UND Today

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Medical laboratory scientist pays it forward

Mary Beth Noble (MLS ’63) recalls early years of medical laboratory science, discusses new scholarship endowment established in her name

UND has offered a degree in Medical Laboratory Science since 1949. Students learn how to generate accurate and reliable test results in chemistry, hematology, immunology, immunohematology, and microbiology, with the test results being used by clinicians to diagnose and treat disease. UND archive photo.

If there’s one thing Mary Beth Noble recalls about her long career as a medical technologist – today known as medical laboratory science (MLS) – it’s the very different salaries different health care workers made early in her career.

“I started work at less pay than a nurse on the [hospital] floor,” muses the North Dakota native, remembering her extensive training in qualitative and quantitative chemistry, which she put into practice in clinical labs across the country for several decades. “Laboratory people are essential for diagnosis, and we took some of the same classes as pre-med students. We started the class with 64 and there were seven graduates. It was a very challenging program.”

Although the pay for today’s medical laboratory scientists has improved much since the 1960s, this experience is part of the reason Noble felt compelled to establish a new endowment with the UND Alumni Association & Foundation for the benefit of students entering the profession in her wake.

Starting next year, the endowment will provide $3,000 awards for three MLS students each year. Within a few years, that same endowment should be able to provide six scholarships of a comparable amount to students annually.

Mary Beth Noble

Noble says that helping more MLS students worry less about the cost of obtaining an MLS degree can only help get more hardworking grads like her out into the world.

Their reputation precedes them, after all.

As Noble tells it, after she was granted an interview with a clinic in Palo Alto, Calif., shortly after her graduation in 1963, she was offered a job on the spot — on the reputation of UND’s program.

“As I was touring the place, I met with the head of the lab, and she said one of their current employees was from UND, which I didn’t know,” Noble laughs, remembering too how she used to make all of her chemical reagents by hand in the lab. “So, the director of this lab said, ‘if you want a job, you can have it, because we like [the other UND grad] so much.’ So, I think that’s a recommendation for UND – that I can get a job without any references because I graduated from the same program she did.”

Scholarships aside, since retiring in 2000 the 80 years-young Noble spends a lot of time reading (several books per week, she says) and trying to stay COVID-free. But she’s looking forward to a time when she can get back to her favorite hobby: travel.

“I worked everywhere from California to Cape Cod to the South – Alabama and Kentucky,” says Noble, who finished her career at the Cavalier Clinic in Cavalier, N.D., and today resides in Fargo – because it’s “near an airport.”

She’s also had the good fortune to travel outside the United States. A lot.

“I lived in Germany for three years,” Noble continues. “I’ve been to Iceland twice, because that’s my heritage. I’ve been to Thailand and China. I love traveling. I think the more you travel, the more you enjoy it. I have enjoyed knowing how different people live and work and trying the foods they eat. It’s all very interesting.”

Until that time returns, however, she’s content to while away her time – “I’ve got all the time in the world now,” she quips – reading and enjoying retirement as best as one can in a global pandemic.

And, in the meantime, she’ll continue to support the university she loves.

“I like the University,” Noble concludes. “Many scholarships are given to students to be doctors — which is good because that field is expensive. But I wanted to help the med techs out! I hope this gives somebody a little help in their education.”

Brian James Schill

About the author:

Brian James Schill is director of Alumni & Community Relations at the UND School of Medicine & Health Sciences.