The Ontario Tech University medical lab

Dimitri Tsalavoutas


The first thing I noticed when coming to explore the medical lab at Ontario Tech University is how serious they are about health and safety.  The medical lab is a level two biohazard lab, and one must take many precautions when in the laboratory.

The students who use the medical labs are in the second and third year of the Health Science program. Most of the students become Medical Laboratory Technologists (MLTs) but it is an excellent program for pre-med students.  Students quickly learn their way around a medical laboratory and develop essential quality assurance skills.

There are five disciplines in the Medical Laboratory Science program:

  1.     Microbiology
  2.     Biochemistry
  3.     Hematology
  4.     Transfusion Medicine        
  5.     Histology

All of the instructors and staff in this lab have had extensive hospital work experience.  Students in their first year are taught the theory and safe practice of lab equipment usage.  In their second and third year, they are then given the opportunity to physically use the lab.  In the fourth year, the students are sent to a real workplace environment to further build their experience before graduating from the program.  A great benefit of this program is that students graduate from Ontario Tech University with not just an honours degree in health science, but a license to work as a Medical Laboratory Technologist anywhere in Canada. They must pass the Canadian Society of Medical Laboratory Science (CSMLS) national exam to be certified.

MLS (Medical Laboratory Science) technician Joanne Free led the tour, in which I had the chance to see the equipment that students use, which they will end up using in the workplace.

In microbiology, the students grow bacteria they swabbed from a person’s throat and then put the sample in an incubator which mimics the human body.  They then identify any infections in the swab (for example, strep throat), and accordingly treat the sample with antibiotics.  An important skill gained here is learning the difference between bacteria that is good (normal flora), and bacteria that can cause human infections (pathogens).

Below is one of the lab's three VITROS 350 instruments, which are used to analyze blood chemistry samples.  In the Biochemistry lab students are taught not only how to run and maintain this large instrument but also how to perform many tests.  


Pictured here on the left below, Ms. Free shows me the LH500, an instrument that is used for hematology.  The CRT monitor on the right is part of a hematology instrument called the ACT5 that is older, but still very useful.  Having the proper training and experience from the lab is vital, and here at Ontario Tech University the students have it all!



The PROVUE pictured below is an instrument used in transfusion medicine. This is a fully automated blood bank instrument. 


Below on the left is a microscopic slide of a piece of liver tissue.  Tiny iron deposits can be easily identified under a microscope.  On the right, Ms. Donna Smeeton (senior lecturer and lab instructor) prepares the microscope for me to check out the iron stain. 


Ms. Smeeton then connected a microscope through a computer to two large TVs, shown below, to show what she can see under the microscope, in real-time!  I was truly impressed by this.  It is a great set up for showing the class what certain cells look like.


This very innovative tool in the lab uses the Digital Microscopy (PANOPTIC) instrument.  It is the microscope of the future!  Microscope work can now be viewed online. The students can see slides at home on their computer and there is nothing to misplace, break, or pass around (because everyone has what they need on their individual computers).  This technology is also useful in the workplace because the doctor using it would not have to go to the hospital to diagnose a patient.  If someone needs quick results from a lab test, a doctor can look at the sample/results from their computer at home or consult from another hospital.

I am impressed by the amount of instruments and miscellaneous pieces of medical equipment that are donated from hospitals. The donations are perfect for students to practice with.  Below, Ms. Free showed me how to take a blood sample from one of the very life-like model arms that the students practice with.


The MLS students are also learning about molecular diagnostic testing, another innovative tool in the field.  The PCR (Polymerase Chain Reaction) instruments in place in the lab are the MyCycler and T100 Thermal Cycler.  These instruments are able to make copies of DNA.

Since learning in the lab can be overwhelming at times, students can reinforce what they have learned in class online in the ‘virtual lab’.

After leaving the lab today, I felt that the students of the MLS program are definitely in good hands.  Ontario Tech University has made a significant investment in the medical lab.  The lab has all of the tools and information to produce very knowledgeable students that will not only succeed in the workplace, but be a part of future innovations in the field of medicine. 

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