Graduates of Laurel Ridge Community College’s medical laboratory technology (MLT) program can look forward to good pay and hefty signing bonuses.
New hires at Valley Health receive about $21 an hour and a $15,000 signing bonus, according to Joe Litten, who until recently was corporate laboratory director for the health system, and is now corporate, technical and development manager. All six Valley Health hospitals are “desperately” hiring MLTs, he said.
He explained that in the 1980s there were many training programs for MLTs and medical technologists (MTs), but then other medical fields became the preference. Today, that has resulted in the median age of med techs being around 60, and during the covid pandemic many opted to retire, Litten said.
In 2021, Laurel Ridge saw its first class of MLTs graduate with their associate of applied science degrees. The program was recently accredited by the National Accrediting Agency for Clinical Laboratory Sciences.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) website notes that 70 percent of medical decisions rely on lab test results, and 14 billion lab tests are ordered every year.
“While the pandemic hasn’t made the work MLTs do more important, it has brought it more to light,” said Kate Gochenour, Laurel Ridge’s MLT program director. “We are 100 percent behind the scenes, so the general public doesn’t think about the lab all that often. Almost every doctor’s visit involves some sort of lab test, whether that is urinalysis, a blood draw or a throat swab.”
Laurel Ridge MLT students’ classes include anatomy and physiology, chemistry, phlebotomy, immunology and serology, psychology and ethics. Students also complete clinicals in blood banking, clinical chemistry, clinical hematology and clinical microbiology. Litten said Winchester Medical Center welcomed about a half dozen Laurel Ridge MLT students in to clinicals last spring.
Litten anticipates salaries for MLTs will continue to increase due to the high demand for them.
“Because no one can find MLTs or MTs out there, that’s why we have the big sign-on bonus,” Litten explained. “MLT graduates would have no trouble getting a job here or at most other facilities. It’s one of those professions you can take with you and pretty much go anywhere in the country and get a job.”
Litten is impressed with Laurel Ridge’s graduates.
“The students are very well trained,” he said. “We have three students from the spring working here. They’re all doing a good job. They’re enthusiastic, they’re reliable, they’re catching on pretty quick.”
2022 graduate Dalton Bell is one of those new hires.
“My job in the lab is great,” he said. “I love it. The pay’s great. If anybody loves lab work, I think they should really give Laurel Ridge’s MLT program a shot. It’s a really great program.”
After graduating from Luray High School in 2013, Bell didn’t think he wanted to go to college, and initially worked in the retail and hospitality industries.
“I wasn’t really enjoying what I was doing, so I decided to further my education,” Bell said about enrolling at Laurel Ridge.
He was studying biology, and not sure what direction he wanted to take when Biology Professor Ian Hare told him about an MLT open house. After attending the open house, Bell knew that was the profession he would pursue.
“Laurel Ridge is a great place to go to school,” he said. “The professors and classes are great. I loved it.”
Because the MLT program trains students for a high-demand career, it is eligible for G3 (Get Skilled, Get a Job, Get Ahead) funding. Students who qualify for the funding will have their “last-dollar” tuition covered after all other grants and scholarships have been applied.
Learn more about the program at laurelridge.edu/MLT.
Laurel Ridge Community College was known as Lord Fairfax Community College until June 2022. For consistency purposes, the college will be referenced as Laurel Ridge going forward.