Plant growing in pot of money

Donna J. Spannaus-Martin, PhD, MLS(ASCP)CM

Plant growing in pot of money
Photo by Micheile Henderson, Unsplash.

Over the next five years, four medical/clinical laboratory science programs will be awarded a little over $9.2 million in Scholarships for Disadvantaged Students (SDS) Awards by the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA). The SDS Program is intended to increase diversity in the health professions by providing eligible health professions with scholarships for students from disadvantaged backgrounds who have financial need, including students who are members of racial and ethnic minority groups. The medical laboratory science programs at Michigan State University (MSU), the University of Minnesota (UMN), the University of Texas Medical Branch (UTMB) at Galveston, and Winston-Salem State University submitted proposals tailored to the student populations they are best situated to serve, and all four have received funding for the first year.

Michigan State University

The HRSA SDS grant program at MSU is called SMiLeS: Support in Medical Laboratory Science. Dr. Kathleen Hoag is the principal investigator of the MSU grant. One of the goals of this program will be to recruit underrepresented minorities into their Academic Preparation for MLS program by collaborating with the Drew Science Scholars Program and the College Assistance Migrant Program at MSU.

Both of these programs are residential support communities for incoming freshmen from environments that historically have adversely impacted success in college. For students who have matriculated into the MLS program, the SMiLeS program will provide financial support for students with significant unmet need, as well as advising support and mentoring during their senior year of coursework and during their clinical training. During the five-year granting period, MSU hopes to financially support approximately 45 disadvantaged MLS students.

University of Minnesota

For the past 10 years, approximately 40 percent of the students enrolled in the UMN MLS program are students of color, primarily first generation and foreign-born permanent Minnesota residents or naturalized citizens. The UMN MLS program also plans to collaborate with the UMN Morris Campus, which originally housed a Native American Boarding School and is now tuition free for Native American students.

Many of the MLS students are supporting families and work many hours in order to afford tuition. This limits study time, which can result in these students being placed on probation or even dropping out of the program. The HRSA grant funds will provide scholarships for tuition and reasonable living expenses, which will allow disadvantaged students to concentrate on their studies. SDS awardees will also be provided with mentoring and academic support to aid in student retention. Dr. Janice Conway-Klaassen is the principal investigator and Dr. Donna Spannaus-Martin serves as co-investigator on the UMN HRSA grant.

University of Texas Medical Branch

The UTMB proposal focused on five aspects of the SDS Scholarship program:

  1. Recruit an increased number of disadvantaged students applying to the program
  2. Enroll disadvantaged students into the program
  3. Retain these students by supporting their educational efforts
  4. Decrease student debt by providing scholarships
  5. Deliver more clinical laboratory science students to medically underserved areas

UTMB is establishing articulation agreements with Early College High Schools through community colleges to offer dual-credit courses to high school students. They will also partner with Area Health Education Centers (AHEC) Scholars Program to provide disadvantaged students with team-based clinical experiences working in rural areas and/or with underserved populations.

SDS scholarship awardees will also participate in service-learning activities, such as St. Vincent’s House, that provide quality healthcare to the underserved population of Galveston. Dr. Vicki Freeman is the principal investigator and Dr. Eddie Salazar is the co-investigator on the UTMB HRSA grant.

Winston-Salem State University

Winston-Salem State University is classified as a Historically Black College and University, and the clinical laboratory science program has a high rate of underrepresented minorities in each class, typically over 85 percent. Their SDS award will be used to reduce financial hardships by providing tuition, fees, books, and living expenses to those from medically underserved communities, underrepresented minorities, and students from disadvantaged areas, with the goal of allowing students to work less outside of the classroom and focus more on their coursework.

With a university motto of “Enter to Learn, Depart to Serve,” and in a department that teaches students to begin to understand diverse patients through training in cultural competence and through awareness of health disparities, many students go on to work in medically underserved communities as well. Dr. Georgia McCauley is the principal investigator, and Drs. Lisa Maness, Jeffery Meixner, and Nicole Pekarek serve as co-investigators.

During this pandemic, when much of the news is about the medical laboratory and the testing performed by these professionals, it is wonderful to see this amount of funding being given to MLS/CLS students by the federal government. Congratulations to the medical/clinical laboratory programs at Michigan State University, the University of Minnesota, the University of Texas Medical Branch, and Winston-Salem State University!

Donna J. Spannaus-Martin is Professor of Medical Laboratory Sciences and Faculty Legislative Liaison at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis.