Medical Laboratory Technician (MLT) students at the College of Southern Maryland (CSM) recently competed in the first-ever “Cell Bowl,” a competition that had students from across the country racing to identify different cells that they will encounter in their medical professions. CSM’s nine-member team achieved rankings as high as second in the nation before ultimately finishing at third place in the Eastern region.
CSM’s two-year MLT program prepares graduates to work as members of a diagnostic health care team, performing routine and automated procedures under the supervision of a medical technologist or pathologist. Tests that MLTs perform include complete blood counts, urinalysis, cross-matching blood for transfusion, identifying pathogenic organisms, and chemical analysis of blood and other body fluids.
The Cell Bowl was organized by CSM MLT Program Coordinator Tiffany Gill, who runs a similar competition in her class each year. She challenges her students to race against their classmates to identify cells, with the winning team claiming ownership of a trophy for the week.
This year, Gill, who also produces the YouTube channel Medical Lab Lady Gill, worked with the American Society for Clinical Pathology (ASCP) to expand the contest to students nationwide.
“The CSM MLT students represented Maryland well,” said Gill. “I am so proud of their enthusiasm and progress. It was also wonderful to have other health program students rally around them during the competition. I could hear other students stopping them in the hallway to wish them ‘good luck’ and to ‘keep up the great work!’ Hopefully, those connections will extend out into the clinical world where the professions work together as a collaborative healthcare team.”
Students in the contest used the quiz feature on the CellaVision CellAtlas app, which challenges users to correctly identify 30 cells in one minute. Teams submitted their best score to the contest each week for seven weeks, with lab-oriented prizes awarded each week during the second half of the competition.
“Participating helped me refresh myself on material I learned last year. I’m currently doing my clinical rotations, so the Cell Bowl was a great way to revisit things I’ve learned while applying it in a simulated work environment,” said CSM student Cameron Burgess of Accokeek, who will complete the program this spring.
A total of 71 programs from 33 states competed: 34 from the Eastern region, including three from Maryland, 30 from the Midwest, and seven from the west, representing an almost even mix of four-year Medical Laboratory Science (MLS) programs and two-year MLT programs. Gill said that one thing that stood out in the contest was that there were no significant differences in scores between MLS and MLT students.
For the first four weeks, teams competed within their regions. The top two teams in each region then advanced to the playoffs, with the two final teams competing in week seven to be champions. The results were presented in a weekly YouTube video on Gill’s channel that also included information about the field, such as special guests, tutorials, and information about accreditation.
Burgess was a valuable member of CSM’s team, at one point scoring the second-best time in the country on the app, according to Gill.
“I’m a very competitive person, so naturally I wanted to play just to win,” said Burgess. “I did my best, but each week there would be someone better. It motivated me to try more and more for a better score.”
The overall winning team, Southern West Virginia Community and Technical College’s MLT Program received a trophy. Each team member received a certificate and Interactive Practice Exam Bundles. They will also be interviewed live on Gill’s YouTube channel, written up in ASCP critical values publication, and featured in an episode of the eLABorate Topics podcast.
Gill said that the contest was a fun way to raise awareness about a profession that is often overlooked by students who want to pursue a career in the health care field.
“We have been called the hidden profession in healthcare,” Gill said. “I want to increase awareness about the importance of the medical laboratory and the type of individual who should look into the field because we currently have a critical need for laboratorians.”