CLS Students Gain Real-World Experience in UTEP’s COVID Rapid Testing Program
This fall semester, students in the Clinical Laboratory Science (CLS) Program are gaining critical clinical experience while assisting the UTEP Student Health and Wellness Center with its COVID-19 rapid testing program.
Twenty-four CLS students have been assigned to rotate through the SHWC through late November to conduct rapid COVID-19 Ag testing. Students are paired in teams and complete eight-hour shifts, which count toward the clinical rotation requirements for the program. The rotation also aligns with UTEP’s EDGE initiative, providing real-life learning experiences that CLS students can carry with them throughout their professional careers.
Elizabeth Camacho, clinical instructor and clinical coordinator for the CLS Program, mentioned that the students received specialized training to ensure their safety prior to being assigned as testers at the SHWC.
“In late August, the students received a special training delivered by Cheyenne Rincones, nurse practitioner at the SHWC, and a team of collectors from the SHWC,” Camacho said. “They also participated in a two-hour training given by Berenice Arriaga, biocontainment safety manager with UTEP’s Environmental Health and Safety Department (EHSD), on personal protective equipment (PPE) in mid-September. They had to complete other requirements from EHSD before they could actually perform the testing.”
Melissa Vasquez, a senior CLS major who recently completed the SHWC rotation, recalls the training experience: “We were able to practice on each other as if we were doing it on an actual patient,” she said. “We also had another training via Zoom on how to wear our PPE to protect us when doing these tests.”
Vasquez said that she initially felt nervous upon arriving at the testing center about potentially exposing herself to COVID-19 or accidentally hurting a patient, but after watching a peer complete the first few tests, she felt more relaxed in her setting and subsequently completed her first swab successfully. While the SHWC rotation was not her first clinical experience, Vasquez said the face-to-face component with patients was. Camacho mentioned that experiences such as these allow the students to experience “putting a face behind a name,” and demonstrate the critical nature of their jobs: “assuring a good quality laboratory specimen collection and analysis and reporting out of results.”
Brianna Jimenez, senior CLS major who accompanied Vasquez during the clinical rotation, said that the experience will definitely add to her preparation as a medical scientist, a field she says offers multiple career options. After graduation, Jimenez plans to become certified, and eventually pursue a master’s degree in CLS focusing on forensic science. She hopes to one day become a crime scene investigator. Vasquez, who will graduate with a CLS degree two years after her sister, CLS alum Julissa Vasquez, plans to move into a hospital setting or clinic and eventually work in a blood bank facility. Despite their different career paths, Vasquez and Jimenez agree that the experience at the SHWC was eye-opening.
“Being in the health sciences field, I always understood how critical it was to wear a face mask when the pandemic began,” Jimenez said. “However, even a year-and-a-half later, when I left the clinic after testing many students, I could not help but think how many preventative steps we can take as members of society to do something so significant, such as preventing spread of this horrible virus.”
For more information about the Clinical Laboratory Sciences Program, please visit: www.utep.edu/chs/cls.