UW-Stout News Story

Marshfield Clinic program offers intense hands-on experience

December 14, 2011

Two senior applied science majors at University of Wisconsin-Stout, Martha Fagan and Kelsey Posta, are used to hands-on learning at Jarvis Hall Science Wing.

“I really enjoy working in the labs at Stout,” said Fagan. “Professors give you a lot of freedom, and you can even design your own experiments.”

This year, however, they are experiencing hands-on education at an even higher level. Fagan, of River Falls, and Posta, of Rice Lake, are in the midst of a 50-week, lab-based histology internship at Marshfield Clinic and St. Joseph’s Hospital in Marshfield. Histology is the process by which medical technicians prepare human or animal tissue for testing in a pathology lab.

Since last summer, they have been working side-by-side with lab professionals and doctors at the two distinguished medical facilities in central Wisconsin.

Earlier this year UW-Stout and Marshfield Clinic-St. Joseph’s signed a Student Training Agreement. Fagan and Posta were the first from UW-Stout to apply. They were accepted and account for two of the four students in the program.

UW-Stout students also are eligible to apply for the clinic’s cytotechnology internship. Cytotechnology involves studying cells to help diagnose cancer and other diseases. An example is working with pap smears to help detect cervical cancer in women.

Fagan and Posta have been at the lab eight hours a day, 40 hours a week. They take classes from lab professionals, are tested, observe lab procedures and, over the course of the 50 weeks, learn how to do all aspects of histology.

After about three months they can begin working part time on Saturdays in the lab as paid employees, if they choose.
When finished with the program, they are qualified to take the histotechnician board exam. Eventually, after they earn their bachelor’s degrees, they can seek to become histotechnologists.

“It doesn’t get more hands-on than this,” Fagan said. “We’re able to see and touch organs. It’s pretty incredible that I’m in a working histology lab and working with biopsies from actual patients.”

When Posta and Fagan work with human tissue, they follow a several-step process: First, the biopsied tissue is embedded in a metal mold, which is filled with molten paraffin wax. When it cools, the wax-encased tissue is sliced paper-thin, mounted on a slide and stained to highlight details. A pathologist then looks for abnormalities in the samples.

Fagan and Posta will earn 36 credits and then return to UW-Stout to finish their degrees, if needed, or return to graduate. Students must be seniors to apply for the internship. They pay full UW-Stout tuition during the internship; UW-Stout then pays Marshfield Clinic 80 percent of the tuition.

Careerwise, Fagan plans to use the internship as a steppingstone to graduate school and to pursue a career as a pathologist or medical researcher. Posta is leaning toward a career in histology.

“It’s been a great experience. You’re always on duty with a histology tech. Everybody is willing to help and answer your questions,” Posta said.

Marshfield Clinic also works with students from UW-Stevens Point, Michigan Technological University, Northern Michigan University, two-year technical colleges and with students who have earned their undergraduate degrees.

“We feel really good about our students entering their careers. They’re in demand all over the U.S.,” said Kate Gorman, director of the histotechnology program. “Most of them have jobs before they graduate.”

Students in the program find work in the medical field as well as at universities, government facilities and in private industry.

The Student Training Agreement was coordinated through Charles Bomar, a UW-Stout biology professor and director of the applied science program. The UW-Stout academic advisers for the program are biology faculty James Burritt, cytotechnology, and Maleka “Polly” Hashmi, histotechnology.

To learn more about the UW-Stout applied science program, go to http://www.uwstout.edu/programs/bsas/.

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