From Medical Lab to Veterinary Medicine: Olivia Briley
Lab work has been a passion of Olivia Briley’s since a science teacher introduced her to water quality sampling in the eighth grade. She took that passion to the Northeast Regional School for Biotechnology and Agriscience (NERSBA), and she is now part of the medical laboratory technology program at Beaufort County Community College with plans to become a veterinarian.
A very pragmatic person, Briley chose to complete a two-year degree before moving on to a four-year degree so that if she did not like it, she could pursue something else, and if she liked it, she could start working in the field sooner.
“I like the science part of it and helping people in the hospital but not having patient contact,” she says of the medical lab technology program. “I like the idea that you could be in the background and still help people. A lot of things go to the lab, and doctors need labs to diagnose people. Without us, they couldn’t do anything. They couldn’t do their job.”
The medical laboratory technology program teaches students to perform clinical laboratory procedures in chemistry, hematology, microbiology, and immunohematology that may be used to evaluate a person’s health and to diagnosis and/or treat a disease. Bloodwork, urinalysis, and cell cultures help medical providers diagnose infections or diseases such as diabetes.
While medical lab techs learn how to draw blood, much of the work is carried out away from patients. Their impact can be specific to an individual and their health outcome, or global in the case of infectious diseases such as COVID-19.
“I thought it was the coolest thing,” says Briley about her first experience with lab work. “I took it really seriously while everyone else was having a great time. I was making sure we were doing everything right. I realized that I liked following instructions.” The same attention to detail and following steps makes her a good baker as well.
“I didn’t know they did all that stuff in the lab,” she says. “I thought you would just put all this stuff in a machine, and it would do all the work. But they need people in the lab to make sure it’s all working right.”
The program fosters opportunities for other students who also enjoy science and lab work to explore together.
“If someone finds a crystal in a microscope, they will say, ‘Oh my gosh, it’s a crystal!’ because there are not many that we see because they’re abnormal.” The new find will become a teachable moment in the classroom. Crystals can appear in urine in different shapes, indicating a variety of health issues in a person.
She plans to finish the program, get certified as a medical lab technologist, and then continue on to get a bachelor’s degree in a medical laboratory science program. She envisions herself at a veterinary school, and she is working through options to achieve that goal.
The passion for veterinary medicine combines her enthusiasm for animals and nature with her love of science. The Briley family is an experiment in veterinary medicine in its own right. The family has a flock of 20 chickens, a turtle, a number of fishes, and three dogs. The flock of chickens came from a NERSBA project.
After her dog had a neurological issue, she realized her comfort with bodily fluids and interest in medicine made her a good fit for working with animals.
“My experience with my dog and his little spell made me realize being a vet is probably something I will really enjoy,” she says. “I want to look into shadowing one to make sure, but it seems pretty interesting to me. Plus, I think the stuff I’ve learned here will help me. I’ve messed with a microscope. I know what the cells look like. I saw a chart in the lab they had there, and some of the cells that we look at in humans are the same that they look at in dogs.”
Her mother has encouraged this passion. “She has always told me, I don’t care what you do, just do what you love.”
Lab work can uncover disease that doctors cannot diagnose simply through taking a patient’s history, so it works equally well in humans as in other animals. Her insatiable curiosity and dedication to pragmatism will keep guiding Briley down a measured and thought-out path to improve the health of all the members of our community, whether they cluck, bark, or speak.