AUGUSTA — Just a week into the new semester, Ryan Leist has already benefited from the expanded space on the University of Maine at Augusta campus for the medical lab technician program. 

Medical Lab Technology student Ryan Leist demonstrates a microscope Tuesday in the new lab space in University of Maine at Augusta’s Robinson Hall in Augusta. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

Leist, 24, a first-year student, transferred about a week ago from the University of Maine at Presque Isle into UMA’s new facility to be closer to his home in Waterville. He initially enrolled at the northern Maine campus and commuted three and a half hours because of limited space at the Augusta campus.

University officials unveiled the new $1.75 million lab in the newly renovated Robertston Hall to the public on Tuesday, which is expected to allow enrollment to more than double from the current level of eight to 10 students.

“(The workforce) is not going to get better unless we respond to the need,” said Elisha Sirois, a MaineGeneral Health employee who instructs the UMaine students in the program. 

Statewide there are currently 90 open positions for medical lab technicians, and those job generally pay between $25 and $28 per hour.

UMA and UMPI both offer two-year medical lab technician programs and share professors, most of whom are from MaineGeneral Health , like Sirois. 


Sirois advocated for a larger space in 2021, pointing out that the need for the technicians across the state will stay steady if each university program graduates around eight students yearly, as the profession is growing nationally at a rate of 3.4%. 

Construction for the $1,751,969 renovation that completely gutted Robertson Hall started in December 2022 and finished in December 2023, right in time for the January semester to start. It was funded by seven grants. 

UMA President, Jenifer Cushman said she is thrilled about the possibility of expanding healthcare to Mainers.

“It is really what we are about, to be fulfilling our mission,” she said. “We know, especially in the field of health care, medical technicians are important and with 24,000 openings nationwide, there is the opportunity to train students at UMA. There is a real need in the state and this will help, so every resident in Maine can have access to healthcare.”

Nathan Howell, the chief executive officer of MaineGeneral Health, said Tuesday that 74% of the lab technicians at MaineGeneral are UMA graduates. 

“Without a lab, you can’t actually determine what the patient has or doesn’t have — our doctors wouldn’t be able to function without it,” said Howell. 

Joining Leist in the new space is Shannon Fillebrown, 26, who said having the added lab space will change the way the students learn.

As a first-year student, Fillebrown is on track to get both her associate’s degree in the medical lab technician program and her bachelor’s degree in the microbiology program from UMA. She pointed out a room next to the laboratory that the students could use for an independent study room or to study with peers.  

“It’s a big change in how we learn and the resources we have as students,” Fillebrown said. “We can use the extra space for an independent study or use it to meet with teachers for any help we need.” 

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