Behind every medical test result and every medical diagnosis is the work of a medical laboratory scientist. Medical laboratory professionals (sometimes called clinical laboratory scientists or clinical laboratory technicians) play a crucial role in the process of providing personalized and appropriate care to patients. Despite the fact that they don’t work with patients one-on-one, they are vital and valuable members of their care team. What does a medical laboratory scientist do, exactly, and how do you become one?
Medical Laboratory Scientist Scope of Work
Medical laboratory scientists work closely with doctors and technicians in diagnosing and monitoring diseases, as well as tracking the effectiveness of treatments. As cited by WebMD, some of their responsibilities and duties include:
- Examining and analyzing blood, bodily fluids, tissues, and cells
- Conveying the results of tests to doctors and nurses
- Monitoring patient welfare through the use of lab testing
- Performing differential cell counts to find abnormal cells (i.e. in an effort to diagnose illnesses such as anemia and leukemia)
- Establishing quality assurance and reliability procedures in order to guarantee the accuracy of test results
- Blood typing and cross matching donor blood for patient transfusions
- Testing blood for drug levels
- Finding abnormalities in blood clotting
- Managing medical laboratory technicians and assistants
- Standardizing drug potency
- Designing and conducting research studies that investigate diseases and methods to prevent and treat them
Medical Laboratory Scientist Workplace
In order to complete their duties, medical laboratory scientists require highly specialized equipment. This equipment includes hematology analyzers, microscopes, DNA analyzers, blood gas analyzers, urinalysis analyzers, histology and cytology equipment, incubators, and more. Having access to this advanced technology is fundamental to a medical laboratory scientist’s effectiveness as a professional.
Medical laboratory technicians and scientists can complete their work in a variety of environments. These may include:
- Hospital clinical laboratories
- Commercial laboratories
- Public health laboratories
- Biotechnology companies
- Pharmaceutical companies
- Research and teaching facilities
- Fertility clinics
- Veterinary clinics
- Forensic and law enforcement laboratories
- Transplant and blood donor centers
Typically, medical laboratory scientists are expected to work full time hours. However, depending on their workplace, they may be asked to work irregular or atypical hours, such as a nighttime shift. This is especially true of hospital and reference laboratories that operate 24 hours a day, seven days a week. This provides some amount of flexibility for laboratory scientists, giving them the opportunity to work full-time when and how they want.
Medical Laboratory Scientist Career Outlook
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the employment of medical laboratory scientists is expected to grow by 6% between 2019 and 2029. This is faster than the national average for all occupations. As Baby Boomers, Gen X, and Millennials age, there will be an increased need for medical testing. There will likewise be a higher demand for medical scientists who can aid in the research of diseases such as Alzheimer’s, diabetes, and cancer.
The annual salary for a medical laboratory scientist can range between $50,000 and $100,000. A medical laboratory scientist’s salary can depend on their experience level, place of employment, and their geographical location.
Becoming a Medical Laboratory Scientist
As this is a highly technical field, there are specific educational and licensing requirements that individuals must fulfill before they can work as a medical laboratory scientist.
After earning a high school diploma (or the equivalent), those interested in a career in laboratory science will need to complete a bachelor’s degree in Medical Laboratory Science or Medical Technology. Courses in these degree programs will include general education credits, along with career-oriented courses such as:
- Advanced Clinical Chemistry
- Medical Bacteriology
Additionally, students will be expected to complete several weeks of supervised clinical work in a hospital laboratory.
Aspiring medical laboratory scientists should seek out programs that have been accredited by the National Accrediting Agency for Clinical Laboratory Sciences (NAACLS). These programs are held to a high standard. Those students who successfully complete a program that has been accredited by this agency will be qualified to sit for the national certification exam offered by the Board of Certification of the American Society for Clinical Pathology (ASCP).
Certification and Licensing
Though certification is not a requirement nationwide, many states do require licensure or certification to work in the medical laboratory science field. Some states require their own, state specific licensure. Generally, individuals interested in a career in this field should obtain their Medical Laboratory Scientists (MLS) certification through the American Society for Clinical Pathology.
Medical laboratory scientists are going to be more in demand than ever in the coming years. With their highly specialized education, they’re able to provide vital support to medical care teams as well as researchers. If making a difference while improving people’s quality of life speaks to you, then a career in medical laboratory science may be an incredible fit.
Does a career in medical laboratory science interest you? Learn more about University of Bridgeport’s program here!