Second in a series introducing the public to SCCC’s academic leaders
It’s been a little more than a year since Dr. Suzanne Campbell stepped in to serve as interim dean of the Allied Health Division at Seward County Community College. While she was more than qualified for the position, she was already holding down two full-time duties at SCCC: STEM Project Coordinator, and Medical Laboratory Technology Program Director.
“I’m a highly organized person to begin with, and overseeing the STEM grant had helped me develop skills related to supervising a larger number of individuals and managing a much larger budget. When Allied Health needed the interim dean, the grant had reached the point where several things could be delegated,” Campbell said. “Sharon Nickelson, the STEM grant secretary, was just invaluable to me in that.”
Fast-forward to March 2017, and Dr. Campbell has hit her stride. Appointed by the Board of Trustees to serve as dean of the division, Campbell is the first medical laboratory technologist to lead Allied Health. As such, she has continued as director the MLT program, instructing students and providing her meticulous perspective to their development as professionals.
“Medical laboratory professionals are the best-kept secret in health care,” she said. “By that, I mean that physicians and nurses would not be able to do their jobs without the data provided by the lab.” For Campbell, “the first step is making sure the students know that every procedure we do has a standard operating procedure.” From practice in the classroom lab to clinical work, the SOP remains the same.
When it comes to the clinical significance of the results, Campbell said, “I can’t make a diagnosis because I don’t have an MD behind my name. But we do know the most likely disease the results show. So, I tell my students, if they report a glucose of 40 instead of 400, that’s two different modes of treatment for the patient. Physicians are making decisions based on the information we provide. It can get very stressful, but you never take shortcuts.”
Students benefit from Campbell’s expertise. She earned a bachelor’s degree from Wichita State University, then worked as a medical lab professional for six years before moving to the world of academic. In time, she earned a master’s and a doctorate degree, and perpetually burnishes her C.V. with continuing education coursework. Currently the president of her professional organization at the national level, American Society for Clinical Laboratory Science, Campbell has also published in the peer-reviewed journal “Clinical Laboratory Science.”
“My role at ASCLS is one of leadership for a group that covers the gamut from professionals with an associate degree, to the doctorate. It requires critical thinking skills, and being prepared for anything,” she said. Recently, when President Trump issued the executive order on International Travel, Campbell was called upon to issue a press release about the ASCLS’ stance.
“We’re not politicial, but government issues impact the clinical laboratory, and it’s important to be clear about the effects,” Campbell said. “It was a very fine line to articulate our position, and how we saw the impact.”
On an individual basis, the students Campbell has trained have a national impact of their own. As the lead educator for the first online Allied Health program offered by SCCC, Campbell arranged clinical partnerships with healthcare entities across the country. Graduates of the program reside across the United States.
Campbell has a firsthand understanding of the students who apply to the MLT program. She grew up near Kingman, “out in the country in a town so small you would call it a little spot in the road,” she said. Her father worked as a carpenter, and her mother was a homemaker; Campbell was the first person in her family to attend college. Her high grades and interests might have pointed her in the direction of medical school, but as a first-generation student, “I didn’t understand how to navigate the world of academia,” she said. “I went to the high school counselor’s office, and he showed me a list of health care professions, and I picked medical laboratory work.”
“I never deviated from that,” she said. “If I would have failed, I didn’t have a backup plan. It was just a matter of being successful.” She earned a bachelor’s degree from Wichita State University, and moved west to go to work. Six years later, Campbell began work as the program director of MLT studies at SCCC, and has continued for 25 years, finishing her upper-level degrees along the way.
Next to the satisfaction Campbell felt at finishing what she’d started, she says she is proudest of the dissertation she wrote for her doctorate studies. The topic —the career path of women who are medical laboratory science degree holders, and move to education —reflected her own trajectory. It also reminds her of how potent learning can be.
“It’s been 10 years since I wrote my dissertation, but I still recall one of my doctoral committee members saying, ‘Suzanne, you’ve got to think of yourself as being the world expert on this subject.’ That was a tremendous moment for me, and I’m so proud of the fact that it’s been downloaded 3,600 times. My hope is that the information is of help to others, especially in university science areas.”
Campbell and her husband, Mike, will celebrate their 30th wedding anniversary this year. The couple raised two daughters, Jessica and Megan, both of whom have pursued careers in science. Jessica holds a bachelor’s degree in nursing and works at a cardiac intensive care unit. Megan, an SCCC alum, is completing graduate coursework at Oklahoma State University, with the goal of becoming a veterinarian.
On her 48th birthday, Campbell made a “bucket list” and ran her first half-marathon. Instead of placing a check-mark by the experience and moving on, she got hooked on long-distance running.
“I’d never run before, and it was always something that I thought I couldn’t do,” she said. Even so, she told herself, “I’ll just start training, and see what happens. A training plan for this kind of running is very structured. Not only am I organized, I have a bit of OCD —so I remained committed, and there’s this small part of me that can be a little bit competitive. I’m not going to win, but it’s the sense of accomplishment to finish the race that I enjoy.”
Five years on, Campbell has completed 15 half-marathons and set a goal, with a high school friend, to complete one in all 50 states.
“We may be 80 when we get this finished, but it’s now a new bucket list item,” she said. “April 1, I will be in Zion National Park in Utah.”
Campbell brings that same willingness to tackle big goals through lifelong learning to her role as Dean of Allied Health.
“One of the most powerful lessons I’ve learned is to have confidence in your skill set, while knowing that you aren’t going to have every skill a position requires. Over the years, I have learned to never say ‘no’ to an opportunity. The important part, even in this position, is listening to the people around you,” she said. “That’s the key to learning as you go along.”