Linda Smith, Ph.D., receives $450,000 grant for CLS
By Rosanne Fohn
Linda Smith, Ph.D., professor and chair of the Department of Clinical Laboratory Sciences (CLS) at the UT Health Science Center San Antonio, has been awarded one of the initial University of Texas System Teaching STARS grants. This two-year $450,000 grant will be used to purchase new equipment for the department’s teaching laboratory.
“Laboratory tests play a major part in medical decision making,” Dr. Smith explained. “The results from laboratory tests are the basis for the diagnosis and management of most acute diseases and chronic conditions, including infections with organisms such as Clostridium difficile, Hepatitis C or West Nile virus, meningitis, kidney disease, heart disease and cancer.
Laboratory tests also help prevent costly complications. Results may be pivotal in selecting appropriate chemotherapy for certain leukemias as well as monitoring response to stem cell transplants or retroviral therapy.
Preparing CLS professionals for the future
“With Baby Boomers expected to live longer and with more complex and chronic illnesses, the importance of cost-effective and accurate laboratory testing is even more critical — not only in diagnoses but in preventing costly complications,” Dr. Smith said. “The equipment this grant will purchase will help us provide a much richer educational experience, as well as simulations for our students. They will not only be better prepared for the current laboratory testing environment but better able to manage evolving and complex laboratory tests including molecular diagnostics,” she said.
Comprehensive and expanding programs
The equipment will support the department’s overall goals of expanding class sizes and offering new programs to help meet a national shortage of clinical laboratory professionals.
“There is a significant shortage of clinical laboratory scientists nationally and in the State of Texas. We currently offer multiple programs to help alleviate the shortage — a baccalaureate degree program, a baccalaureate-degree completion program for professionals with an associate degree, and a post-baccalaureate program in CLS for biology graduates. There has been interest in a CLS master’s program. We also receive requests to retrain individuals who have been out of the profession for a number of years," she explained.
"This equipment, which includes items such as microscopes with a digital camera and display screen, specialized analyzers with computer interface, environmental control chambers and a gas chromatograph/mass spectrometer, will help us expand these programs,” Dr. Smith said.
Shortage of clinical training sites
“The other aspect of this is that there is increased competition for clinical training sites in hospital labs,” she explained. “With the current shortage of CLS staff available to teach students, and with the competition by military laboratory students now training in sites in San Antonio, the number of clinical training slots has decreased. Meanwhile, the demands of the profession have become more complex. This equipment will enable us to offer more of the initial clinical laboratory experiences on a higher level in our labs. Our students then will complete the more complex assignments during their clinical training rotations in area hospitals.”
National reputation in education
The CLS department, part of he School of Health Professions, has a longstanding national reputation among educational programs. It is the only CLS program in the U.S. to have an exchange-student agreement with the Biomedical Laboratory Science Program at Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, Sweden. It offers the only master’s degree in forensic toxicology in the state. The program also offers one of only six cytogenetics programs in the country.
Doctoral program being planned
“A new focus for the program is a collaborative effort with the UT Medical Branch’s CLS program to develop a new Doctorate in Clinical Laboratory Sciences, one of approximately five being planned in the U.S.,” Dr. Smith said. The curriculum for this doctoral degree was developed by nationally recognized experts in CLS education and practice. Graduates will provide an interface between the laboratory and the clinician to assure improved patient outcomes and cost-effective patient care.
State and nationally recognized leader
Dr. Smith joined the CLS department in 1982 and became department chair in 2009. She was named a Piper Professor by the Minnie Stevens Piper Foundation in 2007 and was elected to the UT Academy of Health Science Education. In 2012, Dr. Smith received one of the UT System Regents’ Outstanding Teaching Awards. A laboratory professional for almost 40 years, she was installed as president of the American Society for Clinical Laboratory Sciences this summer.
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