Western Grad Working On Front Lines Of COVID-19 Pandemic

Just nine months ago, Western Technical College grad Ruth Dupey was in a classroom, learning the various ways to collect and analyze blood.

Now at Gundersen Health System in La Crosse, Dupey was originally hired to conduct regular testing in the hospital. However, the COVID-19 pandemic caused her to move to the COVID extraction unit.

“My job is to extract the coronavirus viral elements out of a tube with the patient swab and viral media,” said Dupey. “Then I purify the RNA so that the protein pattern (which is used to detect Coronavirus) is prominent without any interferences.”

The purified and extracted RNA then gets put through what’s called a Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR), which is used to duplicate and amplify the sample that can then be used to test for Coronavirus. In simple terms, this PCR test is considered the “gold standard” in COVID-19 testing. In all, the entire process takes about 4-5 hours from start to finish.

Like doctors, nurses, and long-term healthcare workers, Medical Lab Technicians are on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic. These professionals work with complex biological mechanisms to provide a clear picture of the spread of COVID-19 throughout our region. Without appropriate testing, COVID-19 would continue unchecked through the community.

“Working in the lab has always been a hidden profession,” said Karen Christenson, a Medical Lab Technician instructor at Western. “Patients know that they’re having a lab test done, but they don’t often realize that there is an entire team of professionals that work to perform that test.”

COVID-19 restrictions have not stopped the demand for these positions. Work at Western continues to fill these roles, even as social distancing, mask wearing, and screening in classroom spaces continues.

“Never before has it been more important to highlight the crucial work of these lab professionals,” said Christenson. “Not only are they doing testing for COVID-19, they are also performing the vast number of tests that are needed to care for COVID positive patients.”

Dupey says her lab is adding more and more testing capabilities, which is opening up further opportunities for Medical Lab Technician grads. Like other programs at Western, she believes the hands-on training helped prepare her for the next step in her career.

“The program was excellent in the sense that we would get to put our hands to the lab work,” said Dupey. “We would spend about the same amount of time in class as we would in lab. All this training allowed for an easy transition into working in the hospital.”

With the high demand ongoing, Dupey says the program offers a great opportunity for students, all while helping our community get through the COVID-19 pandemic.  

“I would hands-down recommend this program to anyone who is interested. It is a quality program that was very enjoyable,” said Dupey. “Although challenging, I believe it has thoroughly prepared me for my career.”

“You may not see us, but our community certainly needs us during this time,” said Christenson.

To learn more about Western’s healthcare programs, visit www.westerntc.edu/health-sciences.