Lindsey Roberts began working as the laboratory supervisor at Lowell Community Health Center in early March 2020 – right before the COVID-19 pandemic shut down the state and overwhelmed medical centers.
“I had about two weeks of a little bit of normalcy. I was just getting used to where everything was and who everyone was, their policies and procedures and their electronic medical records system – and then I started working remotely,” she says with a laugh.
By the end of April, she was back on site to set up and supervise an outdoor COVID-19 testing center, where health center staff collect nasal swabs from patients and then send the samples to Lowell General Hospital for analysis.
Roberts says her two-year program in lab science at Northern Essex Community College (NECC), her B.S. and M.S. in clinical lab science at UMass Lowell (the undergraduate program is now the clinical science option in the applied biomedical sciences major), along with several years of experience working in labs and at hospitals, prepared her for the challenge.
She’s especially grateful to Assoc. Teaching Prof. Arlee Dulak, her academic advisor, and Emeritus Prof. Eugene Rogers, who headed the clinical lab science program when Roberts was a student – and smoothed the transition for transfer students from NECC and other community colleges.
“I still remember having a one-on-one with him, and he said he saw me as having a role in explaining lab procedures to non-lab people,” Roberts says. “And that really was where I took my career: I’m the middle person between the lab and the rest of the world.”
He also encouraged Roberts to continue on for her master’s degree through the bachelor’s-to-master’s program. So her senior year, she took some graduate classes that counted toward both degrees, to save money.
And all the time, Roberts worked her way through school, gaining valuable experience. For her associate degree, she completed an internship with Charm Sciences, a Lawrence, Mass., company that makes food safety tests. The company kept her on as a quality control technician and analyst – and provided her with tuition assistance as she continued her education.
After graduating with her bachelor’s degree, she found a job as a medical technologist at HealthAlliance Hospital in Leominster, Mass., where she worked for a year while studying for the exam to become a board-certified medical laboratory scientist.
Next, she took a position as a point-of-care coordinator at Anna Jaques Hospital in Newburyport, Mass., where she worked for three years. It was her first role as a supervisor for other medical technologists. And she kept plugging away at her master’s degree, graduating in 2019.
Her advanced degree and varied work experience led to her current job as supervisor of the laboratory at Lowell Community Health Center, including its COVID-19 testing center.
“They were looking for someone to come in with some hospital and point-of-care experience, which is a lot of the testing at Lowell Community Health Center, as well as the lab experience,” she says. “I had all of that.”
By early summer, Roberts was also helping to oversee test collection for Stop the Spread, a state-funded, mobile COVID-19 testing campaign that visited different Lowell neighborhoods during summer 2020. And she was calling on Dulak for UML volunteers to help with testing hundreds of people a day.
“I still stay in touch with Arlee today,” she says. “She’s been a great help.”