By - February 23, 2023
It’s no secret that recruiting new students into medical laboratory science (MLS) programs has its challenges. For the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS) MLT to MLS online bridge program, focusing on their differences compared to other, similar programs has become a calling card, along with its emphasis on recruiting students from underrepresented minorities. Shaneika Chambers, MHA, MLS(ASCP)CM, an instructor who plays an active role in recruiting students, notes that to start, the program offers alternatives to traditional clinical rotations, making it accessible to students who are already living busy lives, working, and even raising families.
“What makes our program so special is that these students can continue to work, and don’t have to worry about how they’re going to feed their families or pay their bills while putting in 40 unpaid hours in clinical rotation,” Ms. Chambers says.
This opens the doors to what she calls “non-traditional students”—in other words, those who don’t have the opportunity to dedicate all their time to school. They can follow one of three paths. A full-time option, which takes 17 months, a four-semester route, which takes 21 to 23 months and the popular part-time option, which takes approximately two and a half years.
Additionally, the program does not expect new students to simply come to them—they take an active role in recruiting widely, particularly from rural areas. “A lot of people don’t know our program exists. Getting that word out and letting them know about this small little niche is important,” Ms. Chambers says.
Since Ms. Chambers came on board in 2021, she’s also influenced important change in how they hire faculty and outreach to students, with an emphasis on improving the program’s diversity. When hiring for a relatively recent faculty position, Ms. Chambers, a Black woman, shared the importance of reaching out to a wide variety of applicants. In reflecting on her own studies, Ms. Chambers considers that most of her own professors had been white men. “In hindsight, I might have felt a bit more comfortable going to a professor’s office to ask questions if there had been a woman,” she says. Or better yet, a woman who looked like her. Having that diversity on staff can influence a student’s decision to attend a program and can ultimately translate into a more diverse student population.
“When you’re the only person of color on a faculty, you notice that. And the student body on campus is a reflection of that. I don’t think people realize how important it is to see people that look like you representing you,” she says.
Having faculty that represent the makeup of the student body is important and Ms. Chambers recommends that those making hiring decisions make strong efforts to consider applicants with diverse backgrounds.
Ms. Chambers brings this same attitude to recruiting students and actively listens when issues around diversity, equity, and inclusion come up. “When I can gauge that a student might appreciate that discussion, I definitely let it be known ‘there are people just like you, who come from similar backgrounds, and we made it!’”
Another of UAMS’s priorities for recruiting is to go to areas rich in different ethnicities and cultures and spread the word about their program. “We don’t just focus on ethnicity or racial background,” she explains, “but it is important to our field, because these are people getting their bachelor’s degrees, which means they can step into leadership roles. We need that representation in leadership.”
For other programs trying to improve their diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) strategies, Ms. Chambers urges people to have the tough conversations needed to implement change. And then, “Find those people that don’t look like you and have a nice dialogue. If you don’t have people around you that don’t look like you, ask yourself the hard questions of why, and ‘how can we do this?’ Because we’re out there!”