EAST LANSING — Patrick Lothrop is fighting the COVID-19 pandemic on two fronts.
In a single day, Lothrop runs laboratory tests on patient blood and bodily fluid samples — including COVID-19 screenings — and helps keep the minds of his students sharp during the pandemic. Lothrop works part-time as a front-line health care worker at Beaumont Hospital in Troy and full-time as a middle school science and engineering teacher at the Center for Innovation in Lapeer Community Schools.
Lothrop has made the public health crisis a teachable moment for his students and checks in with them regularly on Zoom. His students are curious about his work in the lab, particularly handling patient specimens from patients possibly infected with COVID-19. He takes time to explain his work and the safety precautions he must take every day.
“I’m a firm believer that when you treat kids as mature as they want to be treated, they will rise to that,” Lothrop said. “So I’m honest with them. I say, ‘Yeah, I worry when I go to work sometimes. Yes, I’ve got the mask on; I’ve got the gloves; I’ve got the gown, but I still worry when I go to work.’”
Under normal circumstances, students in Lothrop’s Medical Detectives class study the human body and DNA to learn how to measure and interpret vital signs, diagnose disease and solve “crime scene” mysteries through hands-on projects. Students plate bacteria, grow it and do antibiotic studies on it.
The goal of the course is to teach problem-solving — a critical skill in life, the lab and future careers — by inspiring interest in real-world science applications.
“A medical technologist has to problem-solve,” he said. “When results look abnormal, I have to determine whether they’re accurate or not to be able to give out to the doctor. And I have to look at all these different formulas in my head to determine if the specimen is valid or not.”
Lothrop was a laboratory scientist before he was a teacher, although his first dream was to be in the classroom. As a college student in the late 1980s, Lothrop was steered away from education and chose to be a medical technologist so he could use science to do some good in the world.
Now that school buildings are closed, Lothrop and his teaching colleagues are doing their best to continue educating students with engineering design challenges they can do online or using materials they have at home.
He admits the classes are difficult to replicate on the computer.
“There’s been a push in the last couple years to say, ‘We don’t need teachers; we can do this all online,’” he said. “I say, ‘No.’ Kids need human contact and they want the chance to do science and engineering directly.”
For other stories about the intersection between the education and medical professions during the COVID-19 crisis (including profiles on educators in Alpena and Ontonagon), read MEA Editor Brenda Ortega’s piece, “Two Worlds, Big Hearts: Some Educators Work in Health Care, Too.” (Photos available.)