Desiree Dingman stands in front of the sign that designates the geographic South Pole.

Dingman establishes hot career on very cool continent

Desiree Dingman

Desiree Dingman stands in front of the sign that designates the geographic South Pole. “Because the earth at the South Pole shifts about 30 feet every year, the sign is repositioned as necessary Jan. 1 of each year,” Dingman said. The building in the background is the South Pole station where Dingman has accomplished outstanding work in her field.

Antarctica is off the beaten path for even the most seasoned travelers. But Desiree Dingman, a 1994 alumna of the UT Health Science Center’s Clinical Laboratory Science (CLS) program, not only accomplished her goal to visit the region, she went a step further by establishing a career there. So, how did she arrive on the icy continent?

As an undergraduate student, Dingman was fascinated by science and had acquired an abundance of academic science credits. But she was unsure of which career path would best suit her aspirations and adventure-driven personality. Dingman’s brother, who was working at the Health Science Center, suggested she look at academic programs offered at the university. Dingman was soon intrigued by the CLS program and decided to pursue a course of study in the field.

In December 1994 she graduated with a bachelor’s degree and began her first job as a medical technologist at the Federal Medical Center, Carswell, in Fort Worth. The center is the only federal prison hospital for females. Any female federal inmate in the U.S. who becomes seriously ill is transported to the center for treatment and care.

“The medical center was new and I was there to establish a laboratory from the very beginning,” she said. “The Health Science Center provided me with the skills to assist in this process. This knowledge was integral in allowing me to provide valuable information and build the laboratory to what it is today.” Currently, the center provides health care to 1,300 inmates, and the laboratory conducts approximately 85,000 tests annually.

In addition to her passion for science, Dingman loves to travel. “By the time I was 16, I had visited all 48 continental states,” she said. “My goal is to visit all seven continents. A few years ago, only Australia, Africa and Antarctica were left on my destination list.” So, Dingman decided to begin saving for the trip to Antarctica until a change of plans suddenly came her way.

While on a vacation flight last year to Los Angeles, she noticed the passenger sitting next to her was wearing a baseball cap that read “Antarctica.” As the two chatted, she learned the passenger was an employee at the McMurdo Station in Antarctica. He shared experiences about working at the station, which is administered by the United States Antarctic Program, a branch of the National Science Foundation. The station supports the South Pole by providing a base of operations for scientists to perform research.

Upon returning home, Dingman was inspired by the research she learned was being accomplished in Antarctica. So when an opening for a laboratory technician became available at Raytheon Polar Services, she quickly applied. Raytheon holds a government contract from the U.S. National Science Foundation, which administers grants dedicated to sustaining the Antarctic environment and funding of scientists conducting research in Antarctica.

In August 2009, Dingman began her new career. She is assigned to the McMurdo Station and is a member of the medical team that provides health care to the area’s approximately 1,100 summer inhabitants. In her role as a laboratory technician, she trains the medical staff to run the lab equipment at the South Pole. She also has visited the South Pole to implement the use of the Abaxis Piccolo, a blood chemistry analyzing unit, and to check protocols and procedures.

“Remote health care is such a different environment in which to work,” she said. “I believe the outstanding education I received from the Health Science Center prepared me for any position.”

Dingman now encourages CLS students to be aware of the variety of positions offered in the field. “There are countless opportunities for careers in hospitals, but many opportunities also exist in research and with the military, state and federal government,” she said. “The possibilities are endless if only you open yourself to them.”

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