UVM Medical Center

UVM Medical Center Hosts Summer of Science Event

‘Microbe Detectives’ Workshop gives students a behind-the-scenes look at healthcare careers in laboratory sciences

Teenage boy uses microscope at UVM Medical Center ‘Microbe Detectives’ Workshop

Burlington, Vt. – If you’ve ever needed antibiotics, given a blood sample to help your doctor diagnose an illness, or come into the Emergency Department or your doctor’s office seeking treatment for a wound or infection, a healthcare laboratory scientist has probably been a part of your care team – even if you’ve never seen or spoken to them. On Friday, a group of middle and high school students got an inside look at the careers that support diagnostic medicine and patient care.

From phlebotomists and medical laboratory scientists to histotechnologists — the specialists who prepare samples for microscopic examination — what goes on behind-the-scenes after a patient arrives at the hospital needing medical testing takes a veritable village.

Friday morning, students from around Vermont were treated to a peek behind the proverbial curtain, as UVM Medical Center hosted ‘Microbe Detectives’, a three-hour workshop that is part of the University of Vermont’s 4-H Summer of Science initiative – a collaboration with UVM Extension’s 4-H Teen & Leadership Program and UVM Medical Center that gives students in grades 7 – 12 the opportunity to meet scientists in their communities, learn about their work, get hands-on experience and explore their own pathways to careers in science and healthcare.

Six students sit around table at UVMMC ‘Microbe Detectives’ Workshop.

“Relatively few people know what we do, so bringing visibility to that and showing that there are humans behind the lab results that people now get on their phones is important,” said Christina Wojewoda, MD, a medical microbiologist and clinical pathologist who runs UVM Medical Center’s microbiology laboratory. “Showing people careers that they may not be aware of is critical, because medical testing isn’t going away. It’s only expanding – and it’s one of the few four-year degrees you can get as an undergraduate and have a guaranteed job, without extra training or degrees.”

Members of Dr. Wojewoda’s team, as well as UVM Medical Center’s histology and phlebotomy departments, teamed up on Friday to give 16 students a hands-on experience that followed a fictional patient who arrived at the hospital seeking treatment for an infected arm wound. Over the course of several hours, students analyzed the patient’s blood using a bacterial culture swab and performed a tissue biopsy.

“This is an area of healthcare that is still really manual and requires a lot of problem-solving,” said Shawney Bushey, MLS, ASCP, a medical laboratory scientist and member of the team who created Friday’s program. “I think the kids were really fascinated with learning about what we do to help our patients, and enjoyed applying that knowledge to the activities we had planned for them today. It was a lot of fun for everyone involved.”

UVMMC Scientists teaching kids at UVMMC 'Microbe Detectives' Workshop

The group of students, which ranged from 7th graders to high school juniors, also learned how phlebotomists draw blood and create blood smears for diagnostic testing, how medical laboratory scientists – also known as medical technologists, or MTs – perform testing and use various laboratory equipment to help identify and diagnose microbes causing infection. Students also toured UVM Medical Center’s clinical laboratory, getting a behind-the-scenes look at the foundations of diagnostic medicine.

Lauren Traister, 4-H Teen & Leadership Specialist at University of Vermont and director of the Summer of Science program, called the event a collaboration that connects young people with resources that help them explore their own scientific interests, and professionals who can help them think about their own careers and better understand how to reach their goals.

“What I love most is that students get to connect with people who can be resources for them,” said Traister. “These programs are run by volunteers who recognize the value of connecting with our Vermont youth, and helping them envision their own pathways to careers that speak to them. It all goes back to the scientists at Larner College of Medicine and UVM Medical Center, who recognize the need to give back.”