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UT Human Donation Science Program celebrates milestone

The only academic program in the country designed to prepare individuals to coordinate and oversee the organ and tissue donation and transplantation process will graduate its 100th student in August.

The graduation celebration and awards night will be Tuesday, July 26, at 6 p.m. at Heatherdowns Country Club and earlier that day, the senior capstone case studies will be presented at 9 a.m. in Collier Building Room 1050 on Health Science Campus.

Lori Rankin moved to Toledo from North Carolina to enroll in UT's Human Donation Science Program.

Lori Rankin moved to Toledo from North Carolina to enroll in UT’s Human Donation Science Program.

The University of Toledo’s Master of Science in Biomedical Science Human Donation Science Program prepares individuals to facilitate the organ donation process from beginning to end. They serve as a liaison between the donor’s family, medical staff, organ procurement organization and transplant center.

“It’s the best job in the world,” said Rachel Baczewski, certified procurement transplant coordinator at Life Connection of Ohio and 2013 graduate of the program. “It’s so rewarding to know that I’m providing comfort to families who have lost a loved one and assisting in saving the lives of other patients. Each family gets a piece of my heart.”

Coordinators must pull together a team of medical professionals, facilitate medical testing, and ensure all laws are followed while compassionately and diplomatically communicating with the donor’s family.

“It’s a tough job and organ procurement organizations were seeing a high level of turnover among their coordinating staff,” said Linda Miller, assistant professor and director of UT’s Human Donation Science Program. “We wanted to see better training programs and higher retention rates. We developed this program as a result.”

Students enrolled in the Human Donation Science Program receive a multidisciplinary education covering all components of organ donation and complete coursework in medical science, management, human resources and law. They also receive clinical training and complete two internships prior to graduation.

“I wanted the opportunity to advance in the field of organ donation, so I left my job in North Carolina to come to UT for this program. It was the best decision I ever made,” said Lori Rankin, a student in the program. “I feel I have an even better educational foundation, and I have received excellent training for every aspect of the job.”

Ali Morgillo, senior coordinator at Life Connection of Ohio agreed. She said students who have graduated from UT’s program are better equipped to handle the challenges of the position.

“The program really prepares students for the realities of the job. They have critical clinical background and relationship-building skills and are flexible and driven to do well. They are more successful as a result,” she said.

Eighty percent of the graduates from the program, now in its 13th year, remain employed in the field. Many have been promoted to leadership and research positions. There are only 58 organ procurement organizations in the United States, resulting in a small network of coordinators who come to know each other well.

“When an employer sees that someone is a graduate of UT’s program, they take notice. It makes us very marketable,” said Rankin, who is already pursuing new employment leads.

“Half of our coordinators graduated from the Human Donation Science Program,” said Kara Steele, director of community services for Life Connection of Ohio. “We are seeing a continual increase in the number of registered donors, which should translate into an increase in transplants, and that ups the demand for highly skilled coordinators to facilitate the donation process.”

Ohioans can make the decision to be an organ donor when obtaining or renewing their driver’s license.

“It’s the best way for someone to make their final wishes known,” Morgillo said. “It makes the donation process easier on families when they know it was part of their loved one’s plan to donate their organs.”

It also makes it easier on the coordinators, who see a lot of sadness as a part of consulting with donor families.

“Before I go to work, my daughter tells me to make people happy and fix them,” said Samantha Muir, certified procurement transplant coordinator at Life Connection of Ohio and 2013 graduate. “Getting a letter of appreciation from a donor or recipient family, to hear how you have made an impact on their life, makes the long hours and emotional days worthwhile.”

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