It started with a bug and a microscope.

“That was it. That’s what did it for me,” said Tammy Raman, who works as a medical laboratory technician in Ottumwa, Iowa. “I had never seen a microscope until a teacher showed me one. There was a bug under there, and I looked through and saw how big it was. From that point on, I knew I wanted to do something in the sciences.”

Exactly what – she wasn’t sure. She decided to take some time off after graduating from Ottumwa High School in 1982 to figure that out.

“I thought I might want to be a nurse, but then followed one around and decided that wasn’t for me,” Raman said. “Then I started thinking X-rays or lab tech. At some point, I came across materials advertising North Platte Community College and its Medical Laboratory Technician program. I decided the science part of that sounded neat, and they didn’t offer anything like that around me, so I packed up and moved to North Platte.”

She soon found there was more to the MLT program than looking at things under a microscope.

“I struggled at first,” Raman said. “I was a poor student and wasn’t prepared. I didn’t take much math or chemistry in high school because I didn’t like those classes, so had a lot of catching up to do. I went to my instructors several times and said, ‘This is too hard. I want to quit.’ They looked at me and replied, ‘It’s hard for everybody. Keep going’.”

And keep going, she did – one day at a time.

“With every semester, things got a little bit easier,” Raman said. “Fortunately, I had great instructors who were willing to help me.”

One of them was Boyd Gentry.

“I remember being in tears after one of his chemistry classes because I just didn’t understand the lesson, and I thought I was in over my head,” said Raman. “Mr. Gentry spent two hours of his personal time working with me until I knew what it was I was supposed to be learning. He built up my confidence and helped me succeed.”

Much of the success was also due to Raman’s own efforts. She threw herself into college – studying late into the night and taking on extra hours in labs to boost her grades. It paid off. She earned almost straight ‘A’s her sophomore year and scored high on her board exam.

By the time Raman graduated from NPCC in 1986, she wasn’t just confident in her classes, she was confident in her abilities in the workforce as well.

“One of the reasons I liked the med lab tech program at NPCC was because it prepared me to do so many different things in so many different areas,” Raman said. “When I went to job interviews, I actually knew what I was talking about. I don’t think I ever applied for a job that I didn’t get.”

That diversity is what Raman still loves about MLT today. From drawing blood for satellite medical clinics to processing collections at major hospitals and testing foods for genetically modified organisms – Raman’s training provided her with a variety of opportunities.

She currently works for the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs in an outpatient clinic in Ottumwa. She draws blood and subsequently conducts laboratory tests.

“It’s my favorite thing to do,” Raman said. “I love running tests, and I feel really at home in a hospital or clinic setting.”

Altogether, Raman has been doing lab work for 34 years. She’s witnessed a lot of changes in the industry since that time. The biggest evolutions were in the areas of technology, where data entry went from paper and pencil to electronic records, and personal protective equipment.

“It’s crazy how far things have come,” Raman said. “I started out before there was much of an awareness about HIV. At that time, people were eating, drinking and even smoking in the labs. Nobody wore gloves. That all changed with HIV, similar to the way COVID-19 is changing things now.”

She credits her instructors at NPCC for teaching her how to be open-minded and willing to adapt to the changes in addition to being organized, punctual and detail-oriented – all crucial components of being a medical laboratory technician.

“I have to take my job seriously and be on top of things,” Raman said. “Doctors are going to base diagnoses and prescriptions off the results I give them, and I always think that patient could be someone’s mother or sister or someone else who is loved. It’s up to me to make sure those results are accurate, and that’s been rewarding over the years. It makes me feel like I contribute to something.”

More information about the Med Lab Tech program at NPCC can be found online at: mpcc.edu/health-and-medical-occupations/medical-laboratory-technicians.