Meet our Students - Manuel Almaraz - Choosing a Profession that Saves Lives
Major: Clinical Laboratory Science
Are you a first-generation college student? Yes
Why did you pick UTEP?
I chose UTEP because it is a top-tier university that inspires students and prepares them to thrive. In addition, UTEP offers a diverse range of degrees that prepare students to become successful professionals in fields they find rewarding. Mainly, I wanted to attend this university because it offers a nationally accredited bachelor’s degree in Clinical Laboratory Science (CLS). This program instills the knowledge and skills necessary for a CLS student to be prepared for the ASCP certification exam, an extremely crucial steppingstone in our career. My professors share my passion for the CLS field. They give us many challenges to help increase our understanding of the topics they are presenting. The assistance and attentiveness of our professors has led me to complete my first successful semester in this program.
What sparked your interest in Clinical Laboratory Sciences?
My interest in the CLS field was sparked on February 19, 2014 – the day an emergency room doctor told my parents that I needed surgery for a ruptured appendix. As the days passed after the surgery, I noticed that the doctor ordered blood and urine analyses every morning, which went on for two weeks. That made me question how important those body fluids were for the diagnosis, treatment and monitoring of my peritoneal infection. My physician explained to me doctors cannot make a diagnosis or treatment plan without the results of those analyses, which are completed by clinical laboratory scientists. He went on to say that their job was important to the patient because physicians treat, and nurses act, on the results. That amazed me! After the surgery, I researched the CLS field and that was when I decided to become a clinical laboratory scientist. CLS is a profession that saves lives and will allow me to give back to my community.
Tell us about one of the most memorable experiences you have had while in the CLS Program.
Every day in the CLS program is interesting; there is never a dull moment because I learn new concepts that are fundamental to my profession and my ability to save a patient’s life. However, some experiences will stick with me forever. For example, at the beginning of the CLS program, I was able to see for the first time how red blood cells, white blood cells, and platelets looked under a microscope. Before the CLS program, I was only able to see those images in books, but viewing the intricacies of such a small cell under a microscope is an amazing experience. After I finished counting cells from a real human specimen and got back home, I realized that my profession is definitely wonderful and profoundly important to me. When I look back on that moment now, I cannot help but reflect on how much my classmates and I have grown, in terms of knowledge and practice. Throughout the CLS program, we have learned to apply our knowledge in many ways – more than just counting cells under the microscope – and are building our skills in every area of the field, which will allow us to be successful. This personal growth will be my most memorable experience.
What are your career aspirations?
I consider myself an ambitious, yet caring, individual. I am a firm believer that the only obstacles a person can create which impedes them from accomplishing their goals are those created in their own mind. I have a long road ahead of me and many goals I still aspire to accomplish. For instance, this summer, I will participate in the MHIRT program in Central America, and I plan to excel in research. This once-in-a-lifetime opportunity will provide me with the tools to amplify my research knowledge and broaden my horizons. As an upcoming senior in the CLS program, I will begin hospital rotations, and I am looking forward to learning more and being able to practice the skills I have acquired. After graduation, I plan to take and pass the ASCP certification exam. These steppingstones will give me a strong foundation and will open many job opportunities in hospitals, research, and reference laboratories. Ultimately, I aspire to continue my education and complete a doctoral degree.
Tell us about your experiences in Dr. Dominguez’s research laboratory. How do you feel this prepared you for your future career?
My first research experience was this past summer in Dr. Dominguez's research laboratory. I participated in a microbiology research project that involved the confirmation and identification of Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus Aureus (MRSA) isolates from medical students. We completed several biochemical and molecular tests to identify this multi-drug resistant organism. The biochemical tests included using selective and differential media for S. Aureus, such as mannitol salt agar. Another method that we used was the PCR to amplify the Mec A gene found in MRSA isolates. This gene, from a plasmid, is responsible for the resistance to many antibiotics in MRSA.
I will always be grateful to Dr. Dominguez for that opportunity because it enhanced my laboratory skills and extended my experience in methodologies and techniques that are not available in ordinary laboratory courses. This experience and the knowledge I gained regarding antibiotic resistance will help prepare me for opportunities in a subject that interests me very much. I will gladly participate in future research projects on antibiotic resistance.
What advice would you give to a student thinking about studying CLS?
To excel in the CLS professional phase, students need to dedicate a lot of time to their studies. Anyone who is thinking about studying CLS and wishes to shine must keep that in mind. The professional phase is academically intense, but with drive and motivation, nothing is impossible. I advise students to start their studying habits before they even apply because they need good grades in order to be accepted. After being accepted, they need to be dedicated to their courses. In addition, discipline is fundamental for success because in this profession, we are not only handling our own lives and future but patients' lives as well. Lastly, if they have already decided to study CLS, I recommend that they enjoy their time as a CLS major. This career is rewarding and, in my experience so far, highly worth it.
Photo Courtesy of University Communications