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This college program is training new health-care students to fulfill the ongoing demand in B.C.

The fact that hospitals are accepting practicum students from Stenberg College during a pandemic speaks to the ongoing demand for qualified health-care professionals.
Medical Laboratory Assistant. Photo: Getty Images.

As with all colleges and universities in B.C., Stenberg College is following COVID-19 protocols and has transitioned all theory courses to online until students, faculty and staff can safely return to the classroom. 

Stenberg has been providing online education since 2006 and is well-equipped to deliver quality education in this format. Their online curriculum is the same as the in-class curriculum and delivered in a highly structured, instructor-led, and supported environment. To study online, all that students need is a computer, an Internet connection and a desire to learn. 

But what about labs and hospital placements for health-care students?


To prepare Medical Laboratory Assistant (MLA) students for their practicum placements, Stenberg’s MLA labs follow provincial health protocols for COVID-19. This includes wearing eye protection and a mask at all times, as well as, practicing donning and doffing appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE). Many procedures are simulated as if the patient was COVID-positive to prepare students. 

Rajni Naidu, Stenberg College’s MLA Department Head, explains that COVID-19 hasn’t changed how Stenberg trains MLAs. 

“‘Standard Precaution’ is the safety shield of all MLAs," Naidu says. "From day one, our students learn to treat each patient as infectious. We instill this concept in every practice they perform. Infectious diseases like SARS, Ebola, HIV, Hepatitis, and CJD are as detrimental to one's health as COVID-19. The bottom line is that someone entering this profession should be aware that they will always be working with sick patients and emerging diseases.”


The fact that hospitals are accepting practicum students during a pandemic speaks to the ongoing demand for qualified health-care professionals.

When Harrattan Bassan and Gurpreet Gill began Stenberg’s MLA program in October 2019, they couldn’t have anticipated the unique learning opportunity they would receive during the pandemic.

Bassan approached her practicum experience at Ridge Meadows Hospital as an opportunity to learn and witness the hard work of her fellow health-care heroes. 

“It would be great if everything were normal, but then I wouldn't have been able to see how hard they work during such challenging times. It’s a valuable learning experience, especially if this happens again,” she says.

Gill did her practicum at Mission Memorial Hospital. 

“I was so nervous about going into the hospital given the COVID-19 situation. I didn't want to bring anything home to my kids. But they are taking every precaution at the hospital, from screening everyone to making sure people are wearing masks. This made me feel confident going into my practicum,” Gill says.  

Gurpreet Gill and Nicolette Barker, Stenberg College Instructor, are now colleagues at Mission Memorial Hospital. Photo: Stenberg College.


Bassan’s shift started at 6:00 a.m. with her shadowing a supervisor and taking blood from patients (phlebotomy). After lunch, she shadowed phlebotomists in other departments including geriatrics, ICU, and postoperative care.  

“I wanted to ensure that I learned exactly how to do things. During downtime, I was cleaning, stocking, making sure everything was in the proper place, and sanitizing the carts,” Bassan says.

Proactiveness goes a long way on a practicum. Gill had a similar experience on hers and recommends using every minute to learn. When she was not shadowing her supervisor, she worked on aliquoting, urine testing, or stocking. Gill was excited to work with patients and learn skills that were difficult to replicate in the lab. 

“I felt well-prepared because we had to do a minimum of 75 successful venipunctures before starting our practicum. On practicum, you assist real patients with dehydrated veins, for example, which is uncommon and adds to the value of the practicum,” Gill says.

Her proactive approach to her practicum didn’t go unnoticed by her supervisors. Since her practicum, she was hired on and is currently working at Mission and Langley Memorial Hospitals.

“Although I am still a casual, I end up working full-time and sometimes even overtime. It’s by choice that I cut down my hours some weeks because I have to look after my kids,” Gill says.  

Her piece of advice for someone hoping to become an MLA: “Now is the time!”

If you are inspired to work in health care, visit

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