Medical Laboratory Science Program Celebrates 100-Year Anniversary

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Medical laboratory science has changed greatly in the 100 years that the MLS program in the College of Health Professions has trained graduates to work in laboratories across the country.

Fifty years before the founding of what is now the UTHSC College of Health Professions, the School of Medical Technology in the UT Department of Pathology started at the Memphis General Hospital. It had one instructor and two students. 

Today, as the College of Health Professions celebrates its 50th anniversary, the Medical Laboratory Science (MLS) program in the college’s Department of Diagnostic and Health Sciences has sent more than 2,000 graduates to work in labs across the country in its 100 years. 

Kathy Kenwright, EdD, an associate professor, has been the director of the MLS program since 2012. She has seen it grow, as the role of medical laboratory science has expanded. New diseases, such as HIV and COVID-19, medical advances including precision medicine, and new treatments, have raised the profile of medical laboratory science as a foundational part of patient care. 

 “Even though we’re working behind the scenes, we’re often the first people to see that a patient has a diagnosis. We really care about the patients,” she said. 

“I also think about the different diseases that we’ve seen that just really have had an impact on the lab,” she said. For example, diseases that have emerged have changed the way specimens are processed, as well as protocols for those who are processing them. Heightened awareness of the hazards of working in a lab has prompted stringent safety measures for medical laboratory scientists. In early photos of laboratory scientists or technicians, there were no gloves or PPE.  

“COVID has really impacted the lab, too, because the lab has been so busy now with all these COVID samples,” she said. “But it’s also a good use of technology, because in the early days, you wouldn’t have had such fast turnaround time with these COVID samples.”  

All of this means that today, medical laboratory scientists are in great demand. “I get emails and phone calls all the time from recruiters all over the country looking for our graduates,” she said. “At the same time, salaries are going up, because there’s a shortage.” The demands of COVID and an aging clinical laboratory workforce have increased job opportunities in the field. 

Dr. Kenwright said medical laboratory science offers a rewarding career for anyone who is interested in health care or medicine and wants to help people behind the scenes.  

“It is remarkable to have an academic program to have had such a longstanding excellent reputation as the MLS program at UTHSC,” said Neale Chumbler, chair of the Department of Diagnostic and Health Sciences. “The impact that our program has had on the workforce for health systems in Memphis and the surrounding areas is second to none. I am honored to work with the dedicated faculty of this stellar program.” 

The College of Health Professions celebrates its 50th anniversary November 18, from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. CST, at two locations in Memphis. The Diagnostic and Health Sciences reunion and the Medical Laboratory Science program’s reunion will be held at Charlie Vergos’ Rendezvous, 52 S. 2nd St. The Occupational Therapy and Audiology/Speech Pathology reunion, as well as the Physical Therapy reunion, will be at Memphis Rock ‘n’ Soul Museum, 191 Beale St. For more information, email Bettye Durham at bdurham5@uthsc.edu  or Blair Duke at rduke5@uthsc.edu, or call 901.448.5516.