Training to work in a hospital laboratory required students to learn how to identify different disease-causing microbes, properly use high-tech equipment and interpret results to help best treat patients.
But for Ashley Bay, the biggest challenge wasn’t mastering those skills. Instead, the difficulty for her was time management.
The Nineveh native spent 40 hours each week in classes and labs, learning to conduct hundreds of different tests used to treat patients. After class, she’d work a five-hour shift at Buffalo Wild Wings to cover her rent and other costs.
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At the same time, she was pregnant with her first child.
“I was doing everything for class and to pay my bills, and on the weekends I’m trying to get ready for a baby,” she said. “It’s been a lot.”
With her baby due any day, Bay is excited to start her new career in a field where she can help others in a essential but often overlooked way. She will graduate Friday with four other classmates from Franciscan Health Indianapolis’ clinical lab sciences program.
Working in Franciscan Health’s lab department, she will be responsible for carrying out the vital testing done to diagnose disease, gauge recovery and help patients get well again.
“Before I came into this, I didn’t even know this was a career. But you learn how important it is and what medical technologists do, how much an impact you can make without even seeing the patient. That’s been really enjoyable,” she said.
Bay, 26, attended Franklin College with intentions to go on to dental school after graduation. She majored in biology and minored in chemistry, mastering all of the foundational science skills needed to enter the medical field.
But after she earned her degree in 2013, she couldn’t get into dental school right away. She took a job with a company doing contract research for Eli Lilly Co. Realizing that research wasn’t her passion, and wanting to get back into the medical field, Bay discovered the lab sciences program.
“After so many years, the thought of going to dental school was less and less appealing. It was so much money and responsibility,” she said. “This was the perfect middle ground. I was already working in a lab setting, so I took the skills I developed after graduation and went more towards the medical field.”
Clinical laboratory science is responsible for running tests that determine what kind of condition or disease is affecting a patient. The scientists work closely with pathologists and other specialists to ensure the accuracy of diagnoses.
Franciscan Health Indianapolis’ lab science program was established in 1967 and prepares professional medical technologists with the theoretical and practical training to work in a clinical laboratory.
Since the program’s founding, 370 people have graduated from it and gone on to work in lab science.
“The demand for clinical technicians well exceeds the number of graduates we have coming out,” said DeAnne Maxwell, lab science program director. “You really have to find those kids who have a true interest in health care, who really want to contribute to making sure the patient goes home safe and healthy and happy,” Maxwell said. “Finding that perfect balance of a scientist who wants to work behind the scenes is huge.”
The 47-week program at Franciscan Health Indianapolis is composed of lecture courses and laboratory work. Students spent the first half of the program in intensive, immersive study learning how to perform hundreds of tests, what to look for in test results and what different signs mean.
They learned how to take a blood-cell count and analyze it to look for blood-borne cancers. Technicians also take cultures to look for streptococci, influenza and other disease-causing microbes. By identifying what is causing a particular infection, the lab results can let doctors know which medications would be most effective.
“It’s not just looking at numbers — we have to know what those numbers mean, correlating them with a disease and what it means for the patient,” Bay said. “Even though we don’t see the patient directly, we know what’s going on through their lab results.”
Once they learn these different skills, they practice it in a lab setting, Maxwell said.
The course load and sheer volume of information to learn was challenging enough. But soon after she started the program, Bay found out she was pregnant. Already working as a waitress while taking classes, she now had to add another monumental life change into her balancing act.
But Bay stuck with it and pulled it off incredibly, Maxwell said.
“She’s a really hard worker. She was carrying a full work load during the week and on weekends, plus being in class every day. She’s really dedicated in what she does,” she said. “Then adding in a pregnancy, juggling that and doctor’s appointments and everything that comes with it, I don’t know how she gets it all done. But she’s still top of the class academically.”
Bay will take a few weeks off after her baby is born, then begin her training to start working in Franciscan Health Indianapolis’ lab.
With so many big life changes unfolding at the same time, it’s been overwhelming for Bay. But she’s ready to move on to the next phase of her life.
“Knowing that I’m through it, it’s a big weight off my shoulders. It’s a big accomplishment; you feel good about it,” she said. “It’s going to be a nice turn in my life, welcoming a child into the world, then starting working so that I can make a difference, instead of just practicing it.”
Home: Broad Ripple
Education: Graduated with bachelor’s degree in biology from Franklin College in 2013
Occupation: Clinical laboratory technician
Parents: Angela Darnell of Nineveh and Doug Bay of Franklin