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Clinical Laboratory Scientist/Technician

Overview

Clinical laboratory science professionals (also called medical laboratory scientists or medical laboratory technicians) are highly skilled scientists who discover the presence or absence of disease and provide data that helps physicians determine the best treatment for the patient.

Although they are not often personally involved with patients, laboratory technologists and technicians play a crucial role in the process of providing personalized care. They generate vitally important data for identifying and treating cancer, heart disease, diabetes and many other health conditions.

Using sophisticated biomedical instrumentation and technology, as well as highly skilled manual techniques, clinical laboratory professionals examine and analyze body fluids, tissues and cells, as well as identify infective microorganisms. They analyze the chemical constituents of body fluids, identify blood clotting abnormalities, cross-match donor blood for transfusions and test blood for drug levels to measure the efficacy of particular treatments. They also evaluate test results for accuracy and help interpret them for the physician.

Medical laboratory technicians (MLT) and clinical laboratory technicians (CLT) have associate degrees, while medical laboratory scientists (MLS) have baccalaureate degrees. Much of the laboratory work performed by these professionals is the same, but laboratory technicians focus on collecting, processing and analyzing biological specimens; performing laboratory procedures; maintaining instruments; and relating findings to common diseases or conditions.

Medical laboratory scientists have many similar responsibilities, but because they have a more extensive theoretical knowledge base, they conduct more advanced testing, such as molecular diagnostics and highly involved microbiological and cross-matching blood tests. They also evaluate and interpret laboratory results, integrate data, solve problems, consult with physicians, conduct research and evaluate new test methods. Medical laboratory scientists also are more likely to advance to management positions.

Every day, new advances in genetic testing, biomarkers and PCR (polymerase chain reaction) technology are creating more challenges and job opportunities for clinical laboratory science professionals. It is a fast-growing field, and there will be great demand for clinical laboratory professionals in the future. Typically, medical laboratory technicians earn an average salary of $45,000 to $50,000 per year, while the average for medical laboratory scientists is between $55,00 to $60,000 per year.

For more information about pursuing a health career in this field, see the American Society for Clinical Laboratory Science website. You can also watch the video profiles (in the Health Science section) of medical and clinical laboratory technicians and medical and clinical laboratory scientists.

Working Conditions

Although the likelihood of finding a position in a clinical laboratory varies, depending on the geographic region, professionals in this field can find challenging employment in a wide range of arenas. For instance, among other settings, clinical laboratory professionals can work in:

  • Hospital clinical laboratories
  • Commercial or reference laboratories
  • Public health laboratories
  • Pharmaceutical or chemical industries
  • Biotechnology companies
  • Forensic and law enforcement laboratories
  • Veterinary clinics
  • Research and teaching institutions
  • Transplant and blood donor centers
  • Fertility clinics
  • The cosmetic or food industry

Work hours may vary, depending on the work setting, but most hospital and reference laboratories operate 24 hours a day, seven days a week. This lends itself to great flexibility in scheduling work shifts, which can be especially helpful for working parents.

 (Photo: Getty Images)
Salary
$45,000 - $60,000
Years in school
2 - 4
Job outlook
Excellent

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Profiles

Academic Requirements

There is a career ladder for laboratory professionals. To become a clinical laboratory technician (CLT) or medical laboratory technician (MLT), you must earn a two-year associate's degree from an approved program and pass a certification exam, which you can take through one of two agencies:

Medical laboratory scientists (MLS) have a baccalaureate degree and have completed an accredited clinical laboratory science or medical technology program. These accredited programs may be located within a hospital system or a university. After graduating, an MLS also must pass a certification exam.

Higher levels of training also are available for those who want to pursue a particular field of specialization.