Interview with Dr. Morvillo: All About the Medical Laboratory Science Major

Dec 10, 2018

by Alexandra Faust '21
Student Writer

As the professor of biology and the Department Chair, Dr. Nancy Morvillo gets a priceless opportunity to work on developing new majors and expanding the department. In this interview, Dr. Morvillo shares what Medical Laboratory Science major is, what it’s like working in partnership with Lakeland Regional Hospital and what students should expect from becoming a part of the rapidly growing medical field.

How would you define and describe the Medical Laboratory Science major? What student would be the perfect fit for this area of scientific study?

It's an applied major. It's a major that's good for students who are interested in the clinical side of medicine, but maybe don't want to go on to be physicians or healthcare providers. This would be a great major for somebody who really loves being in the lab, but also really likes the clinical aspect of things. Students get a great background from Florida Southern, as far as all the prerequisite courses. Then they go to Lakeland Regional Hospital and work exclusively with MLS professionals. They get in the lab, and they're learning from clinical scientists who know the field and have been active in the field for a long time. Students learn all of the diagnostic procedures by working directly in the lab and they get outstanding training during the fourth year they’re in the program.

“The lab is where the diagnosis usually happens, so that really excites our students: they know that this is really important work.”
Dr. Nancy Morvillo

Florida Southern has a wide array of majors to choose from. In the biological sciences, there are major options like, biology, marine biology, environmental science, and even biochemistry and molecular biology. What inspired the department to add yet another one like MLS?

The initial reason was that Lakeland Regional contacted us. They are anticipating a lot of turnover coming up because of retirements. Recently they noticed that when people who are coming in to fill those positions have a bachelor's degree in MLS, they function much better in the lab setting. Right now, Lakeland Regional is affiliated with a couple of other universities who send their students to Lakeland Regional to get hands-on clinical training, but most of the time those students go back home and don’t stay in the area. So, they came to us asking if we would entertain the idea of creating a major that would be a bachelor's degree in this particular field.

There are other colleges in the area. Why did Lakeland Regional choose Florida Southern specifically?

Our reputation is the main reason. I know Lakeland Regional already works very closely with our nursing majors. I think it was a partnership that just of came out of that. It was a natural idea to say, “Hey, we have a relationship with Florida Southern already, because of the nursing department. Let's see if maybe the biology department might be interested in establishing this major”. As we started talking, and as I brought ideas up to the administration, we got very positive feedback. Lakeland Regional has been wonderful to work with. So far, it's been a really, really great partnership.


You said that students will be working in the hospital laboratory; what kind of technology will students will be working with during their rotation?

The technology in use at Lakeland Regional- the microscopes, the DNA analyzers, facilities for culturing bacteria and viruses-are all high tech and state of the art. It's just amazing. Also, the professionals that are going to be instructing our students and working with them at Lakeland Regional, again, are all certified as medical laboratory scientists.


This degree must have many specific requirements and standards. How was the framework developed for this major?

There's an accrediting body, NAACLS (National Accrediting Agency for Clinical Laboratory Sciences). NAACLS sets standards for what these programs should look like, what the academic components are, and what the laboratory components are. We worked very closely with Lakeland Regional to determine what courses we already have in the curriculum that could be used as prerequisite courses. Then, we developed all of the MLS courses that would be specific for the major from scratch. The courses are targeted to meet all of those NAACLS requirements. We looked at other institutions, had a lot of feedback as far as what NAACLS wants, and were advised by professionals who had gone through the accreditation process at their own institutions. Then we thought about how we could implement all of this, and we were working very cooperatively with Lakeland Regional to design this major.


Student looking through the microscope.
Student looking through the microscope.

How were the professors specifically selected for the courses in this major?

The qualifications that we're looking for is their background in not only general biology, but also in their area of expertise. For example, one of the courses that students are required to take in this major is parasitology, and they’ll be taking that with Dr. Gabe Langford. When students are taking a course with him, they're learning all the basic information about parasites, how they affect the body, what they do, and the diseases that they cause. When students get to Lakeland Regional, all of the staff that they will work with are certified in clinical laboratory sciences, and have advanced degrees and many, many years of experience working in the lab.


How large is the Medical Laboratory Science major right now, and do you expect any growth in the department?

Due to the intensive hands-on training that students receive we can't take very many students in the program. Lakeland Regional can work with up to six students per year. When students get to their senior year and are hands-on in the labs, we need to be sure there will be enough room for them. That means we have to limit the program to only six students per year. This is the second year of the major. Right now, we have three students in our freshman class and three students in our sophomore class. We anticipate a little bit of growth, but this is a selective program. Should there be a great demand for the program, it could be possible that we might reach out to other hospitals within the area that would be willing to take our students. We'll just have to see what the demand is from our prospective students.

You mentioned that a lot of the upper level courses were at the actual hospital. Would this experience be considered an internship or courses?

We have not designated those courses as internships, because they're very, very specific courses. They have specific learning outcomes, and very specific content that has to be taught. They’re not technically internships, but students gain all the same experience, and a whole lot more. In the last two semesters these are the only courses taken by the majors, so it's even more experience than students gain with an internship. The one-on-one and the interpersonal interactions that students will have once they get to Lakeland Regional will prepare them well to become medical laboratory scientists.

Dr. Morvillo working with one of her students.
Dr. Morvillo working with one of her students.

After graduation, what kind of job opportunities are available for students with this degree?

Students can have any type of clinical laboratory career, throughout Lakeland and beyond. There are research opportunities as well. The heart of this really is the lab work, so students will be prepared for any type of clinical lab work with different types of procedures. The medical field is always growing. It’s definitely a career where you're always going to have a job no matter where you want to end up. Any place where there's a hospital or any sort of clinical testing they're going to need medical laboratory scientists. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates 16% growth for the field through 2024. In relation to other career options, this is one that's projected to grow at a fairly rapid rate.

This is a highly specialized major. From your point of view, what is the main draw for students to major in MLS?

What really excites our students is when you're looking at diagnostic testing, when a physician goes in and tries to figure out what's wrong with a patient, a lot of people think it's the doctor. But in 70% of cases it's actually the clinical laboratory scientists that diagnosis what's wrong with the patient. The lab is where the diagnosis usually happens, so that really excites our students: they know that this is really important work. You’re also monitoring patients, if they're getting a specific treatment, to determine: is the treatment working? Students are able to understand “Oh, my gosh, I can figure out if a person is getting better. I'm the one who can do that test to see if these treatments are working for the patient.”

What do you anticipate to be the strongest aspect of this program as it grows?

It’s almost a guaranteed job as soon as you graduate. For complete certification, students have to take an exam, the national exam of the American Society for Clinical Pathology, which they can take right after graduation. Once they pass the exam, then they are cleared to work in a hospital. They'll have all of the background and all of the certification necessary. If you want to pretty much have a guaranteed job right after you graduate, this major certainly can do it for you.