ASCP Scholarship recipient Israel Vail Cruz launches his career in Medical Laboratory Science

Tuesday, April 16, 2024
Rochelle Helminski is the Director of Phoenix College's Medical Laboratory Science Program
Phoenix College student Israel Vail Cruz was awarded the prestigious ASCP scholarship and is pursing his career in the Medical Laboratory Sciences

To celebrate Medical Laboratory Professionals week, April 14 - 20, 2024, we caught up with Israel Vail Cruz, recipient of the prestigious American Society for Clinical Pathology (ASCP) scholarship – only the second student in Phoenix College history to receive this honor – who is completing his clinical work to become a Medical Laboratory Technician (MLT). 

Rochelle Helminski, Director of Phoenix College's Medical Laboratory Science Program, noted medical laboratory science is often considered a hidden profession, but it's also one of the most important. "Laboratory scientists work tirelessly behind the scenes to provide accurate diagnoses, monitor treatment, and ensure patient safety," she said. Helminski also noted that Israel, throughout his time at Phoenix College and now as an employee in the profession, "embodies this dedication to healthcare. I am so proud of the work that he has done and know he will contribute greatly to the medical lab science profession in the future." 

We contacted Israel to learn more about what it means to be in the profession. 

PC: What has the ASCP scholarship provided you? 

Cruz: The $1,000 scholarship goes a long way at Phoenix College. It helped pay for half of my first semester. I didn't qualify for financial aid because I'm in a privileged position where I can pay for school out of pocket. But it did help cover some of my school-related costs. It also helped me learn more about the organization and prepared me to enter the lab.

Phoenix College: What drew you to become a Medical Lab Professional?

Israel Vail Cruz:  I wanted a career with a science and healthcare background. Usually, the first thing that people ask is, Why don't you become a doctor? Why don't you become a nurse? From working retail and for a therapist's front office, I knew patient care wasn't my focus. I started Googling "healthcare careers in science" and found medical lab science and nuclear medicine. I researched both and found that nuclear medicine also has some patient contact. So, medical lab science was my choice. 

PC: What does a medical lab professional do?

Cruz: We are the ones that take and analyze samples from nurses and phlebotomists. We give results to medical practitioners so they can make the best decisions for the patients.

PC: What are some of the challenges of this clinical work?

Cruz: Because we tend to be a little bit isolated, people don't know where the lab is or don't know what the lab does. Whenever we contact staff to ask for a new sample because we can't run the sample we've received, they get frustrated. For example, a CBC is a complete blood count. To do that, I need a blood sample that's not clotted. I can't give them a cell count if I have a clot in a tube. A lot of new nurses and practitioners may need help understanding that. They're like, Why can you take the clot out and run it? I remind them that I can't give inaccurate results affecting patient care. At times, there can be a disconnect between folks who see patients one-on-one and those who provide the results for that patient, so we need to make sure they can do that accurately.

PC: What do you find most rewarding? 

Cruz: I help out in the entire hospital. I'm constantly working on samples either from the cancer center for folks who are in remission or folks who are just finding out that they have cancer and their treatment options, as well as labs from regular visits, pediatrics, and the NICU [Neonatal Intensive Care Unit]. I'm not seeing patients one-on-one, but I get to work on patients throughout the hospital in different fields. 

PC: What made you choose Phoenix College for this degree? 

Phoenix College offered the fastest and most economical way into the lab. PC's Medical Lab Program (MLP) has two years of prerequisites and then three semesters for the program. For other schools, it's almost three and a half years of prerequisites and then a year and a half of the program. 

PC: Any mentors or instructors or experience at PC that stands out?

Cruz: I enjoyed my Introduction to Chemistry professor, Tara Van Scoy. She was a high school teacher in her first year at Phoenix College as a professor. She was a very experienced chemistry teacher, trying to condense a full year of content she had built into a semester. She did such a great job. Because she had such an extensive background teaching high school, I felt like I was getting more attention. If I needed to have something explained again, she knew how to do that.

PC: You're finishing the program this semester, so where are you headed next? 

Cruz: I already work at Banner University Medical Center but I want to get my medical lab science (MLS) degree. I'm looking into the University of Arkansas Medical Sciences. They have a program that will take me from MLT to MLS. Their prerequisites are to be certified by ASCP and have one year of experience in a medical lab professional (MLP) experience. 

PC: Any final thoughts about your experience at PC? 

Cruz: This program has been great. Initially, I didn't understand why people kept mentioning Rochelle, our director's name. I thought she would be a director where she's in charge but not involved in our day-to-day progress. However, Rochelle is hands-on, both within and outside the school – she sees the future of medical lab sciences here in Arizona. Now that I'm at the end of the program, I understand why people talk so highly of her. She has a significant impact on the program. 

Interested in science and health care and eager to provide behind the scenes patient care?  Check out PC's Medical Laboratory Sciences Program, which includes a Fast Track program in Laboratory Assisting.