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North Idaho College Detectives of the Medical World

Detectives of the Medical World

Even though they are intimately involved in patient care, you may have never seen one on the patient-care floors of a hospital. That’s because the work of medical lab technicians takes place behind the scenes to provide physicians with the information they need to treat patients. In fact, around 70 percent of all medical decisions are based on information provided by medical lab technicians—not doctors or nurses.

“I like to think of us as the detectives of the medical world,” said Sonja Nehr-Kanet, director of North Idaho College’s new Medical Laboratory Technician program. She wrote the curriculum for the hybrid program, which includes online courses anchored by on-campus labs. NIC’s program involves three full semesters and two summer courses, and includes an internship in a clinical setting. Upon completing the program, students are eligible to take national certification exams.

The program was made possible by the Idaho Center of Excellence Healthcare Partnership—a $6.4 million Trade Adjustment Assistance Community College and Career Training grant awarded by the U.S. Department of Labor. In fact, the Medical Lab Technician program is just one of several health-care related programs funded by the grant. The mission of ICE is to create a stable health-care workforce for the state of Idaho.

“Three colleges across the state of Idaho have partnered in the goal of changing how health-care education is delivered in Idaho,” said Drue Hatfield, project director of the ICE Healthcare Partnership. Idaho State University and Lewis-Clark State College are the other consortium partners.

Medical lab technicians work in lab settings, conducting tests on specimens to aid in disease and illness diagnosis. MLTs may also set up and maintain medical lab equipment, prepare solutions or reagents to be combined with samples and collect blood or other samples from patients.

The median annual wage for medical lab technicians was $38,970 in 2015. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there is an 18-percent projected increase in MLT jobs through 2024—more than twice the average rate for all occupations.

It is possible to “ladder up” from a job as an MLT with more education, Nehr-Kanet said. In fact, she intentionally designed the program to make it easy for students to transfer the credits they earn toward a bachelor’s degree.

Nehr-Kanet said there is a national shortage of medical lab technicians. Employers are looking for competent, qualified lab professionals.

Erik Fenenbock is a student in the MLT program. Prior to enrolling, he worked in a university as an adviser, and later in both admissions and advising at North Idaho College. “I loved working with students, but there was always a part of me that I felt was unexplored,” he said. “I’d always dreamed about the sciences and going into the medical field.”

Attending a cadaver presentation, where the public was allowed to view the cadaver used by students in NIC’s human prosection class, renewed his interest. “I was looking at this cadaver and thought I was going to freak out or something,” Fenenbock said. “But it was so fascinating. I was surprised at my own reaction. I didn’t get light headed or anything. In fact, I threw on some gloves, walked over and started handling the cadaver.”

The experience spurred Fenenbock to enroll in an anatomy and physiology course at NIC. He also began to contemplate a future career in the medical field.

In December 2016, some of the students Fenenbock advised asked him about the new MLT program. Upon researching it, he determined that the program would be a great fit not only for his students, but for himself. It seemed so perfect, in fact, that he decided to quit his full-time job as an adviser at NIC and become a full-time student instead.

Because Fenenbock wants to stay in Coeur d’Alene, working as an MLT is an even more attractive option. “We’re not saturated in medical lab technicians in this area,” he said. “There are great job opportunities.”

For more information on the programs available through the Idaho Center of Excellent Healthcare Partnership, visit or call 208.625.2307.

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