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Kaelyn Triggs: From Patient to Medical Professional


Kaelyn Triggs knows her way around hospitals.

The Kirkwood Community College student underwent a spinal fusion when she was 14, followed by a second surgery three years later. She managed to block out the years of pain from scoliosis but never forgot the questions she asked before and after treatment.

“I had to have so many tests and X-rays, and I wanted to know why,” she recalled. “I wanted to know why they chose the materials they did for the rods inserted in my back and why they couldn’t use something that bends more.”

Kaelyn had to accept the answers she was given at the time, but that didn’t stop her curiosity. If anything, her experience as a patient ignited it, which is why she’s studying to be a medical laboratory technician.

“My prime of life happened when I was 12,” said Kaelyn, 18. “I’m very big on not wasting time.”

Because of this, Kaelyn attended classes at the Kirkwood Regional Center at the University of Iowa as a high school senior, earning credit for six college courses before enrolling at Kirkwood in the fall of 2023. She also started working part time as a lab assistant at UnityPoint Health-St. Luke’s Hospital.

Medical laboratory technicians (MLTs) play a vital role in the healthcare industry. They perform, evaluate, and assure the accuracy and validity of laboratory test information. They also collaborate in the diagnosis, treatment and therapy of patients. Trained to act as investigators, MLTs find clues and uncover answers that can help patients receive better diagnoses and treatment.

“It’s the perfect mix of being with patients half of the time and the other half in the lab,” Kaelyn said.

Even better, she added, is the amount of time it will take for her to earn her credentials – two years.

“I knew I wanted to pursue a career in the medical field, but I didn’t want to spend years in college and even longer paying for my education,” Kaelyn said.

Kirkwood’s MLT program is designed as a real-life, hands-on training experience, combining classroom and online learning with hands-on laboratory and clinical site experiences. Classes are taught by quality instructors with expertise in clinical laboratory science who are focused on student learning success.

During the two-year program, students develop competencies in areas such as chemistry, hematology, blood bank, microbiology, immunology, molecular diagnostics, and quality assurance. Graduates leave with the knowledge and skills needed to perform laboratory testing in all major areas currently practiced in the clinical laboratory setting: clinical chemistry, hematology/hemostasis, immunology, immunohematology/transfusion medicine, clinical microbiology, urine and body fluid analysis, and laboratory operations.

“I don’t think people realize doctors and nurses can’t do their job until MLTs do their part,” Kaelyn said. “The healthcare industry is very much a team effort. We all have our role to play with the same goal of helping others.”

The demand for individuals with skills in medical laboratory science is high. While most MLTs are employed in hospitals, medical and diagnostics labs, and doctor’s offices, they also work in private reference laboratories, research, biotechnology, public health, non-clinical industrial laboratories, sales, and technical services.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment of medical laboratory technologists and technicians is projected to grow 5% from 2022 to 2032, faster than the average for all occupations. Program Director Kizer Friedley said Kirkwood’s service area is already seeing this growth.

“At the national level, the demand for this position in a geographic region the size of Kirkwood’s service area is 27 unique job postings per month. In the Kirkwood service area itself, that number climbs to 47,” she said. “I’m receiving phone calls and emails from hospitals both in and out of Kirkwood’s service area about job opportunities for our students. There is a shortage of MLTs in and out of our area that Kirkwood graduates can help fill.”

“It’s a shame more people aren’t utilizing this program,” Kaelyn said. “It’s not as big of a time commitment as other healthcare professions and you’re still part of the medical field. It’s an affordable program and the instructors take the time to get to know you as a person. They’re very dedicated to the program and their students.”

To learn more about Kirkwood’s Medical Laboratory Technician program, visit