By: Krista Urchenko, MLT

I’ve taken quite the long route to my current position as an MPH student at the University of Waterloo. I first started my post-secondary education in 2007 and graduated in 2011 with a B.Sc in Microbiology and a minor in Chemistry. I always enjoyed science in high school and was interested in microbiology and this felt like the best subject for me. I found myself gravitating towards the infectious disease courses, and during my time in the program, we had one of the biggest flu pandemics since the Spanish flu in 1918 – Swine H1N1. On top of the swine flu outbreak, Maple Leaf foods had their listeriosis outbreak leading to a lot of discussion and lectures on biosafety and microbiology for public health.

After completing my undergraduate degree, I knew I wanted to take what I learned and apply it in a clinical setting to help people, which led me to Medical Laboratory Science. I moved to Toronto to attend The Michener Institute. This opened my eyes to many of the different people involved in the healthcare system, beyond the typical professions. I did not know how regulated and technical laboratory testing was until I undertook this program and came out with a great appreciation for allied health professionals. Inspired by the program, I spent many hours volunteering to advocate for lab professionals, to raise awareness for the profession and its role in the healthcare landscape on my blog medlabmaven.com.

Outside the lab, I try to utilize my social media to bridge the gap between the laboratory and other professions. We are often regarded as a “black box” where samples go in and results come out but we are highly educated professionals that can be of great help with decision-making in health care. I have had many interactions with other professions not realizing the depth of the lab profession and the type of work that is performed. I like to use my platform to share what I can about the lab and hope to spark some new ideas and considerations for public health.

I have been involved with my professional society, the Canadian Society for Medical Laboratory Science (CSMLS) for many years. I helped create the Ambassador program to bring lab professionals into schools and universities across Canada to share more about what the laboratory does and raise our profile in healthcare. I acted as a lab representative on national lobby days speaking with members of the Federal Government about shortages in health care in rural and remote communities and the role of laboratory testing in health care. With the aging population, the healthcare system is going to be stretched thin and will be a large public health issue in the coming years. These experiences allowed me to address gaps in our current system, see social inequities and push me to want to learn more in an MPH program so I can apply my perspective to make changes to help Canadians.

Upon graduation, I was thrilled to accept my current position working as a Medical Laboratory Technologist with Public Health Ontario. This is a dream position of mine that marries my passion for microbiology and infectious disease, with my technical skills as a technologist. Working in a public health laboratory allows me to work on many different infectious disease outbreaks like influenza, norovirus, and tuberculosis, and help generate the data used to make public health decisions. It really piqued my interest and I found myself trying to understand how decisions were made at health units or on outbreak reporting. After many years of staring out influenza outbreaks, I knew I wanted to take what I’ve learned in the lab and help apply it on a larger scale in public health; and so I applied to the MPH program.

I chose to attend the MPH program at University of Waterloo as it is unique, allowing you to complete the entire program online (minus 2 two-week sessions on campus). They focus on having students with professional experience, which was a huge draw for me as I am able to work with students from a vast variety of professions from Doctors to Analysts to NGO workers all across Canada. I have enjoyed my courses in epidemiology as it’s been great to see what all of my hard work in the lab gets used for! I have also been surprised by how much I am interested in Health Policy and Health Economics and I am hoping to explore these areas more and take all that my program has to offer.

It’s hard to know where this MPH will take me but I am sure I will be able to utilize my experience in the laboratory in some way. I want to continue to advocate for lab professionals and use my experience to find creative ways to collaborate with multiple professions in public health. There is a lot of untapped knowledge out there and we need to use it to create solutions for the health of all Canadians.

About the Author:

Krista Urchenko is a first year MPH student at the University of Waterloo. Krista currently works as a Medical Laboratory Technologist (MLT) at Public Health Ontario in Ottawa, ON. She completed her BSc in Microbiology at the University of Manitoba in 2011 and completed her Advanced Diploma in Medical Laboratory Science at The Michener Institute at UHN in 2014. Along with working, she actively volunteers with the Canadian Society for Medical Laboratory Science where she is Chair of the Ambassador Program and involved with exam scoring. In her limited spare time, she enjoys running her blog MedLabMaven.com, watching hockey and attending Kettlebell sessions.