the classroom have been taken away to meet social distancing guidelines. MLT students are in a healthcare program, so they had already been following safety protocols before the Coronavirus even hit. MLT students wear lab jackets and medical gloves in class. All students perform proper hand hygiene and maintain a clean work space. They also wear masks at all times and sanitize their lab equipment after use.
Allyn Ladner is in her final year of the MLT program at UMPI. Along with her classmates, she has had to navigate some difficulties this past year due to COVID-19. She is in her final months in the program and is currently completing her practicum at Northern Light A.R. Gould Hospital.
“My classmates and I have all coped very well with the situation. Most of us work in the medical field so we know the importance of washing your hands and wearing a mask,” Allyn said.
As a highly hands-on program, Leigh has had to make a few adjustments when instructing her courses. With COVID-19 protocols in place, it is much more difficult to interact with students even face-to-face. When students social distance and wear a mask, facial expressions can be harder to read and dialogue can be harder to understand.
“It was challenging when the pandemic first started and all classes/labs were shifted to an online environment,” Leigh said. “Lab educators across the nation collaborated their efforts to create activities that allowed students to learn the necessary skills needed to work in the clinical environment.”
In the spring semester of 2020, the MLT program’s curriculum was abbreviated and students completed their clinical training early. These students were able to graduate early and head to work in their field. This semester, training is proceeding normally and the students are scheduled to finish May 14.
Graduates of the UMPI program have been making an impact in the medical field for years now. With COVID-19 in the forefront, MLT graduates are positively contributing to the pandemic and keeping the public healthy. Medical lab technicians and phlebotomists play an important role in the healthcare system. These individuals collect specimens, perform testing, provide test results, and treat diseases. Their contribution to society and the health system has never been more important.
“Last year the clinical training was modified and we are happy to report that graduates are performing well and are meeting the expectations of their employers,” Leigh said. “All of our graduates make a positive impact every day as they are working in the laboratory.”
As the State of Maine continues to battle COVID-19, UMPI MLT graduates are doing their part responding to the pandemic. The work Leigh has done with the program has helped to improve the lives of not just the graduates, but the many people their work supports. Through their contributions during the pandemic, Leigh, MLT students, and program graduates have demonstrated what it means to be Owl Heroes.
Even though it has been a busy year, Leigh has taken a moment to reflect. This pandemic has taught her the importance of life and how much we should appreciate it. “Life can be uncertain and this pandemic has allowed us to step back and to appreciate what is important. Life gets busy and it is easy to overlook and really appreciate all that we have,” Leigh said.