a medical lab technician filling vials

Medical Lab Technicians, Technologists, and Scientists: What is the Difference?

Behind every medical diagnosis is a team of doctors, nurses, and laboratory workers who collaborated to decipher the results of critical medical tests. While patients rarely come into contact with them, medical lab technicians and technologists fill an integral position in their care team. Without a laboratory professional’s work, doctors wouldn’t be able to diagnose illnesses such as cancer or diabetes. A laboratory professional’s skills are also needed when it comes time to monitor the effectiveness of a treatment plan. In other words, lab technicians and scientists are invaluable members of the medical team.

As the population of the United States ages, there will be a growing need for medical lab professionals. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that about 25,900 new positions will become available, each year, for the next ten years. However, not all lab professions are the same. As you explore your future career options, you should consider whether you’d like to work as a medical lab technician vs. technologist. Here’s an exploration of these two career paths and how they differ.

Medical Lab Technician/Clinical Lab Technician

The first category of medical laboratory professionals is a medical lab technician (also referred to as a clinical lab technician). Medical lab technicians perform routine lab work in order to assist medical lab scientists and technologists perform their duties.

Under the supervision of laboratory managers and lab technologists, medical lab technicians collect and analyze samples from patients. These samples can include bodily fluids, tissues, and more. Technicians may perform tests on these samples and discuss the results with physicians. Medical lab technicians rely heavily on technology to assist them in their work, focusing primarily on the kinds of tests that can be automated. Lab technicians may also be asked to set up, maintain, calibrate, clean, and test the sterility of lab equipment.

Education Requirements
Those interested in becoming a medical lab technician should earn an associate degree in a related field, or complete a postsecondary certification program. These awards are typically completed within two years and programs must be accredited by the National Accrediting Agency for Clinical Laboratory Scientists. While not all states require certification for medical laboratory technicians, many employers prefer that their applicants hold certification and/or licensing before they’re hired. Certification is earned upon passing the national examination offered by the Board of Certification of the American Society for Clinical Pathology (ASCP). This organization requires that examinees have graduated from an accredited program.

Earning Potential
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the mean annual wage for medical laboratory technicians is $41,700. The top 90% of earners in this position earn an annual wage of $61,720. In order to advance in this field, medical lab technicians are required to receive more education and training to become technologists or scientists in the medical laboratory.

Medical Lab Technologist or Medical Lab Scientist

If medical laboratory science has been of interest to you, you’ve probably heard the terms “medical lab technologist” and “medical lab scientist” bandied about. But is there any difference between these two roles? No! In fact, the term “medical lab scientist” (MLS) is synonymous with “medical lab technologist” (MT). Here is an in-depth look at this exciting career path.

Medical laboratory scientists, also referred to as medical technologists, work to analyze biological specimens through scientific testing. This complex testing results in the finding of data that plays a key role in the identification and subsequent treatment of a wide variety of diseases. This testing is so important, in fact, that up to 70% of all decisions regarding a patient’s diagnosis and treatment plan are based on the results of tests that MLS professionals perform. Unlike medical lab technicians, MLS and MT professionals can perform a number of highly precise, manual tests, in addition to those tests that require the use of technology.

Education Requirements
Medical laboratory technologists and scientists are required to complete a bachelor’s degree in Medical Laboratory Science or Clinical Laboratory Science from a school accredited by the National Accrediting Agency for Clinical Laboratory Sciences. In some cases, a bachelor’s degree in another science or health-related field may be considered (e.g. Chemistry). Courses that students are expected to complete may include Bacteriology, Hematology, Immunology, and Phlebotomy. Students will also be expected to complete laboratory rotations in which they’ll work in a laboratory under the supervision of medical laboratory scientists.

Upon successful completion of their bachelor’s degree, graduates may pursue licensing and certification. This is done by taking and passing examinations put forward by the ASCP. As in the case of medical technicians, licensing requirements for medical lab technologists vary from state to state. However, many employers (including hospitals and government agencies) prefer that applicants have their ASCP Board Certification.

Earning Potential
Medical laboratory technologists earn a mean annual wage of $62,440. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the top 90% of earners make a salary of $85,160 per year. This figure can depend on experience level, employer, and location. An advantage of being an MT professional is that, due to their level of education, MTs are qualified to advance into managerial and training positions, expanding their lifetime earning potential.

As a medical laboratory scientist, your work life will be exciting, demanding, and varied. No two days will be the same! From examining and analyzing body fluids to identifying parasites and bacteria, your work will be crucial to doctors’ ability to provide care for their patients. Medical laboratory scientists receive excellent entry-level salaries and have the opportunity to advance in their careers. If laboratory science is of interest to you, and you’re motivated to grow within the medical field, consider majoring in Medical Laboratory Science.

Medical laboratory scientists play an important role in the diagnosis of disease and the care of patients. Is a career in medical laboratory science right for you? Learn more about University of Bridgeport’s Medical Laboratory Science degree, here!