Mary Vermersch Campbell grew up in Rogue River, Oregon. Her sister worked as a phlebotomist at a hospital in Grants Pass and introduced her to laboratory medicine. Since Mary was very interested in science, she felt that a career as a Medical Laboratory Scientist would be right up her alley, which is the path she pursued at Oregon Tech.
The hands-on nature of the learning process was one of the highlights of Mary’s time at Oregon Tech. She recounts how much of her time was spent in labs, performing actual tests like hospital labs might do. The clinical knowledge she absorbed allowed her to hit the ground running when she graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Medical Technology in 1984. In the “olden days,” as Mary refers to that time, Medical Technologists worked 40 hours a week for 12 months in a hospital for their externship. She was fortunate enough to complete all of her prerequisites by her Junior year, so the externship counted as her Senior year. Nowadays the Med Tech (now called Medical Laboratory Scientist) externship is much shorter, only about one term. Mary’s advice for current students is to take advantage of the labs, as she feels that the best part of a degree from Oregon Tech is that hands-on, real-world experience the school provides.
Like many fortunate Oregon Tech grads, Mary was hired by the same hospital where she did her externship and had a job before she even graduated. She recalls, “I would do my externship in the daytime and work a few hours on weekends or evenings in the areas that I had already achieved competency in." She was hired two months before she even graduated!
Mary has been involved in Molecular Diagnostic lab testing for most of her career. This field focuses on DNA and RNA and is not even something that existed in clinical labs when she first started working for Providence Health & Services 35 years ago. Providence was one of the early adopters of this technology. Early in her career, they developed “PCR” tests to detect viruses within a few hours when it used to take up to a month to grow some of these same viruses in cell culture.
Just as technology has changed over the years, Mary’s role in the lab has grown and changed, and she currently serves as the Director for the Molecular Genomics Laboratory. Her department provides testing for hospitals throughout the entire Providence St. Joseph Health System, which spans seven states and is the third largest non-profit health system in the US. Mary spends most of her time working in oncology genomics, where they sequence cancer tumors to help identify the best treatment for each individual patient. This is oftentimes referred to as “Personalized Medicine.” She has also recently used the virology knowledge she gained early in her career to lead the development of PCR tests for SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19 disease. Mary’s lab was the first hospital system to launch a test in Oregon back on March 18. For Mary, that seems like a lifetime ago!
Mary met her husband of 35 years, Jeff Campbell, at Oregon Tech. He was in the class of 1983 and earned his degree in manufacturing engineering. Jeff worked in industry for a period of time but always had a dream of owning his own business. Around 27 years ago, with a 2-year old and a 6-month old baby at home, an opportunity presented itself, so Jeff partnered with another OIT alum, Bill Murphy from the class of ’82, and they bought a business from a customer that was looking to retire. They successfully grew the business over many difficult years. Even through the financial crisis between 2007-2009, Jeff and Bill had a sound business plan and weathered it quite well. Jeff is now retired after over 25 years of running that business.
When the Campbell’s daughter Mackenzie was heading to college, they knew she would really appreciate everything that Oregon Tech had to offer. She attended the Klamath Falls campus and adopted her rescue dog, Brooklyn, while a Junior at OIT. She graduated in 2014 with a B.S. in Radiologic Science. Like her mother, she was hired by the hospital where she externed at, St. Charles Medical Center in Bend, Oregon. She currently works as an X-Ray and CT tech and loves living the Bend life with her dog. You can follow her on social media at instagram.com/whereintheworldisbrooklynn.
We all hear phrases like “unprecedented times” and “global crisis.” Mary finds herself using them and then realizing they are not an exaggeration. She has worked with viruses for much of her career, starting during the early days of HIV then leading her lab during the H1N1 Influenza pandemic in 2009. COVID-19 is not the same as the flu, however. Mary explains, “This virus is highly infectious. The impact on our patients with risk factors is devastating. But in spite of all of that it is great to know that science has come so far. Thanks to the advances and shared knowledge in the scientific community we were able to tap into the public databases and developed a lab test in a matter of a few weeks. Our lab has sequenced the virus, performed tests to support PPE sterilization experiments and we’re supporting Providence researchers working on a vaccine. I’m proud of the people I work with. They have invested more hours than anyone can imagine without ever being asked. They are doing everything they can to help our community. I know so many who ask what they can do to help. I have to say THANK YOU to all of you who have stayed home and continue to support social distancing. You too have made a difference!”
We are honored to have Mary, Jeff and Mackenzie as part of the alumni community. We also congratulate Mary for being selected as the recipient of the 2021 Scientific Achievement Award for Oregon Tech. This Owl family truly demonstrates what it means to be #OregonTechTogether!
~Becky Burkeen, Alumni Relations Manager