Medical lab technician class of 2020 passes certification exam despite challenges

College of the Canyons

News release

While it’s not the first time an entire College of the Canyons medical laboratory technician cohort has passed the American Society for Clinical Pathologists National Board Exam on the first try, the class of 2020 will go down in history nevertheless.

The 13 MLT students had to quickly adapt to remote instruction, but they also had to deal with clinical site displacement, which jeopardized their ability to complete the training required for graduation in June.

“Several students had to face clinical site displacement because sites were unable to train students due to COVID restrictions,” said Dr. Hencelyn Chu, an MLT professor at the college. “Although there were many challenges, all of the students graduated on time and passed the national board exams the first time that they took the exam.”

One of those students was Sukhmeet Dhillon, who recalls how stressful that time was for her and her classmates, some who had to complete two rotations in different departments back-to-back or finish their hours during the winter or summer.

After being displaced from her training site at Valley Presbyterian Hospital in March, Dhillon didn’t receive a new training site until May, one month before graduation.

“I honestly panicked because I wanted to finish my hours and didn’t want to delay them even though I got extended time to finish training,” said Dhillon.

To finish her 200 hours of microbiology training, Dhillon would spend 10 hours at her clinical site daily while also studying for final exams.

Her days were busy and stressful, but the hectic pace was also helping her cope with grief.

Dhillon’s father died unexpectedly on the morning of March 1.

“It was the worst day of my life,” said Dhillon, who lives with her family in Van Nuys. “While I was crying and screaming for my dad to wake up from his bed, I was on the phone with 911 and doing CPR to get his heart racing, but he was already gone.”

Despite several challenges, Sukhmeet Dhillon graduated from the COC MLT program in June and passed the ASCP exam on the first try. Courtesy photo.

Reeling from the sudden loss, Dhillon threw herself into her schoolwork to keep busy. A week after, she went to her clinical site while also arranging a memorial service for her father.

“What kept me going was how my dad would say to me to focus on school and to always do well,” recalled Dhillon.

But when she sat down to take the ASCP exam on Oct. 31, she worried she wasn’t fully prepared because of the time she spent working, being there for her family, not to mention her ongoing grief.

Fortunately, Dhillon quickly realized that Chu had prepared her well.

“I did not expect the questions to be easy,” said Dhillon. “Dr. Chu’s exams were harder compared to the MLT exam.”

Seeing the word “pass” at the end of the exam filled her with pride and excitement.

 “I felt that I honored my dad and made his wish come true. It was very rewarding and I felt very accomplished after going through an emotional year,” said Dhillon, who is quick to credit the college for helping her reach graduation.

“COC helped me pursue goals by offering me one of the best professors, detailed lectures, and overall an amazing team of counselors,” said Dhillon.

As one of only six active programs in the entire state of California, the college’s MLT program is helping combat the state’s current workforce shortage of medical lab technicians at a crucial time during the pandemic.

“The MLT profession is critical to the health care industry as these are the certified and licensed personnel involved in testing samples for COVID-19,” said Chu. “Physicians and health care practitioners rely on our services to diagnose and monitor treatment for all patients, including those with underlying conditions and COVID-19 patients.”

Now a COC graduate, Dhillon is working on COVID testing as a lab technician at Quest Diagnostics.

“I feel great that I am actually making a difference in a patient’s life,” said Dhillon.

In regards to the future, Dhillon has many goals, among them getting into a clinical laboratory scientist program next year.

“Thinking about my dad has made me push through mentally in a positive way and helped me face all the difficulties I have encountered,” said Dhillon. “It has motivated me to do more, achieve higher and be stronger than ever because his memory will always live on through me, my goals and achievements.”

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