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Erica Falcon graduated in May 2023 from the Master of Clinical Laboratory Science (MCLS) program. Her journey to an advanced degree seemed to happen by chance and, much to her surprise, positioned her to take a leap of faith into a new career path.

Exploring Options

Falcon received her Bachelor of Science in Clinical Laboratory Science from Tuskegee University and dove headfirst into her lab career. She worked at Duke University Hospital as a Medical Laboratory Scientist in Transfusion Medicine for 15 years. During this tenure, she advanced her career. Falcon began to participate in other aspects of the clinical laboratory, specifically quality assurance. Falcon began participating in internal laboratory audits, and this eventually led to her completing external audits for other organizations. As she started to absorb much of the material related to auditing regulatory standards, she also began considering pursuit of an advanced degree.

“I thought an advanced degree would be a great way to move up within the laboratory,” she said. “I was looking for a master’s program but couldn’t find exactly what I wanted – that’s when I noticed a flyer for UNC’s MCLS program hanging on the bulletin board at work.”

One of Falcon’s coworkers decided to enroll in the program and encouraged Falcon to follow suit. After much consideration, and with the support of her husband, Falcon decided to enroll as well.

“Initially I wanted to learn more about administration and education in the lab setting, as I thought it would help me become a better leader and provide me skills that would allow me to advance within the clinical laboratory” she said. “This program’s curriculum not only included classes focused on education and management, but it also emphasized research, too and the first research class I took once I enrolled at UNC confirmed that this was the right choice for me.”

Change Cultivates Change

As she worked through the MLS program, Falcon completed schoolwork in the mornings and worked evening shifts at Duke. She originally planned to stay in the lab setting, but in a role that would encompass both managerial and quality assurance duties. As she began casually looking for promotion opportunities, to her surprise,  she was contacted by a consultant organization about a position outside of the lab. Despite, not being a part of her original plan, Falcon decided to accept this new role.

“I really enjoyed the interview process, and I knew that this position would allow me to continue to perform laboratory audits, but with the focus of quality assurance. I felt like it was a great opportunity, and a good time to make a change,” said Falcon. “I didn’t realize at the time that the classes I was taking would translate to this new role outside of the clinical laboratory setting. Now, I find myself  using the skills and knowledge I gained from my classes when I am working on audits – I had no idea how well the program would prepare me for this job!”

Course Content Translates into Daily Work

Falcon credits her instructors and their course content for helping advance her career in multiple ways. One class focused on regulatory compliance, an area she was greatly interested in at the time, and she now works directly with some of the auditing and accrediting organizations she learned about in class.

Another course, biostatistics, was more challenging for Falcon, and she recalls how her instructor went the extra mile to help her learn the material, even over a holiday break. “I feel like the professors truly care and are invested in you,” she said. “It makes a huge difference as a student to know how much support you have from the faculty.”

Falcon’s methods comparison course content is now what she does in her day-to-day work, as it covered various clinical standards/regulations and quality control aspects that are essential parts of her current role. “When I did my first audit alone, I pulled out my notes!” said Falcon. She also recognized how her education courses taught her how to teach, which was critical as her new role involves developing training materials for other consultants.

Instructors Make the Difference

Though the program’s courses have prepared Falcon thoroughly for her current position, she credits her professors for helping her navigate and succeed within the program.

“When I began this program my child was only 9 months old, and I remember one instance when I needed to take an online proctored test, but my child was screaming in the background.  My husband, child and I were all sick, and I knew that completing this test on time was very unlikely,” said Falcon. “I contacted my professor and explained the situation and thankfully she understood. She even told me a personal story about how she navigated the same experience of balancing the needs of family while pursuing her PhD. She just understood and was compassionate and accommodating to my situation.”

In addition to the support from her family and friends, Falcon notes that she couldn’t have completed the program without the level of support given by the faculty and offers words of encouragement for others considering the UNC MCLS program.

“If you want to do the program, consider your true potential and don’t be afraid of the challenge,” she says. “The MCLS program offers a chance for full work-life-school balance because it is virtual, and your professors will be on your side to help you along the way, just like they were for me.”