Stephanie Clarke, Clinical Assistant Professor

A Dedicated Educator Has Her Dream Job
Stephanie Clarke and a student

Stephanie Clarke, clinical assistant professor in the department of molecular, cellular and biomedical sciences, received COLSA’s 2018 Excellence in Teaching Award, and when you read her responses to our questionnaire, it’s not hard to see why. Clarke joined the UNH faculty in 2011 and became a full-time clinical assistant professor in 2014.

COLSA: How would you explain what you do to someone unfamiliar with your work and field?

Stephanie Clarke: I teach Medical Laboratory Science, which is an allied health profession that analyzes the components of blood and other body fluids (sputum, semen, urine, stool, etc.) and produces laboratory results that aid physicians in treating patients. I teach about how we can use cells, proteins and other components within blood to detect, diagnose, treat and monitor disease progress as well as determine appropriate therapeutic approaches to those same diseases. 

So much of medicine is based on the results of blood work, so my courses are relevant to those pursuing careers as medical laboratory scientists, nurses, physician's assistants, dentists, pathologist's assistants and physicians as well as to those interested in clinical research.

Along with teaching, all clinical faculty have clinical activities that we participate in. For me, this is coordinating and overseeing internships, maintaining accreditation standards, evaluating internship sites and finding new ones, making site visits and negotiating contracts with internship sites. It can be summed up pretty concisely but all of these things take a substantial amount of time. In order to place a single student for a phlebotomy internship I might call up to 20 different clinical sites, which could entail weeks of phone tag!

With regard to teaching, the students inspire me to be better at this job every single day.  I sometimes can see that they are capable of things they never dreamed possible, and seeing them step outside of their comfort zones and say yes to opportunities that come their way makes me extremely proud. I ask a lot of my students, but they give me back far more than they will ever know.

COLSA: What draws you to your work?

Clarke: The field of medical laboratory science is incredibly rewarding work. The accuracy of the job we do directly impacts the patient by influencing their diagnosis and treatment plan. Outside of the physician, we are one of the single most influential pieces of the differential diagnosis, and yet we never come face to face with the patient. Knowing how essential our work is to the patients we serve is motivating and drives me to constantly help patients receive the highest quality care possible. 

With regard to teaching, the students inspire me to be better at this job every single day.  Watching them learn, challenge themselves and grow as individuals through both successes and failures is the most rewarding thing I have ever done with my life. I sometimes can see that they are capable of things they never dreamed possible, and seeing them step outside of their comfort zones and say yes to opportunities that come their way makes me extremely proud. I secretly call them my "kids" because I truly do care about them and am invested in helping them reach their potential. I ask a lot of my students, but they give me back far more than they will ever know.

COLSA: What's your favorite course to teach and why?

Clarke: Oh goodness. They're all my favorite, really!  I guess both BMS 644 Clinical Hematology and BMS 642 Clinical Immunology are my two favorite BMS courses to teach because I feel the students really start to connect molecular and cellular pathophysiology to macroscopic symptomatic presentation. It's where they start to be able to say "OK...when this happens inside a cell it causes X to happen, and when X happens it gives the patient symptom X. We can determine that X happened by doing test A and getting result B." When they can do that, they've made it!

I also co-teach an interprofessional education course called LSA 798 Who's On First? Interprofessional Colloquium. That course is co-taught by faculty in nursing, communication sciences and disorders, athletic training, occupational therapy, social work, nutrition and medical laboratory science.

Students are placed into interprofessional teams with one representative from each discipline, then given a "theme" for the semester (this semester is stroke; previous semesters have included Down syndrome and traumatic brain injury). Throughout the semester, the students work together to create a case study scenario centered around each discipline providing care for a patient with that condition.  At the end of the semester, the students enact their case study scenario in the nursing simulation lab.  It's a fantastic opportunity to learn about what other healthcare disciplines do and about teamwork and communication. 

Secretly, it's also super fun to teach because the faculty are amazing: they are some of the most dedicated, hard-working and talented people I've ever worked with (and the added bonus is that are all incredibly fun).

COLSA: What do you wish others (colleagues, students) knew about what you do?

Clarke:  If I had to say something here, I would say that I wish more people had an awareness of how difficult it can be to manage student internships. It can mean cold calling essentially the entire eastern seaboard with no results, and it might take a month or more just to get rejected and to have to start all over again--just for one student. Negotiating contracts can also be a months-long process.  Creating relationships with new sites and maintaining existing ones is honestly no different than maintaining friendships: it requires time, communication and investment in the people you're working with. 

There's risk management involved in training both students and sites on safe practices as well as evaluating both students and sites. Dealing with student issues and under-performing sites is a delicate matter and can represent a substantial investment of both time and effort. I love the work that I do with coordinating internships, but I think sometimes its easy to forget how much time and effort it represents!

COLSA: If you could share one piece of advice with students, what would it be?

Clarke: To not be afraid!  Take every opportunity you can! You can't grow if you don't push your boundaries! The worst that happens is that you aren't successful, and we always learn more from our failures than we do from our successes (so even failures are successes in their own right!).

COLSA: So far in your career, what do you consider to be your greatest achievement?

Clarke: I have two greatest achievements: I was the recipient of COLSA's Teaching Excellence Award in 2018, and I'm still incredibly proud, honored and humbled. I was also selected to be one of three women university-wide to receive a UNH-funded scholarship to attend the HERS Institute, which is a leadership summit for women in higher education. Both honors are incredibly meaningful to me and have made me very proud.

COLSA: Finally, if you weren't doing this, what would you be doing?

Clarke: Absolutely nothing else! I love love love love love this job. There is no more rewarding career than being a teacher, and if I wasn't doing this I would be trying to figure out how to get UNH to hire me so that I COULD do this!

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