Academic journal article Human Ecology

Critical Analysis

Academic journal article Human Ecology

Critical Analysis

Article excerpt

During the nine years that Tom Brenna has taught the course Methods in Nutritional Sciences, he has had his students tour the clinical laboratory at Cayuga Medical Center, often as a culmination of the course's 28 laboratory assignments.

"By the end of the course, they have a good feel for what happens in a diagnostic lab," says Brenna, an associate professor of nutritional sciences.

And that's important, he says. Brenna is well aware that more than 50 percent of his students will go on to medical school or to become registered dietitians. "I want to be sure that as health professionals they learn not only where the numbers come from but also to be very critical of how they are interpreted. And I want them to know how they can get into trouble if they're not careful about clearly interpreting those measurements."

One way he imparts a critical view of laboratory measurements is by having students perform diagnostic tests twice, first the right way, then the wrong way.

Take the lab on creatinine. Creatinine concentration in the urine is a standard measure of muscle function. In one lab students learn how to do a successful assay using a spectrophotometer, a device common to diagnostic laboratories that uses the absorption of color to detect the concentration of specific chemicals. Later in the same lab period they alter the standard method in various ways (change the incubation time, or temperature, or wavelength settings on the spectrophotometer) to see how those changes in conditions affect the test results. …

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