35th Anniversary Spotlight: COPH doctoral program prepares students to work in laboratory setting

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The USF College of Public Health (COPH) has been training students to become laboratory directors since 2017.

The DrPH program in clinical laboratory science and practice program was implemented because of the emerging need for more laboratory directors in the United States. Clinical laboratories are vital to the country’s public health infrastructure, but there’s a shortage of laboratory professionals who can properly run the four billion lab tests performed in the U.S. each year. The shortage is due to a variety of reasons, says the Association of Public Health Laboratories (APHL), including the retirement of current staff to the lack of training programs for future ones.

Once this issue was recognized, the APHL, in conjunction with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), developed competency guidelines for public health laboratory professionals that were intended to ensure a properly trained laboratory workforce.

“Members of the competency work group recognized early on that these educational programs were complimentary to the already-existing DrPH program offered at the COPH,” said Dr. Jill Roberts, a professor in the program. “All we needed to do was expand it a little further.”

The DrPH program in clinical laboratory science and practice began at the COPH in 2017 to train a future public health laboratory workforce. (Photo courtesy of Dr. Max Salfinger)

In addition to the existing DrPH coursework at the COPH, the competency work group proposed eight additional courses focused on the scientific, leadership and management skills necessary for future laboratory directors. These courses will help students pass the high-complexity clinical laboratory director (HCLD) certification exam.

“Students must already have careers in laboratories to qualify for the program,” said Roberts. “Our goal is for the program to prepare students who want to advance their careers to lead the nation’s public health and clinical laboratories.”

As the program prepares to possibly graduate its first two students this spring, Roberts hopes that COPH program can be part of a nationwide replenishment of the laboratory workforce.

“We hope that this much-needed opportunity for advancement and professional training will fill that gap in the current laboratory workforce,” said Roberts. “There are also plans to expand the program to those students who require doctoral-level training for advancement but do not intend to complete the ABB examination.” 

Story by Cody Brown, USF College of Public Health