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Requirements and the Curriculum
If you're interested in obtaining a DCLS, your first question may be what previous degrees and accreditation you'd need to be qualified for the doctorate. You may also wonder what kind of classes you'd be enrolled in if you chose to go back to school.
The task forces and committees have already considered these two points. According to NAACLS, a baccalaureate degree from a regionally accredited institution and NCA or ASCP certification credentials as a generalist clinical laboratory scientist/medical technologist would be needed to get a DCLS. Additional selection and admission criteria, like the Graduate Record Examination, could be added by individual institutions.
Curriculum requirements include a minimum of 90 semester hours of graduate-level course work and a research or capstone project. Institutions are allowed to transfer credits from past graduate coursework.
Passiment mentioned ASCLS has a curriculum guide, but that each institution would decide the exact coursework on its own. However, Dr. Kenimer-Leibach said the curriculum guide has a few major components. There would be a fundamental science curriculum, including basics such as biochemistry and immunology, that would build off of undergraduate material and expand to include other topics such as pharmacology and physiology. The curriculum should also cover healthcare policy and management skills; additionally, there would be a strong clinical emphasis, including rounding as part of the healthcare team, Dr. Kenimer-Leibach said.
The lab organizations have already done so much to get the DCLS off the ground, but there are still more steps the groups and schools have to take to make the DCLS a reality. Each institution has to get the degree approved on its campus. Dr. Kenimer-Leibach said this can be a lengthy, arduous process.
There are many points universities and colleges must consider when implementing a DCLS program. First, institutions need to conduct internal planning to make sure there is interest and support for a DCLS program. They need to plan courses, have the available faculty and go through the proper internal chain of command to get the program approved by the institution's governors.
From the program accreditation standpoint, a high-level administrator must then submit the "Application for Initial Accreditation" form, Dr. Lambrecht said. The institution will have to supply NAACLS with a profile of the school and the proposed program. A NAACLS member will then visit the school.
Passiment mentioned educators will want to set up online courses and local clinical rotations so students don't have to relocate to the nearest school to obtain the degree. The institutions also may be looking for grants to ease the financial burden for students and the school.
Dr. Kenimer-Leibach surveyed colleges and universities to see how many institutions would be interested in the degree, and she said about 25 schools are seriously interested. Luckily, the schools are also spread all over the country.
When asked how soon laboratorians will see these programs entering colleges and universities, Dr. Kenimer-Leibach said DCLS programs might be in private institutions in 2009, because they tend to have a shorter process when it comes to starting a new educational program. She envisions her college's program will be up and running by 2010.
The Doctorate Debate
Despite the excitement over the DCLS, laboratorians generally seem to be all over the map on the degree's importance (see Sidebar). Although some techs are already interested in getting a DCLS, some don't see why the degree is needed; others think it won't change how the field is viewed.
"Some are indifferent, some think it is a crazy idea, some are so excited they want to know when they can start taking courses," Passiment noted. "This degree is not for everyone, it is not meant for everyone and we don't need everyone to be a DCLS like the pharmacists did. We just need more advanced practitioners than we currently have in our laboratories and in our educational institutions."
Referencing what originally happened with the PharmD, Passiment added some healthcare providers might at first resent the DCLS professionals, won't hire them or will feel threatened by them.
"But again like the PharmD, once an institution uses them, they will miss them if they are gone," she said.
Dr. Lambrecht believes some laboratorians are worried about a "degree or credential creep," meaning the DCLS would become the degree needed to enter or stay in the field. He emphasized the DCLS is not meant to compete with the CLS/MT credentials, and there are no intentions to ever make the DCLS the entry-level degree.
Dr. Kenimer-Leibach has also heard laboratorians say, "We are just technicians and we don't have to be anything else."
"Yes, that is what we are, and I am very proud of that. But the clinical laboratory and our profession currently are 'headless,' meaning we have relied on other professions to assure quality in the laboratory and chart our professional direction," Dr. Kenimer-Leibach said. "But other professions are actually not paid to accept either of these significant roles. And we, as practitioners at the baccalaureate level, don't have the formal educational tools to address non-analytical quality and patient care issues we're required by accreditors like the Joint Commission to address. This degree will speak to these needs."
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