It's amazing that something as minor as a casual glance at a bulletin board can change a person's future. That's exactly what happened to JB Williams when he noticed a flier from the University of Tennessee Health Science Center (UTHSC) posted on a bulletin board at his job at Methodist University Hospital.
The informational flier detailed a Medical Laboratory Technician (MLT) to Medical Laboratory Science (MLS) program that is offered online by UTHSC. Williams, who has worked as a medical laboratory technician for 25 years, had always dreamed of bettering himself by earning a bachelor's degree. The MLT to MLS online program seemed the perfect way to make that happen. "It floored me," he said of the online MLT to MLS program. "I couldn't think of anything else the whole day."
Working in healthcare is almost a family tradition for Williams, whose father, mother, grandmother, grandfather, even a niece and nephew worked at UTHSC. Williams always dreamed of a career in health care. He started from the ground up, washing glassware at UTHSC, when he was in high school. Being around the health care atmosphere and working around some of the best physicians in the country had an impact on him. "That inspired me to go to UT. I thought I would never get here," he said.
Williams started the UTHSC MLT to MLS program in August 2012, and is scheduled to graduate in December 2013. Fall 2013 will be a special time for him, as he is set to be married in October. He met his fiancé, Vontina Vaughn, at work and she is planning to enroll in the UTHSC MLT to MLS program after Williams completes his coursework.
Prior to starting the online MLT to MLS degree, Williams had to earn 84 hours of pre-requisite courses. Fortunately, he had taken most of the classes when he earned his associate's degree. The program was designed for people like Williams who are already working as an MLT and have graduated from a program accredited by the National Accrediting Agency for Clinical Laboratory Sciences.
Williams, 51, has enjoyed his 28-year career as an MLT, and is excited about earning the MLS degree in a way that will work with his hectic schedule. "The online offering was a perfect fit," he said. That's because the MLT to MLS program at UTHSC has provided Williams with the flexibility he needs. Between his full-time job at Methodist University Hospital and his part-time position at Methodist Hospital South, he works about 55 hours a week. He seems to thrive on hard work, so the three to four hours a night he studies are exhilarating. "I think it still beats being in a classroom," he said. "It takes discipline though. You do need a lot of self-discipline." He watches PowerPoint presentations at home and does most of his studies in the evening.
He is fortunate that his supervisor allows him to study during "down time" at work. "Studying at work -- it's kind of like study in its own zone," Williams said. His supervisor encourages him to study at work, because it's work-related, and she looks on it like an "upgrade," he said. He can apply the information to real-world situations that arise. "I enjoy the work that I do," he said. "I learn so much." Already he recognizes the difference the MLT to MLS program is making in his life. "At a recent meeting, I was able to contribute more, because I had just learned new techniques while studying at work."
When he's not working or studying, Williams is never idle. In addition to spending time with his four children and four grandchildren, he is the choir director at his church and writes poetry in his spare time - what there is of it.
Williams said he knows completing the UTHSC MLT to MLS program will open doors for him, like advancing to a supervisory position. Continuing his education has inspired him to keep learning and he has no plans to slow down. "I want to continue to a graduate program. I could eventually earn my Ph.D.," Williams said. "I'd love the title Doctor, so who knows?"
Suzanne Thompson is media relations specialist, The University of Tennessee Health Science Center, Memphis.