If you go to the doctor, you will most likely see a nurse and a physician. If you bring your pet to an animal clinic, you will interact with the vet. In both cases, whom you probably won’t meet is a medical laboratory scientist.

“We are the unseen professionals behind the scenes in diagnostic medicine,” said Kelli Maddock. She’s a section leader for a state diagnostic veterinary laboratory and a student at the University of North Dakota (UND), pursuing an online master’s degree in medical laboratory science.

UND is an award-winning national leader and pioneer in online education, with nearly 100 degree programs, certificates and professional development courses from which to choose. UND’s online flexibility was a perfect match for Maddock, a career-driven professional with a family and a passion for helping friends in the animal world.

Medical lab scientists play a critical role in diagnosing the ailments of patients, both human and animal. It is like being a detective, looking for abnormalities in samples and helping provide an appropriate cure. This is what attracted Maddock to the profession.

After obtaining her bachelor’s degree, Maddock got her start in human medicine in molecular diagnostics and microbiology at Sanford Health, a regional healthcare giant in the Northern Plains. Then, five years ago, she switched to the animal side. Prompted by her love for animals – Maddock has been a pet owner her whole life – the transition revealed a different, “eye-opening” side of medicine, she said.

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“There’s so much that can be done with veterinary medicine that translates into human health too,” Maddock said. “It’s so interesting to see all different species. Human medicine is complicated, even with a single species, because every person is different. But in animal medicine, you have any number of species, whether it’s your cat or dog in your house, the zoo animal that you get to visit or the cow you see on the side of the road. We have so much impact. There are so many interesting things to delve into.”

Maddock’s desire to continue learning led her to UND, where she started the online master’s program in 2018. The nature of the online coursework allowed her to continue working and spending valuable time with her daughter. At UND, the program focuses on human medicine, which is serving as a well of ideas for Maddock.

“Some things that we talked about [in class] spark curiosity in wondering if there are similar biomarkers for veterinary tests,” she said. “It allows me to think a bit outside of the box.”

Aside from working and studying, Maddock is doing research. Her current project is an animal-world replica of what is commonly studied in human hospitals. Maddock is looking into pathogens that can transmit from animals to veterinarians, which is a little-explored phenomenon, she said. The goal is to limit exposure to harmful microorganisms that can be resistant to treatment.

Once she graduates from UND, later this year, Maddock wants to spread her passion for medical lab science through teaching and mentoring students.

“There is so much about [our profession] that is overlooked and underappreciated,” she said. “The instructors at UND helped me see the importance of sharing our profession and how widely we can have an impact.”