What Are MLS Students Learning in Hematology?

As we start our second break, I thought I would reflect on what we have been studying thus far in the Mayo Clinic Medical Laboratory Science (MLS) program. Up to this point, we have spent nearly half of our total time in lab studying hematology—the study of the formation and function of blood and blood-related diseases. Here, we are learning about characteristics of both red and white blood cells, disorders associating them, and interpreting complete blood-cell counts (CBCs) of disease. A CBC is a list of blood-cell measurements typically run when you get your blood drawn, and it represents how many red and white cells you have; their shapes, sizes, relative abundancies; and the amount of hemoglobin present. All of these measurements help physicians diagnose blood diseases.

After learning the theory, we put what we have learned into practice and look at samples through microscopes. We learn how to differentiate among hemoglobinopathies and thalassemias, anemias, immature white blood cells, and characteristics of mature ones that suggest infection or disease. This differentiation is important because many blood disorders can present similar CBC results, but they look very different morphologically under a microscope. Applying the theory to practice, however, has shown us that actual samples tend to differ from the norm, which is great preparation for our future careers. Textbook pictures illustrate the perfect sample for a given disease, and are thus not always best to use, since not every cell we see in practice will be the “perfect” example. Instead, we are able to use other clues such as cell counts, patient symptoms, and our fellow classmates in conjunction with cellular morphology in order to figure out what we are looking at.

At my lab bench, it is not uncommon to have someone say, “Hey, does anyone want to take a look?” when someone finds a good example of a cell we are learning about on a slide or when a cell nucleus is in the shape of a smiley face.

When we are not looking through a microscope or at CBC results, we are learning how to perfect the technique of making a peripheral blood or bone-marrow aspirate smear, which many of us quickly learned is much harder than it looks. We have also been working on creating individual case studies—creating a patient history and lab results to an assigned blood disease. During this process, we have had to ask questions of our classmates, respond to each other’s case, and make diagnoses. This iterative activity has been both challenging and fun, and it is reminiscent of detective work. This has been one of the more important and helpful activities we’ve done in class, and it happens to be my personal favorite.

The MLS program to this point has been a fantastic experience, and it has me excited for our laboratory rotations next semester, where we will apply what we’ve learned in a real clinical setting.

Rachel Olk

Rachel is a student in the Medical Laboratory Science Program. She received her bachelor’s degree in Microbiology from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. In her free time, she enjoys exploring new cities, surfing Pinterest, and watching Guy Fieri cooking shows.