If you go to the doctor, you will most likely see a nurse and a physician. If you bring your pet to an animal clinic, you will interact with the vet. In both cases, the person you probably won’t meet is the medical laboratory scientist.
“We are the unseen professionals in diagnostic medicine,” says Kelli Maddock. She is a lab section chief at the North Dakota State University Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory in Fargo. She’s also a University of North Dakota student pursuing an online master’s degree in medical laboratory science.
Medical laboratory scientists play a critical role in diagnosing the ailments of patients, both human and animal. It is like being a detective—looking for abnormalities in samples and helping to provide an appropriate treatment. This is what attracted Maddock to the profession.
After obtaining her bachelor’s degree, Maddock began her career in human medicine in molecular diagnostics and microbiology at Sanford Health in Fargo. Prompted by her love for animals—Maddock has been a pet owner her whole life—she switched to animal medicine five years ago. The transition revealed a much different side of the science.
“It’s so interesting to see all different species,” says Maddock. “Human medicine is complicated, even with a single species, because every person is different. But in animal medicine, you have any number of species—whether it’s your cat or dog in your house, the zoo animal that you get to visit, or the cow you see on the side of the road.”
Stopping the spread
Maddock’s desire to continue learning led her to UND, where she began the online master’s program in 2018. The flexibility of online coursework allowed her to continue working and spending valuable time with her daughter. The program focuses on human medicine, though it’s providing a wealth of ideas for Maddock’s work with animals.
“Some things that we talk about [in class] spark curiosity in wondering if there are similar biomarkers for veterinary tests,” she says. “It allows me to think a bit outside the box.”
Maddock is currently researching the animal equivalent of something commonly studied in hospitals. She is looking into pathogens that can be transmitted from animals to veterinarians, which is a little-explored phenomenon, she says. The goal is to limit exposure to harmful microorganisms that can be resistant to treatment.
When she graduates later this year, Maddock wants to spread her passion for medical lab science through teaching and mentoring students.
“There is so much about [our profession] that is overlooked and underappreciated,” she says. “The instructors at UND helped me see the importance of sharing our profession and how widely we can have an impact.”