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Industry Insights

DCLS Graduate Aims to Increase Medical Lab Visibility

Talk to most medical laboratory professionals about their involvement in the patient care process, and you’re likely to hear them describe the need to increase the visibility of the vital role they play.

Dr. Melissa Bell

Dr. Melissa Bell, DCLS, MS, BS, MLS (ASCP)cm

For Dr. Melissa Bell, DCLS, MS, BS, MLS (ASCP)cm, that desire to move from behind the scenes to more of a bedside patient consulting role is what led her to pursue her Doctorate of Clinical Laboratory Sciences (DCLS) at the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston (UTMB) after working in the industry for 15 years, going from a med tech to laboratory director during that time.

“I wanted to have more patient interaction and I wanted to have more interaction with physicians, too because I noticed they sometimes struggled with new testing that was being introduced and how to best utilize and interpret those tests,” says Bell, who currently serves as a laboratory director and technical consultant for Lighthouse Lab Services (LLS) and was part of the first accredited class to graduate from the DCLS program at UTMB. “I really wanted to be part of improving that process and I thought this was the best way to do it.”

DCLS is an advanced professional doctorate intended for clinical lab scientists who are seeking to further their level of clinical expertise while also developing leadership and management skills. DCLS professionals aim to improve patient outcomes and increase cost effectiveness by working with pathologists to assist the primary care providers. This includes participating directly in patient care decisions, monitoring laboratory utilization, and conducting research on the diagnostic process.


Doctorate of Clinical Laboratory Sciences offers a new pathway for medical laboratory professionals

That being said, DCLS is a relatively new pathway only offered by three medical schools in the United States: Rutgers University, UTMB, and most recently, Kansas University. Bell, who says she always envisioned one day becoming a doctor, hopes that more DCLS graduates entering the workforce in the coming years will help these programs gain recognition and be offered more widely.

“This is a great career path for anybody who is in this field and really wants to be more patient facing, have more interaction with physicians, and wants to drive more testing platforms,” Bell says. “Anybody who really enjoys providing education to the care team would be a great candidate for this program.”


Another common refrain from across the industry is that there is a lack of generalist knowledge as clinical laboratory scientists become increasingly specialized. DCLS graduates may present a remedy to this problem, as Bell says the program greatly helped her gain more generalized knowledge in several fields. In fact, UTMB’s program requires a minimum of three years of clinical lab experience, with a preference for generalists.

“When I went through the program, we did rotations in basically every field there was,” says Bell, citing blood bank, microbiology, coagulation, hematology, and chemistry, to name a few. “We worked with the pathologists who oversaw those departments as well as the residents. The physicians would bring actual patient cases, show their history, and ask where we could go from there.”

The benefit of this approach, Bell says, is twofold: For one, it reduces unnecessary or blanket testing and reins in administrative waste. The second is that this more informed approach to testing improves patient care and generally reduces their length of stay, which is a benefit for both the patient and hospital.

“If you can get the correct test ordered on a patient, you can treat them quicker and get them home quicker,” says Bell, who intends to eventually transition to a Medical Director role with LLS. “I really wanted to be a part of improving that process, and so far, this has been a great way to do it.”


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