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Agnes Chan places first in HOSA competition

Congratulations to Agnes Chan, on-campus BHSc student, on placing first in the HOSA (Health Occupations Students of America) Biomedical Laboratory Science competition for university students in Canada this spring! Agnes took some time out of her day to answer some questions with us.

Can you explain a little bit about what HOSA is?

HOSA is an organization for high-school and university students that provides them with the opportunity to explore careers in the health sciences. At individual schools, HOSA chapters are formed to host activities for studying, fundraising, and preparing for the Spring Leadership Conference (SLC) in May. The SLC is a combination of competitive events, engaging speakers, and workshops that allow students to foster their continued interest in the health sciences. There are many competitive events all related to various healthcare professions. These events usually consist of knowledge-based and/or skill-based components which are evaluated through multiple-choice tests, essay questions, or demonstrations.

How did you originally get involved in HOSA?

I first heard of HOSA in high school when an upper-year formed a chapter at our school in grade 9. I eventually joined HOSA in grade 10 because I thought, "this is an opportunity to explore my interest within the field of healthcare." Our HOSA chapter was relatively new, so we had to find and create materials to study. People from the same competitive event would study together and those in team events would also study together. Within our club, I helped organize fundraising events to pay for our transportation to in-person competitions. Since I joined, I've participated in different competitive events to broaden my understanding of the healthcare field. I've competed in medical terminology and pathophysiology previously, and then biomedical laboratory science this year.

What has your experience with HOSA at Queen's been like?

Queen’s has a well-established HOSA chapter. As a post-secondary competitor for Queen’s, I am also a general member of the chapter. Over my first year, HOSA Queen’s has organized guest speaker events and offered medical school preparatory resources through their partnership with BeMo. These events allowed me to meet with like-minded peers and were a great networking opportunity.

What made you choose the Biomedical Laboratory Science category this year?

At the beginning of the HOSA 2021-2022 season, I wanted to try something new that I hadn’t done before. Knowing that I was entering my first year of university, I wasn't sure how much time I could commit to preparing for a competitive event. I didn’t choose any of the group events because I didn’t want to be responsible for the group performance. I landed on biomedical laboratory science because it had both a knowledge-based component, with a multiple-choice test, and a skill-based component, where you demonstrate common lab procedures. I didn’t have much lab experience prior so I thought it would be a good learning opportunity. In a similar vein, I’m currently volunteering in a lab at Queen's over the summer. My intent was to get involved with lab work to see how it drives scientific research.

What was your experience like in the competition?

This year, the competitions were online because of COVID. Earlier in the season, we had what is called the Fall Leadership Conference (FLC), a preliminary round of competitions that don’t have any bearing on the final rankings. This year’s SLC was held over one week with both weekends. I was able to sit in on a bunch of webinars to hear guest speakers and join workshops such as interpreting lab results and suturing 101.

For my competitive event, biomedical laboratory sciences, I completed a multiple-choice test which ranked me amongst other post-secondary competitors. As one of the top 10 participants, I went onto the second round to identify lab equipment and perform a lab skill, specifically gram staining. There are six lab skills that can be tested, and I had to learn all of them as you don’t know the skill until you are called upon. Due to the online setting, I didn’t actually have any of the lab equipment with me. Instead, I verbalized my actions, “I am now flooding the slide with crystal violet.” Having the competition online definitely made it less intimidating in comparison to a mock lab environment, but I feel that I missed out on having that experience.

What did you enjoy most about taking on this topic?

I like how the content of biomedical laboratory science built upon the knowledge of some first-year courses like pharmacology and physiology. In these courses, we learn theoretical concepts that are less tangible. The biomedical laboratory science content applies concepts of cell physiology to lab techniques and justifies their uses in research methodology. For a student like me, aspiring to become a doctor, my education pathway is very long, but even after my first year, I can tell you that what I’m learning now is relevant and has practical applications in healthcare.

How did the Bachelor of Health Sciences program help prepare you for the competition?

The Health Sciences program highlights the importance of self-directed learning. With our courses being delivered in the flipped classroom format, it’s really up to you how much time you dedicate to the content before going into class. This mindset of having the flexibility to learn what you are interested in and fostering your curiosity aligns with my passion to explore opportunities like HOSA. Once I find something I’m interested in, like in the case of biomedical laboratory sciences, I can dedicate myself to learning. Even amidst the demands of school and other responsibilities, I am able to strike a balance and find time to facilitate my studying for this event.

What skills did you learn from this experience that you think will be helpful for your future studies and your future career?

I learned many laboratory skills mostly related to general lab procedures and more specifically microbiology. I hope to employ these abilities in future lab courses and research opportunities. I am currently volunteering at an immunology lab (Dr. Sam Basta, Department of Biomedical and Molecular Sciences). The focus of this lab differs from my knowledge of bacterial cultures, but concepts of sterile technique are very much transferable. Having the opportunity to learn what I have through HOSA will be a stepping stone for me to read up on more laboratory protocols specific to my future research interests.

What advice do you have for other BHSc students/future students?

The Bachelor of Health Sciences program is very conducive to making your own way and carving a path for yourself. I would tell both current and future BHSc students to take full advantage of this freedom by getting to know themselves well. Take time to reflect upon what you want to learn and pursue. Make tasks for yourself so you can take steps to achieve your goal. Most importantly, seize the opportunities that come along your way and make the most of them. For me, I set out to get involved with scientific research this year. I chose an event in HOSA that facilitated this. I also participated in two research competitions this year with two peers in my cohort. You don’t need to wait for a course in university to teach you something you want to learn; learning happens everywhere, you just need to find those opportunities for yourself.

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