Nontraditional student Jay Chen, a senior in the Division of Clinical Laboratory Science, spent four years as a medic in the U.S. Army—a time he credits with building a sense of discipline and rigor. Chen has found these attributes to be useful in studying clinical laboratory science.

“The Army training made me a better person and a competitive student in programs like this,” Chen said. “Army medic training was very trauma-based, very patient-oriented. We got a lot of hands-on experience.”

Division of Clinical Laboratory Science student Jay Chen
Division of Clinical Laboratory Science student Jay Chen

Following community college, Chen transferred to UNC-Chapel Hill as a biology major. A roommate encouraged him to learn more about the field of clinical laboratory science. He will graduate in spring 2020 with his bachelor’s degree.

Chen said he is appreciative of his experiences as a medic because it propelled him to be a better health care professional.

“Having some patient-contact experience, knowing that all of our results would somehow at the end affect someone’s medical outcome and history, gave me a better perspective of the profession,” Chen said.

Chen said he believes the field of laboratory science is among the most important in the health care industry. As an example of this work, several of Chen’s colleagues and mentors at McLendon Clinical Laboratories have worked tirelessly to develop a test for use during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I feel honored, in a way, that knowing what I know and knowing what I do will affect patient results and patient outcomes,” Chen said. “You confirm most of the diagnoses that are required for most clinicians to make any decisions on treatments.”

Chen said having worked in a high-stress type of job as a medic prepared him for handling emergency situations.

“The Army really trained you like a more disciplined, more caring person,” Chen said. “You do have a duty to your teammates, your patients, your comrades.”

The Division of Clinical Laboratory Science is housed in the UNC School of Medicine Department of Allied Health Sciences.

Lizzy Laufters, public relations and communications intern