OLLI Scholar Rebecca Lindgren

Rebecca Lindgren-Lasser

Among many of the topics commanding our attention these many months is medical: hospitalization, the pandemic, and the burden upon our healthcare system. In early 2020, researchers strained to learn as much as they could about the various aspects of COVID-19 as it spread at a frightening pace around the world, and anyone watching the news unfold had pertinent questions. When would in-home test kits become available, or why wasn’t testing more broadly available from the start?

Rebecca Lindgren, a certified Medical Laboratory Scientist pursuing her master’s degree at University of Minnesota, Duluth, was personally invested in tracking the rising public awareness. “With all the attention that diagnostic testing was receiving,” she notes, “I thought people's interest might be piqued enough to want to learn more about the role the lab plays in diagnosing and treating medical conditions.”

One way to disseminate her information was to become an OLLI Scholar. For this she organized Medical Laboratory Science: A Primer, a seven-session course that ran this fall and received such rave reviews that the course is being offered again this spring.

Rebecca didn’t go directly into this area of study, from the beginning. She had been working in the medical laboratory field for fifteen years, including as a phlebotomist for four years, and later pursued certification as a medical laboratory scientist. This experience opened her eyes to the actual role the occupation plays in medicine. Contrary to popular media’s positioning of nurses and medical professionals as not much more than the network of support for doctors making breakthroughs and discoveries, “in fact, it is medical laboratory scientists, like myself, who are doing the complex diagnostic testing, and there is a lot of scientific and statistical knowledge that goes into the operation and maintenance of diagnostic instrumentation.”

Now Rebecca is on track to earn her master’s in Industrial and Organizational Psychology, which she admits may appear to have not much to do with the field of Medical Laboratory Science. Her time in a leadership role placed priority upon employee well-being, occupational stress, and how teams work together. “I am earning this degree to better understand these concepts in the workplace in hopes to provide solutions to barriers that organizations face with their workforce,” she says. One of the courses she took, Organizational Training and Development, was influential in how it taught her to create and deliver training in organizations. “I felt that creating a new course for OLLI would be a good opportunity to apply what I had just learned in that course.”

Her OLLI course covers three aspects of the medical laboratory discipline: the tests that diagnose or provide treatment guidance for conditions occurring later in life; the methodology behind this testing, which explained the difficulty of at-home COVID-19 testing; and how the laboratory ensures accuracy and reliability in testing. “I felt this was important because there were rumors that COVID-19 testing might not be accurate or reliable. Labs have measures in place to ensure the quality of the testing they perform, so I wanted to be sure to cover that to build people's confidence in their lab results.”

Rebecca’s insight into peoples’ concern and curiosity, and her experience leading OLLI members through the ins-and-outs of Medical Laboratory Science, have proven useful to her career and the pursuit of her doctorate.

Update: On March 23, 2021, Rebecca wrote to let OLLI know that she was recently accepted into a PhD program for psychology at Washington State University and will begin those advanced studies in the fall. "The experience I gained through OLLI was instrumental in making me stand out in the application process, and I will be using what I learned as an OLLI instructor as I go on to teach at the PhD level. Thank you again for providing me with this opportunity!"