New accelerated MLS program receives No. 2 national ranking

Photo taken from SDState

Photo taken from SDState

Symmone Gauer, Reporter (She/Her)

The Accelerated Medical Laboratory Science Program at South Dakota State University was ranked second in the nation by in Top Fastest Undergraduate Degrees for Biological and Biomedical Science. 

“It’s very timely,” said Sharrel Pinto, head of the Department of Allied and Population Health. “It really is no surprise to me why we were ranked the No. 2 program.”  

MLS is a very in-demand profession. Across the nation, there were 337,800 jobs in MLS in 2019, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics. The projected growth rate from 2019 to 2029 is 7%, which is faster than the average 3.7% rate for all occupations. 

Students in the accelerated program complete their degree in 16 months, allowing them to graduate and start working in December instead of May. The demand for MLS professionals across the country has become increasingly higher over the years.

“We saw a need. We kept hearing … that this is a forever-problem,”  Pinto said about the growing demand.

MLS faculty proposed the accelerated program to the Board of Regents for approval and received it in July. The first group of students in the accelerated track started in August. 

The MLS program admits 24 students each year. There are now three tracks for students: the standard on-campus program, the Upward Mobility program for those already employed in a lab and the accelerated program.  

 Students need 90 general credits or a bachelor’s degree in order to apply and be admitted to the program. The first two semesters of the accelerated track are online, which is an added benefit to some. 

 “Even if the pandemic hadn’t come around and they had this program, it would have been my first option,” Faith Fast, a student in the accelerated program, said. “I really like taking the online courses. I’m a non-traditional student, so I can’t be on campus in Brookings for an extended time, so this is just perfect for me.” 

 Fast currently lives in Iowa and said her favorite part of the program so far is the online labs.

 “It’s really cool. It looks just like I’m looking under the microscope,” she said. 

Her courses will continue during the summer with on-campus labs. Then, Fast and others in the accelerated program will start their clinicals at a hospital in August.  

Stacie Lansink, MLS program director, healthcare has always relied on lab professionals since lab results make up 70-80% of a patient’s medical history.  

“It was a great feeling to know we could start something like this and be recognized,” Lansink said about the program’s ranking. 

Lansink talked about how having to move online last spring helped prepare them for the accelerated online program. SDSU has the only accredited MLS program in the state, and the program sees 100% job placement for its students immediately after they graduate.    

The MLS program as a whole was also ranked third in the U.S. for Best Value by College Factual and 18th for highest-paid graduates.  

The pandemic has also brought the profession of MLS, which is often behind-the-scenes, to the forefront. 

“I think one of the things we have noticed, especially with COVID-19, is just a recognition for the role of the people that are in these ’spacesuits’ on television that are testing everyone,” Pinto said.

The same is true locally, as many MLS students have had the opportunity to do COVID-19 collections. 

“A lot of us are front-line workers,” Lansink said. 

Even before COVID-19, there has been a national workforce shortage for medical lab professions, making the MLS program all the more important now. Pinto hopes that in the future, SDSU will be able to expand the program to meet the ever-growing need.