Dr. Hiller Puts Science into Action

Kelli Hiller

Dr. Kelli Hiller speaks to a group of girls, wide-eyed and brimming with questions about science. Hiller volunteers with the STEM Starter Academy and the American Association of University Women and organizes STEM Days with the help of her dedicated staff. Girls as young as 10 through high school are encouraged to enter the science, technology, engineering and math fields. “It is important to spark that interest at such a young age because they are our future," says Hiller. 

As Professor and Director of Clinical Lab Sciences at Bristol, Hiller recently collaborated with Dean Robert Rezendes to bring a phlebotomy program to the Taunton Center in addition to New Bedford and Fall River. She designed the curriculum and free open educational resources, which include YouTube videos she produced herself. “I’ve been gifted with opportunities that the college has given me to be able to develop this program,” she says. 

One of the reasons the program has been successful is because it offers economic independence for those students who want to learn how to collect blood and other patient specimens. The process can be part of diagnostic testing or can be used therapeutically for certain conditions. “These students can make up to $23 an hour by earning a phlebotomy certificate,” says Hiller. 

Bristol also partners with MassHire to place unemployed individuals in some slots and to provide a pathway to a career in healthcare. For the unemployed, a phlebotomy certificate can be a one-way ticket out of poverty. The program requires only two courses and clinical rotation at local affiliates including Morton Hospital. “It is also a great part-time job while earning their degree considering the rising cost of education.”    

During the pandemic there was a big turnover in workers. “As the need for healthcare workers has increased, so has the demand for phlebotomists,” says Hiller. “There is a great job market out there and students get hired right out of the program.”    

Although an entry level job in the healthcare field, it serves as a springboard for students who aspire to further their careers and seek higher paying jobs. “I often get students returning for clinical lab science because they got a taste of the laboratory while studying phlebotomy,” she says. Phlebotomy was developed as a summer program in Taunton and to date, 15 students have completed the certificate. She would like to see the program expand and create more opportunities. Bristol students get hired at healthcare facilities such as Quest Diagnostics, Southcoast Health and Steward Health Care. 

One of the things she finds most rewarding is that she still interacts with her former students. “I had my son in 2013, and the nurses that took care of my son and collected my specimens were both former students,” she says. She gets iron infusion treatments at Hawthorne Medical where former students give her IV infusions as nurses. “When I see my students go from collecting lab specimens and transitioning into another successful healthcare career, those are moments that make it all worth it.”