Portland Community College | Portland, Oregon Portland Community College

This content was published: February 24, 2020. Phone numbers, email addresses, and other information may have changed.

From Dartmouth to PCC, Allia Smith’s journey goes through Medical Lab Technology

Photos and Story by

MLT Program Chair Dr. Teresa Wolfe (left) with her star pupil Allia Smith.

MLT Program Chair Dr. Teresa Wolfe (left) with her star pupil Allia Smith.

Allia Smith has a doctorate in Microbiology and Immunology from Dartmouth College, and she’s a student in Portland Community College’s Medical Laboratory Technology Program in North Portland.

“The nice thing about the program is that it doesn’t matter what my academic background is,” Smith said of people who may think her PhD overshadows her studies at a community college. “What’s important is that you have the necessary prerequisites to enter the program and can build upon those skills.”

Medical lab technicians are the healthcare professionals who perform test procedures in the hospital clinical laboratory and are trained to work on complex lab instruments and information systems. Technicians play an increasingly important role in healthcare, running clinical tests required by physicians to make life-affecting decisions in patient care.

Allia Smith in lab.
Medical Laboratory Technology
  • Medical laboratory technology is one of the most rapidly expanding healthcare fields. As a medical laboratory technician, you will play an increasingly important role in healthcare delivery.
  • 100% of graduates that applied for certification passed the examination on the first attempt, and mean scores were higher than national averages. The program offers an Associate of Applied Science degree and clinical internships.

Learn More! »

The move makes sense for Smith and many who are looking to train in this profession. The healthcare industry is experiencing a deficiency of trained medical lab personnel as job growth is expected to increase by 11 percent in the coming decade. 

“We’re facing a critical shortage of workers,” said Dr. Teresa Wolfe, who serves as the chair of the Cascade Campus program. “We need to replace the current workforce. In Oregon, there are always openings and a huge need that is just going to get worse.”

Responses to surveys conducted by PCC over the past few years indicate that employment placement for graduates has been robust. Forty-three percent of the graduates who responded to the survey said they had job offers within one month of graduation. At six months, 68 percent of graduates had employment options, and at nine months, 79 percent of graduates were weighing job offers.

The program attracts a variety of people, from parents and older students to recent high school graduates. Smith, a parent herself, chose PCC’s program because it’s the only one of its kind in the state, and students have a 100-percent pass rate for the board licensing exam.

“It just kind of all fits together really nicely,” Smith said of the program benefits. “I can get more of a solid base of training here, and hopefully merge my two knowledge sets from my PhD and this program into an awesome career.”

In 2004, just shy of her 18th birthday, Smith and her two older sisters made the journey from the Caribbean island of Jamaica to the United States to take advantage of the American educational system. With a student visa secured, she was on her way to earning a bachelor’s degree in Microbiology at Agnes Scott College in Decatur, Ga., after flirting with a career in pharmacy. 

Allia Smith in lab.

Medical lab technicians are the healthcare professionals who perform test procedures in the hospital clinical laboratory.

After finishing at Agnes Scott, Smith enrolled at Dartmouth to study Microbiology and Immunology at the graduate level. After earning her doctorate, life offered another twist to her journey. Her husband, a process engineer, found a job in Oregon with Intel, and they moved to Portland where they welcomed the birth of their daughter a few years later. But Smith wanted to continue with her career.

Smith discovered the field of Medical Laboratory Technology as she searched for training options. In the fall of 2018, she enrolled at PCC and has rocketed through the program where she sports a perfect 4.0 grade point average.

She credits the hands-on simulation lab and the onsite clinical training with healthcare partners as being invaluable to her training. Eventually, she’d like to run her own medical lab operation.

“All of the teachers here have been great, and they all have clinical experience,” added Smith, who plans to graduate this spring. “There’s this clear understanding that regardless of what your background is, we’re all on equal footing when we start.”

About James Hill

James G. Hill, an award-winning journalist and public relations writer, is the Public Relations Manager at Portland Community College. A graduate of Portland State University, James has worked as a section editor for the Newberg Graphic, Wo... more »

Poppe with speech bubble


Sorry, but the comments have been closed. If you see something that doesn't belong, please click the x and report it.

x by Jennifer McBratney 2 years ago

Congratulations Allia on your upcoming graduation!

x by Ryan Flynn 2 years ago

Good degree for the college. Especially if they can get lab equipment (ie DNA sequencer, growth chambers IR, MMR, MASS spec, ,HPLC, GCMS machines…) that can compliment it. Open a Gnotobiotics mice lab would be great for nutrition careers, Med lab tec, psychology, and veterinary Tec studies.

x by Burke Thornburg 2 years ago

My daughter went through the program and has been continually employed with good pay. The course work was challenging and the faculty were all fired up for their skills to be taught. Looking through a microscope reveals the wonders of the micro-world which bring to mind from the observer… this is too complex to have happened by chance.
Good job PCC.