Leader in Action: The change-maker in the medical lab

Using UND’s online master’s program in medical lab science, Kelli Maddock is turning her love of animals into her career

Kelli Maddock is a master’s degree student in UND’s online program in medical laboratory science. She’s shown here at the North Dakota State University Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory, where she’s a lab section head. Photo by Shawna Schill/UND Today.

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 is a lab section head at the North Dakota State University Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory and a student at the University of North Dakota, pursuing an online master’s degree in medical laboratory science.

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, which is often not as publicized as nursing is, for example.

As part of her work with the North Dakota State University Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory, Kelli Maddock checks Petri dish cultures of bacteria. Photo by Shawna Schill/UND Today.

After obtaining her bachelor’s degree, Maddock got her start in human medicine in molecular diagnostics and microbiology at Sanford Health. 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.

“There’s so much that can be done with veterinary medicine than 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 flexibility of the online coursework allowed her to continue working and spending valuable time with her daughter. At the University, 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.”

The NDSU Veterinary Lab where Maddock works provides testing and diagnostic support services to veterinarians, animal owners, producers and the public health sector. Photo by Shawna Schill/UND Today.

Aside from working and studying, Maddock is doing research. Her current project is indeed an animal-world replica of what is commonly studied in 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 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.”