SJSU Clinical Lab Scientist Training Program Expands in a Crisis

A professor in a lab coat watches her student conduct research in a lab.

Photo: Robert Bain / San José State University.

Waiting on medical test results can be unpleasant, and the expansion of San José State’s Clinical Laboratory Scientist Training program could reduce those painful wait times. By building new hospital partnerships, the program serves as a crucial component in California’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

From Bakersfield to Chico, from Oroville to Newport Beach—across the state, 38 hospitals,  laboratories and medical centers are now state-approved SJSU affiliates, partnering with the university to train clinical laboratory scientists and get them to work where they are desperately needed.

“California has a shortage of clinical laboratory scientists,” said Michael Bowling, director of the Clinical Laboratory Scientist (CLS) and Clinical Genetic Molecular Biology Scientist (CGMBS) Training programs. “People are coming to us.”

SJSU is the largest training program in California in number of hospital affiliates, many of which serve rural populations. At those affiliates, the CLS trainees take SJSU coursework remotely and train in laboratories throughout the state. Within one year, they can earn a state CLS license and get to work, easing the laboratory staffing crisis.

A student in a lab coat and goggles dispenses liquid into a test tube.

Photo: Robert Bain / San José State University.

CLSs examine the sample taken at your medical facility after you have blood drawn, for example. “They’re the ones running the tests. They are licensed by the State of California to perform the highest complexity testing,” said Bowling. That might mean differentiating types of cancer cells or identifying COVID-19.

Together, Bowling and longtime program coordinator Sharlene Washington run the program. “We send 50 licensed CLSs into the workforce every year,” Bowling said, “which is especially important when qualified hospital professionals are needed more than ever.” Since Bowling began as program director in 2018, the program has added five new affiliates—which means arranging contracts, insurance, state approval and many other complex, time-intensive challenges. “We’re really proud of that,” he said.

Students who are accepted to the program do their SJSU coursework remotely on Mondays, then train the rest of the week on site at their local affiliate laboratory or medical center. Such locations include Adventist Health Bakersfield, Natividad Medical Center in Salinas, El Camino Hospital in Mountain View, and Santa Clara Valley Medical Center in San José. Bowling said the course instructors are also practicing clinical laboratory scientists from all over the Bay Area, experts in the latest techniques and methods.

Each six-month cycle the SJSU program receives about 140 applications. A cohort of about 25 accepted students will then study and train for 52 consecutive weeks to meet State of California requirements. Students who complete the graduate level program may then obtain national certification from the American Society for Clinical Pathology and a California Clinical Laboratory Scientist license.

“It’s quite rigorous,” Bowling said. To become licensed, CLS trainees must master every laboratory in the hospital—microbiology, hematology, chemistry, immunology. “They’ll have a basic competency to perform any of the tests a doctor may order,” he said.

At orientation, Bowling tells new CLS trainees, “If you love working in a laboratory, if you love science—that’s enough, as it is. But it’s such a bonus that we get to help people too. And with starting salaries of $50 an hour, CLS is a good career choice.”

“What’s unique about our program is that we have a lot of remote affiliates,” Bowling said. “Hospitals all over the state have staffing shortages, so it is appealing to both urban and rural hospitals that students can take classes online while training anywhere in the state. Hospital administrators are reaching out to us to train more students right now during this crisis.” The result? More opportunities for students, more university revenue, and training more clinical laboratory scientists for the workforce.

Bowling said the CLS program was scaling up while other programs, hindered by the pandemic and campus closures, had suspended training. “We are still trucking along and actually expanding during the COVID-19 crisis,” he said. “Our students are working with our hospital affiliates’ doctors and other laboratory professionals to get patients diagnosed and treated, and it is very rewarding to be part of this great work.”

Deadline for Student Crisis Support Fund Extended Through April 30

 

Updated April 28. 2020

In March 2020, San Jose State’s Annual Giving partnered with SJSU Cares to launch a crowdfunding campaign to support the university’s Student Crisis Support Fund in response to the Coronavirus (COVID-19) health pandemic. The Student Crisis Support Fund, administered by SJSU staff as part of the SJSU Cares initiative, provides immediate assistance to SJSU students who are facing unforeseen economic crises. This fund is entirely supported by charitable donations and helps meet students’ time-sensitive needs. Requests are increasing dramatically due to the ramifications of COVID-19.

Since the crowdfunding campaign’s launch on March 25, more than 550 donors have helped SJSU surpass its initial $50,000 goal. As of 48 hours before the April 30 campaign deadline, SJSU announced that corporate partner, Cisco Systems, agreed to match all donations in the final week up to a total of $10,000. This, combined with a $10,000 donation from Joan and Don Beall, San Jose State alumni, has brought SJSU close to reaching the goal of $125,000. Funds will address ongoing, anticipated and unforeseen economic needs due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

COVID-19 has already disrupted the lives of life of SJSU students significantly, creating unexpected housing and food expenses, restricting travel and potentially stranding them away from home, limiting their income from hourly jobs, work-study positions, or internships or jobs that have been cancelled or put on hold, and creating other unforeseen challenges such as medical costs and technology resources they need to attend online classes. Some federal emergency funds exist to help students who are Pell- and FAFSA-eligible, but the funds won’t be available to help many other students, including international and undocumented and Dreamer students.

“By helping meet their immediate needs, the Student Crisis Support Fund can give SJSU students the ability to overcome the immediate difficult setbacks the pandemic poses,” said Ben Falter, SJSU behavioral intervention chair and senior student affairs case manager, who also responds to students requesting assistance from SJSU Cares. “However, recovery from the pandemic may take years, so the need will continue.”

“It’s encouraging to have so many in our Spartan community, especially San Jose State alumni and faculty and staff members, willing to support our students even as they too cope with the pandemic,” said Nancy Stewart, senior director of annual giving.

SJSU Takes on Pandemics 100 Years Apart

The Spanish flu swept across the campus of the San Jose Normal School, now known as San Jose State University, in October 1918. Then, like now, the school took steps to protect the campus community. Students, faculty, and staff volunteered their time and resources to help the campus and the San Jose region weather the pandemic.

According to the June 1919 LaTorre yearbook, the school closed on October 11, reopened a month later, then closed again December 3 for another month. Students were charged with making their own reusable cloth masks and were required to wear them when classes resumed.

The Normal Hospital

San Jose Normal School Students in 1918

Students at the San Jose Normal School wore masks during the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic. Source: 1918 La Torre yearbook, courtesy of SJSU Special Collections and Archives.

Hospitals in San Jose were so overcrowded at the time that the Intermediate Building on campus was converted into The Normal Hospital and a house on 12th Street was rented and made into a convalescent ward. Some 75 volunteer nurses worked at both makeshift hospitals. The Household Arts Department made meals for the patients. Students and faculty volunteered to care for patients; they donated cots, bedding, clothing, food, and flowers.

“One remarkable feature of the Normal School’s response was how its student body, mainly women, volunteered to serve as untrained nurses, literally putting their lives on the line to serve their community,” said History Professor and Director of the Burdick Military History Project Jonathan Roth.

According to the yearbook, the response and outpouring from the campus and the local community were wonderful. Here’s an excerpt: “And we are proud to know that in a time of great testing, our faculty and students proved themselves loyal and true in the highest sense.”

One hundred and two years later, the San Jose State community is once again being tested by another pandemic— Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19). Once again, the SJSU community is stepping up, rallying resources to fight the disease.

Similar to the 1918 flu outbreak, campus leaders have taken measures to protect students, faculty and staff. In an effort to promote social distancing and prevent the spread of COVID-19 on campus, SJSU administrators moved classes online.

Two SJSU alumni, working on the cutting edge of biotechnology, have helped their company, Cepheid, develop the first rapid COVID-19 test that can be administered at hospitals and urgent care centers and deliver test results within 45 minutes.

As local hospitals and emergency rooms run out of personal protective equipment and other medical supplies, SJSU’s College of Science stepped in to help.

Boxes of gloves and masks going to Valley Medical Foundation.

Boxes of gloves and masks going to Valley Medical Foundation. Photo: Dean Michael Kaufman

“A group of biology and College of Science staff and faculty contacted me about our stock of gloves and masks, which normally would have been used in spring 2020 biology labs that are no longer meeting,” said College of Science Dean Michael Kaufman. “We quickly inventoried the materials and contacted Valley Medical Foundation. In the end we were able to contribute 56 cases of gloves, plus a smaller supply of N95 and surgical masks. We know that many SJSU graduates are part of the healthcare teams there, so it was especially meaningful to be able to contribute this personal protective equipment to Valley Medical.”

  • The university also donated hydrogen peroxide and isopropyl to a local company to make hand sanitizer, said SJSU Vice President of Administration of Finance Charlie Faas.
  • Faculty in the industrial design department are using 3-D printers to make test kit swabs and badly needed ventilator parts for front line medical staff.
3D printer

SJSU Industrial Design faculty members are using 3-D printers to make ventilator parts, test swab kits and face shield parts. Photo: Jesus Hernandez.

Although the times and the resources are different, students, faculty and staff at the Normal School, and now San Jose State, are uniting, supporting each other, proving themselves loyal and true to help overcome the global pandemics of 1918 and 2020.