Volume 37 Number 4 | August 2023
Thao Vu, MS, MLS(ASCP)CM
Each year in the spring, the laboratory community comes together in Arkansas. The schools meet for Arkansas MLT and MLS Student Quiz Bowl on one day, and the laboratory profession typically gathers for the ASCLS state meeting on the following day. In Arkansas, we have five MLT and three MLS NAACLS-accredited programs. Student teams compete in a Jeopardy-style format. They can choose from 5-, 10-, or 20-point open-ended questions. The five-point questions are straight-forward, but they require foundational knowledge. The higher-point questions are multi-part and challenging. Prior to taking the MLT or MLS certification exam, these quiz bowls are great capstones to critically test the students’ understanding. As for the ASCLS-Arkansas meeting, it is a wonderful local opportunity for medical laboratory science professionals to gather for a day of continuing education and networking.
For this Spring 2023, the schools convened on University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS) campus for the annual Arkansas Quiz Bowl event. It was exciting to see the various MLT and MLS student teams from across the state. Some of them traveled from hours away to participate in this competition. Most schools arrived before noon.
After everyone settled down, students chose heads or tails. Coins were flipped, and teams were paired against each other. The competition officially started at 1 pm CT with thick anticipation and anxiety in the air. As one of the judges this year, I tried to maintain a smile to be welcoming, to break the tension, and to mask my own nervousness. My other fellow wonderful judges were Lindsey Gilbert, UAMS associate professor; Dr. Audrey Folsom, Arkansas State University (ASU) assistant professor; and Jennifer Shrable ASU assistant professor. Claude Rector, ASU assistant professor, was our score keeper who offered light-hearted stories and positive cheer. Dr. Stacy Walz, ASU department chair, supported the event as an impartial moderator. Shaneika Chambers, UAMS assistant professor, was our timekeeper.
Despite being from UAMS, I rooted not only for the school’s team, but for each team present. Soon enough, all those students would be walking across the graduation stage and joining the laboratory workforce. Thus, it was great to see team camaraderie as they faced difficult questions in a public setting. The students worked well under pressure and persisted to beyond 6 pm CT. This kind of teamwork and resilience are valuable in the clinical laboratory. We rely on each other to keep each department running smoothly. To continually manage daily lab issues, that strong baseline of patience is indispensable.
At the end of the day, I was proud of all those students. They put themselves out there and did their best. It brought me joy to see them answer questions correctly. When a question was missed, I felt the loss alongside them. Looking at each of them, I saw the untapped potential and the future of the medical laboratory science profession. Their knowledge, skills, and triumphs meant better results for patients.
On the following day, it was the annual ASCLS-Arkansas meeting. I must give credit to my colleague, Cherika Robertson, for procuring the venue location at Heifer International. It provided a truly beautiful and picturesque environment for medical laboratory science professionals to learn and to mingle with recruiters, vendors, and each other.
We enjoyed opening remarks from ASCLS-Arkansas President Ellis McVoy, which led to excellent presentations from different areas and by wonderful speakers. For hematology, Maria Franco, clinical hemostasis specialist from Werfen, gave a fantastic and well-arranged presentation about the “Laboratory’s Role in Evaluation of Heparin-Induced Thrombocytopenia.” Dr. Daisy Alapat, UAMS flow cytometry medical director, imparted thorough knowledge about the “Basic Principles of Flow Cytometry.” For blood bank, we enjoyed “Tools, Techniques, and Dilemmas in Blood Bank” and learned more about solid phase testing from Regina Castor, area technical consultant from Immucor. Dr. Elizabeth Grasmuck, UAMS vice chair and clinical operation CLIA laboratory director, touched on an important topic that many folks can relate to. She offered useful approaches in her “Preventative Maintenance for Laboratory Professionals: Strategies to Avoid Burnout” presentation. Lastly, Jacob Latham, lab manager for Arkansas Department of Health, made a captivating speech about “Laboratory Acquired Select Agent Infections: Common Causes and Obstacles to Safety” and moving away from sniffing microbiology plates to aid in identification. They were all excellent and high-quality presentations.
In the future, I hope that both the annual Quiz Bowl and the ASCLS-Arkansas meeting will include more local medical laboratory science students and professionals. As only some medical laboratory science students were able to attend the ASCLS meeting, it is my desire to increase accessibility for a greater number of them to participate. For Quiz Bowl, it will be wonderful to acquire volunteer judges from local experienced laboratory team leads, supervisors, and managers. By nurturing each other and working together, the medical laboratory science profession can grow stronger and have a more impactful voice. We need each other within and outside the lab to realize the potential of clinical laboratory science.
Thao Vu is Assistant Professor for the Department of Laboratory Sciences at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences.