Two SMC health field programs teach students a "useful trade"

As Californians are struggling with today’s economic twists and turns, and as jobs are seemingly becoming more scarce, Santa Monica College is offering two health field related programs in an effort to alleviate the strain and help qualified people get into the workforce. SMC is launching a two-year Medical Laboratory Technician program beginning in fall 2012 that will be like the Health Information Technology Training program led by the Computer Science & Information Systems Department.

According to SMC’s website, the MLT program will train students to become “skilled individuals who are responsible for conducting laboratory tests accurately and efficiently in order to facilitate accurate diagnosis and high quality patient care.”

Dawn Murphy, Medical Lab Technician and Allied Health Initiative Project Manager at SMC, says the program will last 22 months.  “It’s actually three semesters of lecture and laboratory work on campus,” Murphy says. “The final semester will be in the field.”

In addition to becoming skilled technicians, MLT students hope that hospital partners St. John’s, Kaiser Permamente and Cedars Sinai will help provide job placement in fields of study.

To add to the lure of this specialized training, students have been told that salaries as high as $60,000 could be possible.

“This is something we’ve been told by employers,” said Murphy, “but it’s hard to substantiate.”

The college’s website shows figures from 2009 stating that a Medical Lab Technician with an associate’s degree and a license had a median yearly salary of $39,700; shows that today’s MLT median yearly salary to be $46,087.

The MLT program, which is limited to 24 students due to seat limitations in SMC’s lab, has “15 applicants so far, but seats are still available,” said Murphy.  She also claims there is “open access if you have the class-related prerequisites.”

While the program is new for California, it has been in existence in other states for some time.  According to, MLT’s must have gained an associate’s degree, while the more recognizable related profession of Clinical Laboratory Scientists are baccalaureate-degreed.

A state grant for Allied Health Enhancement has aided the program, providing around $50,000 for the last two years. Murphy said the money has helped with everything from curriculum development to the website.

The Health Information Technology program, which was a six-month online program, will end in August 2012, after training roughly 300 students in areas such as Health Management Information Services, and Introduction to Project Management.

The program’s objective is to educate in a field where health-related information such as a patient’s medical history or personal information needs to be stored safely and securely via computer access among doctors and insurance companies.

With the implementation of President George W. Bush’s Health Information Technology Plan in 2004, the need for qualified HIT healthcare employees is on the rise.

“By computerizing health records, we can avoid dangerous medical mistakes, reduce costs, and improve care,” Bush said in his January 2004 State of the Union Address.

According to the HIT program at SMC, the class was funded by the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, and by a grant to the Los Rios Community College District.

Murphy claims that these professions are an area where there is still a need. “Technicians are starting to retire,” she says.

Not only are technicians starting to retire and exit the workforce, but the Baby Boomer generation, a massive group of Americans, will be also be retiring soon.

According to, “Beginning January 1st, 2011, every single day more than 10,000 Baby Boomers will reach the age of 65.  That is going to keep happening every single day for the next 19 years.”

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