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Division of Clinical Laboratory Science alumna Srijana Chhetri ’20 was weeks away from graduation when the COVID-19 pandemic emerged—which facilitated the opportunity for her to study the virus alongside other researchers at UNC-Chapel Hill.

Srijana Bhattarai Chhetri
Srijana Bhattarai Chhetri

In early 2020, Chhetri joined a the Infectious Disease Epidemiology and Ecology (IDEEL) Lab, part of the Institute for Global Health and Infectious Diseases, in early 2020 under the guidance of Jessica Lin, PhD. In the spring, the lab pivoted to study the spread of COVID-19, with a focus on household transmission.

“Within two or three months of the onset of the virus, I had the opportunity to come back to Chapel Hill and go back into the community,” Chhetri said.

Alongside the research team, Chhetri obtained blood and swab samples from people infected with the virus, brought the samples to the lab, and tested its genetic material to better understand how it spread. The research team also conducted COVID-19 antibody testing.

“Joining this project has made me think about how much the UNC community comes together to work on anything. When the pandemic started, my PI and other PIs on campus were working on everything they could,” Chhetri said.

Chhetri and other researchers traveled within a one-hour radius of campus in order to collect data. From the experience, Chhetri said she had a deeper understanding of and appreciation for rural health care in under-resourced communities, particularly in Orange County. She said some family dwellings allowed for quarantine and isolation, while others did not.

“I was able to see the divide in socioeconomic families and homes,” Chhetri said. “Some people are able to better contain the virus, and some people aren’t.”

Chhetri, who plans to pursue medical school, said her time spent in homes allowed for her to have face-to-face interactions with patients. Clinical laboratory scientists often work behind the scenes, and this experience allowed Chhetri to see the effects of the virus firsthand.

“I have a new appreciation of how much I’ve learned,” Chhetri said. “I’ll look back at this time and be thankful and grateful that I was able to contribute to this pandemic in some way.”

As an undergraduate student, Chhetri decided to major in clinical laboratory science after exploring other majors such as biology and chemistry.

“The CLS program was rigorous,” Chhetri said. “Right after I graduated, I realized how much I had learned. The technical knowledge, the hands-on skills, the background knowledge to do the tests—it’s amazing.”

Originally from Nepal, Chhetri spent her adolescence in High Point, North Carolina. She also works part-time at McLendon Clinical Laboratories. As a student, Chhetri was a Louise M. Ward scholar.

The Division of Clinical Laboratory Science is housed in the Department of Allied Health Sciences. Susan Beck, PhD, MLS(ASCP)CM is the division director.