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The Division of Clinical Laboratory Science, housed in the Department of Health Sciences within UNC’s School of Medicine, recently celebrated Amber Vaughn, the first graduate of the online Master’s in Clinical Laboratory Science – Medical Laboratory Science (MCLS) program.  This program, launched in 2020, was developed for certified laboratory professionals who wish to advance their careers through graduate coursework in molecular diagnostics, research design, laboratory administration, and educational methods.

Vaughn received a BS in Biology and minor in Chemistry from Roanoke College, then completed a one-year Medical Laboratory Science program at Jefferson College of Health Sciences in Roanoke, Virginia. She completed her clinical rotations at SOVAH Health Martinsville and continued working there after graduation in 2017. The following year, Vaughn moved to North Carolina and began working at Duke University Hospital in the Clinical Pediatric Laboratory (CPED), where she worked her way to becoming an Advanced Medical Laboratory Scientist in 2020.

Career Advancement Through an Advanced Degree

A drive to continue learning and advancing in her career pushed Vaughn to explore continuing her education, and she was accepted into the new Master’s in Clinical Laboratory Science program at UNC. In August 2021, she transferred her work to the Morris Laboratory at Duke University Hospital as an Advanced Medical Laboratory Scientist.  In March of 2022, she became the Analytical Specialist of the Morris and Bone Marrow Transplant Laboratories – just a couple of months before completing her degree.  She is one of the youngest Analytical Specialists in the laboratories of Duke University Hospital.

“I have always enjoyed school and learning all that I can. When I heard about the new MCLS program, I knew it would help strengthen myself as a Medical Laboratory Scientist by building on my foundational knowledge to apply it to my everyday work life,” said Vaughn. “I also have the mindset to advance in my career and based on the curriculum for the MCLS degree, many of the courses applied to education, management, and even CAP regulations.”

Vaughn understood her journey toward an advanced degree would not be easy, as she would be working a full-time job while also being a full-time student. She believed the hard work would be worth it for her future career endeavors.

A Well-Rounded Curriculum and Faculty Support

Vaughn’s undergraduate studies curriculum was not based on Molecular Diagnostics, so she looked forward to gaining knowledge and training in the subject through the MCLS program.

“This program opened my eyes to an area of the laboratory I would have otherwise overlooked,” said Vaughn. “The program requires two semesters of a Molecular Diagnostics class, and I am grateful for it!  The subject is intriguing and constantly changing, and it is amazing to see how far the laboratory has come in its technology and where it could go in the future with more research.”

Vaughn notes that her teachers were detailed, involved and strategic when creating curriculum for each course. “It takes much work and effort to develop goals and objectives for each course and then correlate those with appropriate quiz and test questions,” said Vaughn. “The Educational Methods and Applications course opened my eyes to the process, and I’ll never take my teachers for granted – they put a lot of heart and work into their courses to provide students with a successful learning environment.”

Capstone Project: Massive Transfusion Protocols (MTPs) in Labor and Delivery Patients

Vaughn opted to pursue a research-based capstone project to conclude her time in the program. Her project focused on assessing important aspects of Massive Transfusion Protocols (MTPs) involving Labor and Delivery patients in North Carolina facilities.

She first reviewed scientific literature to determine recommendations and practices that are beneficial in obstetric MTPs. From there, Vaughn wanted to determine if North Carolina facilities were following these best practices.

“With the help of Dr. Tara Moon, I created a Qualtrics survey with questions involving this protocol and reached out to contacts from various facilities I found online after obtaining IRB approval and developing a consent form for the participating facilities,” said Vaughn. “The Capstone project has been fulfilling in that I had the opportunity to use aspects of previous courses, such as Research Methods and Biostatistics for Laboratory Professionals, and apply them to formulating and carrying out the project. Because of the work I have put into this project, I was able to share the knowledge gained with the ASCLS community and have the potential to continue my work and develop a national study.”

Using the Degree: Looking Ahead to New Career Opportunities

Thanks to her knowledge gained by taking various molecular courses during her time in the MCLS program, Vaughn has the opportunity to take the certification exam for Molecular Diagnostics. “I feel better prepared to perform my everyday laboratory responsibilities because of the program,” she said.

In her new position, she will eventually validate and verify new instrumentation, methods, and courses, all of which were focuses within the MCLS program. “The program has allowed me to strengthen my professional skills in the clinical laboratory and has made me aware of the elements required in laboratory maintenance,” said Vaughn.  “I’ve become more knowledgeable and confident in my abilities to perform my duties as a new Analytical Specialist, and the program definitely prepared me to continue advancing in my career.”

Dr. Susan Beck, the Director of the Division of Clinical Laboratory Science said. “We are very proud of Amber.  She is a great example of how the MCLS program can help talented laboratory professionals advance in their knowledge and careers. We look forward to following Amber’s career and her contributions to the profession.”