MCCC Med Lab Tech Alum Nicole Torrone ’17 is Freehold's First Line of Defense

Story by Brandon Johnson
5/05/20

Freehold, N.J. – If you’ve been following the coronavirus news, you’ve probably heard about CentraState Medical Center. Located in Freehold, the facility has been a 287-bed focal point for COVID-19 infections. Its dire circumstances have inspired motions to assist from the world over – on April 13, advocates from Hong Kong organized the donation of 4,000 surgical masks to the center.

The supplies are helping out all manner of CentraState employees. One such beneficiary is Mercer County Community College (MCCC) alumna Nicole Torrone.

Torrone graduated from The College of New Jersey in 2013 with a Bachelor of Science in Biology Secondary Education. Two years later, she enrolled at Mercer, pursuing a degree in the Medical Laboratory Technology (MLT) program.   

The program prepares its students for professional work in the healthcare field. Specifically, graduates are trained to run diagnostic laboratory tests on medical specimens used in the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of health and disease.

While she was studying at Mercer, Torrone buffed her skill set as both a biology teacher at Robbinsville High School, as well as a pharmacy technician at Wegman’s. Just four months after earning her A.A.S. at Mercer, Torrone started working at CentraState Medical Center as her degree’s namesake: a medical laboratory technician.

“As a technician working in both microbiology and the blood bank, most of my day revolves around our COVID-19 patients,” Torrone said. On the microbiology side, she and her coworkers operate polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests, which are used to detect coronavirus infections. The tests work by amplifying traces of the virus’ DNA to levels that can be analyzed by technicians like Torrone.

“In the blood bank, we just began managing stock of convalescent plasma,” Torrone added. “We are in contact with the COVID-19 teams, nursing supervisors, and blood supply centers, such as the American Red Cross, to determine which patients are eligible for these plasma transfusions.”

“We check that patients have valid blood types on file, manage inventory, and ensure that patients are receiving safe blood products that will hopefully aid in their recovery process,” Torrone explained.

Torrone’s diverse duties, especially during the pandemic, mean she has to work hard to protect herself from infection.

“We treat all specimens as if they are infectious,” Torrone said. That means donning personal protective equipment – a lab coat, gloves and face mask – at all times. She and her coworkers also process all COVID-19 specimens under a fume hood in a negative pressure room, which sucks air into the room and filters it before moving it outside.

The job keeps her plenty busy, especially during the coronavirus crisis, and Torrone contended that her Mercer education gave her the basis for the work she does today.

“The MCCC MLT program gave me a great foundation of knowledge from which I am always building,” Torrone said. “Not only did I learn basic theory, but I also learned general laboratory skills that I use every day.”

She added, “I know the importance of quality control, keeping neat records, specimen collection, and universal precautions. I can use lab results from every department to form clear clinical pictures of my patients. Most of all, I am confident in my work which gives me a reason to keep returning, especially when times are as difficult as they are now.”

In a way, the difficulty, or more accurately the importance, of the job is what keeps Torrone coming back. One day she might be providing blood, “to a young father-to-be who was in a tragic car crash so that he would be able to witness the birth of his daughter in the future.”

Another day she could be alerting, “the oncologist of the presence of abnormal and immature white blood cells in a patient’s blood, allowing the patient to get prompt cancer treatment before it was too late.”

“Every single day is different, but every day we do our best to protect our patients. The laboratory has become my home, and I would choose it over any other career every single time.”


Are you ready to help us keep our students on track to finish classes and graduate? Then share and support our MCCC Student Emergency Fund. Donating at www.mccc.edu/mercermatters, or by texting MercerMatters to 41444, will help keep students enrolled during the COVID-19 pandemic. Every dollar matters!

 

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Nicole Torrone '17 is serving on the frontlines of the COVID-19 pandemic, working as a technician at CentraState Medical Center in Freehold, N.J.