Many children hope to follow in their parents’ footsteps when they grow up and begin working. For Alexis Otway, that wasn’t necessarily the case. However, as she wraps up her first semester in the Clinical Laboratory Science program – the same one her mother, Erin Crittenton, graduated from in 2008 – she reflects on the journey that brought her to this point.
Changing Course to Find a Calling
Otway’s path to the Clinical Laboratory Science program has not been as linear as simply following in her mom’s footsteps.
“I always loved science and anything having to do with the body,” she says. “I actually went to NC State as a pre-vet student majoring in Animal Science for my junior year, as I had grown up with horses and wanted to merge my two interests.”
During her time as a pre-vet student, Otway found herself drawn to learning about anatomy and blood. “When we would go out on calls and take samples, they were then sent to the labs,” she says. “A majority of information used to make a solid diagnosis requires lab results, and I found myself most interested in the small-scale diagnostics and lab work.”
From there, Otway shifted gears and was accepted into the Clinical Laboratory Science program within the Department of Allied Health Sciences at UNC-Chapel Hill.
“My mom says, ‘I told you so!’ because even though I started out on a different path, I still found my way to the same thing she did,” says Otway. “She definitely gets a kick out of it!”
Finding a Place in the Program
So far, Otway has been enjoying her time in the challenging program. She is grateful for instructors who go in-depth into each area of study through a mix of detailed explanation and hands-on training in the lab. “If I have a question, it’s answered immediately. All of our teachers are phenomenal and are preparing us incredibly well.”
She’s looking forward to putting together everything she’s learned in this first semester in the classroom – mainly cells, how they work and their maturation sequences – as the program progresses. She’s fascinated by how cells interact and behave in different disease states and looks forward to exploring this more next semester.
Her mom remembers Dr. Beck and was taught by some of the same instructors Otway has in the classroom today. In fact, one of Otway’s professors graduated the year before her mom. “As a graduate of the CLS program we receive newsletters keeping us up to date about on-campus happenings,” says Crittenton. “While several of my professors have retired, there is still a core group of instructors still teaching within the program. It’s a wonderful thing about the program – the professors are committed, and it shows.”
Choosing a Career Path
Otway’s professional goals include working in a hospital lab setting, although she recognizes that the program offers so many opportunities that it can be challenging to choose which route to take. Research is another option that interests her, but with a high demand for clinical lab scientists right now, she sees promise in finding a job in that setting.
Crittenton took a slightly different route than what Otway plans for her own career. She started her career as a laboratory technologist at Duke Human Vaccine Institute and was involved in HIV vaccine research. For the past few years she has been at home to raising her younger child and plans to get back to the lab soon. Many of her classmates from the program worked at doctors’ offices or general hospital labs after graduation, but she found her calling in research.
“The CLS program prepares you for any aspect of lab work. The information is abundant, the training is thorough and the support from the professors is overwhelming to the point that you graduate fully prepared for whatever job you accept,” says Crittenton. “Research was perfect for me because of the flexible hours and the independent work, but I have kept up my certifications so that when I am ready, I can get into the clinical lab.”
Like Mother, Like Daughter
Otway knows she can rely on her mom for advice and support as she makes her way through the program. In a way, their shared experience was meant to be – and had an early start.
“I was six years old when my mom went through the program,” says Otway. “I even remember sitting in class with her at one point! I’ve known about the people and the program for a long time now, but actually being here is an amazing experience.”
“I enjoy looking up to my mom and asking her questions about this interest we share,” says Otway. “We are good friends and have a great relationship, which makes it even better. Who knows, maybe we’ll end up getting jobs at the same place one day!”
Crittenton says, “The joke now is that Alexis and I will probably end up working in the same lab, but she will be my boss!”
The Clinical Laboratory Science (CLS) program at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill is one of the premier CLS programs in the nation. The CLS program consists of one year of lecture and student laboratory courses, followed by one year of clinical education courses completed in hospital and reference laboratories in North Carolina. Susan J. Beck, PhD, MLS(ASCP)CM is a professor and Director of the Division of Clinical Laboratory Science within the Department of Allied Health Sciences.