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Jay Chen, MLS(ASCP)CM (’20) followed a nontraditional path to reach the Division of Clinical Laboratory Science and continues to forge his own route as a graduate of the program.

Chen joined the U.S. Army in 2015 as a Combat Medic, which included a special program for fast-tracked citizenship. He served two years in the military before beginning his undergraduate degree at the University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill.

“My family is from North Carolina, and I was looking for a world-class education on top of the beautiful weather in the South,” said Chen. He began his time at UNC as a biology major and enjoyed working in the lab as a biology student under Drs. Shemer and Lockett. Thanks to his positive experiences he decided to take the leap into specialization, landing in the Clinical Laboratory Science (CLS) program.

“I loved our small CLS program because the classroom was just the right size for the experience, and I got to know my peers and professors on a personal level,” said Chen. “I also met my wife, Jennifer, at UNC, so everything about my experience on-campus worked out.”

Following graduation in spring 2020, amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Chen began working in the New York City VA as a federal civilian in General Chemistry and Immunology. He was accepted into Columbia University for graduate school, with a plan to finish school while working part time. However, his plans diverted when the U.S. Air Force offered a competitive career package and better graduate school funding.

“I was looking for a management role within the laboratory medicine community, and the Air Force provided the training, experience and excellent benefits and retirement package for me and my family,” said Chen. “I currently serve as a Flight Commander and I am responsible for the laboratory and ambulance department in a remote hospital in South Korea.”

Chen is moving back to New Jersey for another assignment next summer for a larger hospital role and plans on applying for a fellowship through Air Force funding to complete his Masters in the next five years.

When asked about advice for other veteran students, Chen notes that Medical Commissioning in the Air Force can be a great way to continue service if the student hasn’t retired. “It’s a great way to get to see the world.”

Chen discussed more about his service in the military in this 2020 interview.