SAN RAFAEL -- Dominican University of California has launched a new Master of Science in Clinical Laboratory Sciences program, aiming to address the need for training in business and scientific practices for upper-level professionals in biological, medical and pharmaceutical labs, according to those who lead development of the new program.

[caption id="attachment_79277" align="alignright" width="400"] Howard Koo, Shannon Lovelace-White, Mary Sevigny[/caption]

It is currently the only master's degree program in California that provides a two-year continuing education curriculum tailored for licensed clinical lab professionals, combining aspects of advanced clinical lab work with the business skills associated with managing a medical laboratory, planners said.

As clinical and biological labs grow in number and sophistication in the Bay Area and beyond, planners described the program as a pragmatic opportunity for professionals to further their careers while fostering specific skills in the growing field of molecular diagnostics.

"Especially in the era of health care reform, the dollars are scarcer -- we have to be more efficient," said Howard Koo, retired administrator of the Permanente Medical Group Regional Laboratories in Northern California and an adviser in the formation of the new program. "You need people who are well trained to do more specific work."

Clinical lab workers in California are required to be licensed under the California Department of Public Health, following what is generally a five-year education involving a bachelor's degree and a one-year internship. While the need for those workers has grown amid a wave of retirements, Mr. Koo noted that a lack of internship placements has limited the flow of professionals entering the industry.

When approached to offer feedback as Dominican explored offering such a program, Mr. Koo, who oversaw more than 650 workers at the Permanente Medical Group, instead advised that the college pursue a unique program that filled the gap between licensed clinical lab workers and those with doctorate-level degrees.

"There was a void. The intention of this program is to teach all of the things someone in a manager position really needed to know," said Shannon Lovelace-White, assistant vice president in graduate and adult admissions at Dominican. "In addition to feeling confident enough to manage a lab, they should feel confident to bring in new techniques."

The Dominican program, which involves 10 courses held during weekday evenings, welcomed its first group of 10 students when the fall semester began last month. Students receive training in molecular diagnostic and biotechnology concepts along with instruction in broader industry trends during their first year, leaning on equipment that was already in use for other scientific disciplines at Dominican.

Second-year courses focus on project management, legal issues, financial management and a final research project meant to address a real-world concern in either clinical or procedural practices.

"The idea is that they can come up with a solution that their workplace can use," said Dr. Mary Sevigny, program director.

A handful of other master in clinical laboratory sciences exist in California, but none that are tailored for currently licensed professionals, she said. The designation fills an important gap -- an MBA or Master in Public Health, while popular choices, don't connect directly to the clinical lab setting. In addition, employers were finding difficulty in recruiting doctorate-level candidates for mid-level positions.

"We're trying to make the case for why this is an important program," she said.

In addition to working in labs that serve health care facilities, Mr. Koo, who will serve as an adjunct professor for the program, said that graduates could also advance their prospects in independent personal medicine firms and other laboratory settings.

"The skill set can be applicable in almost every area in a clinical laboratory," he said.