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Medical Technology Grad Navigates Internship Through COVID, Earns Top Recognition

kokhiya ngomMoroccan-born Rokhiya Ngom, an August 2021 SUNY Plattsburgh grad, said it was faith that led her to her degree in medical technology and a fruitful internship at Rochester Regional Health in Rochester, N.Y.

“I grew up in Morocco and moved to the United States with my parents when I was 15,” Ngom said. “Soon after moving to the U.S., my father was diagnosed with colon cancer, which devastated our family. I prayed to God to save him, and I would do anything to help others. When he went into remission, I learned about the importance of early diagnostics.”

Ngom enrolled in the biomedical science major here, “however, after learning about medical technology through my microbiology professor, Dr. Jose Deondarza, I knew that’s what I wanted to do,” she said.

“This internship is more significant than ever to me because medical technologists are the essential workers behind the scenes performing all the COVID-19 testing, along with other tests crucial to patient diagnosis, the unheard heroes of medicine. They are the people running the tests that aid in the diagnosis of a patient.”

And in her internship at Rochester Regional, Ngom saw that firsthand.

“I started my internship during the pandemic; moving from Plattsburgh to Rochester was difficult, and thankfully my friends helped me through every step of it,” she said. “The program was a 40-week-long rotation into the major disciplines such as transfusion services, clinical chemistry, hematology and microbiology.”

Within each of the rotations, Ngom had the chance to learn the theory of tests and put those theories into practice.

“We learned the important diagnostics tests for diseases such as leukemias or syphilis,” she said.

But with COVID, lectures were online. She and her cohorts couldn’t observe procedures such as bone marrow aspirations and couldn’t perform phlebotomy — or blood drawing.

“It was very tough to make friends or even schedule study groups as the program was very difficult,” Ngom said. “However, we all pulled through and did the best we could with the circumstances that we all faced globally.”

Ngom’s best is pretty good. She is the recipient of the fall 2020 F.A. Davis Nursing and Health Science Scholarship, which was helpful as Ngom  navigated a year at the Rochester facility. And in June, she received the Mildred R. Talluto Award for Excellence in Hematology.

As a SUNY Plattsburgh student, Ngom began a long tenure of helping people, first as a tutor in the Learning Center second semester of her freshman year.

“Tutoring is something I am very passionate about,” she said. “When I first moved, I knew very little English, but through the help of my teachers and friends, I was able to learn and catch up on my Regents and exams.”

She discovered an affinity for teaching and starting TA-ing for psychology and microbiology. Sophomore year saw hands-on genetics work with Dr. Nancy Elwess, researching spiders from a cave in Kentucky.

“I had the great opportunity to present my research at three different conferences,” Ngom said. She worked with Dr. Rajesh Sunasee during her junior year doing additional research, part of which was cut short because of COVID “but I learned so much throughout the semester.”

In June, Ngom took — and passed — her licensing boards and will start working in chemistry and hematology at Rochester General Health in the fall. Her plan is to work as a medical laboratory scientist for a few years to gain experience. She then plans to take her MCATs for medical school, specializing in gynecology.

As for Ngom’s SUNY Plattsburgh days, she knew it was the place to start.

“I went to an international high school in the Bronx,” Ngom said. “My health teacher went to SUNY Plattsburgh and told me about his great experience. When I visited Plattsburgh, I knew it was where I wanted to go. I honestly cannot explain fully why, but I just knew that’s where I wanted to be.”

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