School of Medicine students bring in-class skills to help peers and the WVU community

Part-time college jobs don’t often include students working to address a West Virginia University-wide pandemic response, but for 14 School of Medicine Biomedical Laboratory Diagnostics students running more than 5,000 COVID-19 rapid response tests, it’s just another day at the office.

Working alongside public health professionals, 70% of juniors in the program were presented with an opportunity to become paid volunteers, assisting with the University’s return-to-campus spring semester testing.

“When I heard WVU was handling rapid testing, my curiosity was piqued because our major deals with recognizing and diagnosing diseases in lab work,” explained Emma Locarnini a junior in the BLD major. “So, when we were offered the opportunity, I just jumped for that first-hand experience in a true clinical lab setting.”

A biomedical laboratory professional impacts patient care at the basic level by determining the presence, extent or absence of disease by analyzing blood, other body fluids, and tissue. 

The students drew upon their classwork on the process start to finish, from properly using personal protection equipment, to maintaining patient identification while processing the specimens, and accurately reporting results after analysis.

“The University was able to find learning opportunities resulting from a global pandemic to help our students gain valuable life experience. It’s our land-grant mission in action,” Michelle Butina, Ph.D., vice chair of the Biomedical Laboratory Diagnostics program, said.

“When it comes to ensuring all protocols are followed for specimen integrity, patient identification, testing analysis, and reporting of results our students are able to serve as vital members of the healthcare team. Our students utilized their training to become assets to the school by deploying rapid COVID results,” she said.

While they gained practical real-world experience in their future fields, for many the benefits extended beyond that.

“We’re a close-knit program and this opportunity allowed the students to bond and interact in a professional setting – one of our program’s greatest strengths,” Butina said.

Opportunities for hands-on training exist beyond the pandemic for BLD majors, the curriculum emphasizes hands-on learning throughout the program and through clinical rotations as they finish their degrees.

BLD students train to be part of the bigger healthcare team, connecting patient to prognosis to treatment options via the doctor. WVU offers two tracks for students pursuing a BLD degree: histotechnology and medical laboratory science.

Graduates of the program are ready to enter the workforce, according to Butina. Many WVU alumni put their knowledge to work on the job or as part of an advanced professional degree in areas of medicine, dentistry or nursing. 

For more information about the program, visit