If you are interested in science and good at problem solving with close attention to detail, a career as a medical laboratory scientist (MLS) may be right for you.
If you are interested in science and good at problem-solving with close attention to detail, a career as a medical laboratory scientist (MLS) may be right for you. Employment of medical laboratory scientists is projected to grow much faster than the average for all occupations. Laboratory professionals like MLSs play a vital role in the diagnosis and prevention of disease. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 70% of medical decisions rely on lab results. Read on to learn about what a medical laboratory scientist does, how to become a medical laboratory scientist and the job market for MLSs.
What Does a Medical Laboratory Scientist Do?
Medical laboratory scientists, sometimes called medical technologists or clinical laboratory scientists, perform complex chemical, biological, hematological, immunologic, microscopic and bacteriological analyses, such as:
- Analyze body fluids, such as blood, urine and tissue samples and record normal or abnormal findings
- Study blood samples for use in transfusions by identifying the number of cells, the cell morphology or the blood group, blood type, and compatibility with other blood types
- Operate sophisticated laboratory equipment, such as microscopes and cell counters
- Use automated equipment and computerized instruments capable of performing a number of tests simultaneously
- Log data from medical tests and enter results into a patient’s medical record
- Discuss results and findings of laboratory tests and procedures with physicians
- Supervise or train medical laboratory technicians
Employers seek laboratory personnel with good analytical judgment and the ability to work under pressure. Medical laboratory scientists in particular are expected to be good at problem solving. Close attention to detail is also essential for laboratory personnel because small differences or changes in test substances or numerical readouts can be crucial to a diagnosis. Manual dexterity and normal color vision are highly desirable, and with the widespread use of automated laboratory equipment, computer skills are important.
Where Do Medical Laboratory Scientists Work?
Medical laboratory scientists can work in a few different settings, including:
- Medical and diagnostics labs
- Doctor’s offices
The Path to Becoming a Medical Laboratory Scientist
Medical laboratory scientists are generally required to have a bachelor’s degree in medical technology or in a science (e.g., chemistry or biology). Bachelor’s degree programs in medical technology include courses in chemistry, biological sciences, microbiology, mathematics and statistics as well as courses designed to teach knowledge and skills used in the clinical laboratory. Medical technology programs are typically offered through a university with internships in a hospital setting.
Choosing an Accredited Program
Most medical laboratory scientists programs are accredited by the National Accrediting Agency for Clinical Laboratory Sciences (NAACLS). Accredited programs must prove that they meet a set of standards, so students and employers know that the graduates of these programs are well-qualified.
Some states require laboratory personnel to be licensed or registered. Licensure of medical technologists often requires a bachelor’s degree and the passing of an exam, but requirements vary by state and specialty. Information on licensure is available from state departments of health or boards of occupational licensing.
Many employers prefer applicants who are certified by a recognized professional association, such as the American Medical Technologists (AMT). Choosing a certifying body is just as important as choosing a school or MLS program. When you choose a certification that is rigorous and practical, you are showing employers and patients that they can trust your skills and knowledge. Certification with AMT requires that all applicants comply with certain eligibility requirements, or routes. Those who meet the requirements have an excellent chance of passing the certification exam. AMT certification is a national certification and is not limited to specific states.
The Examinations supporting the certification progams are intended to assess the knowledge underlying the competent performance of primary tasks typically required of healthcare practitioners at entry into an occupation. AMT's MLS certification is targeted at individuals who are completing their education as well as those who already work in the field but are not yet certified. We target entry level practitioners across all states in the US and through our eligibility criteria identify those who qualify to be certified by AMT. If you are interested in becoming certified through AMT as an MLS, visit our Medical Laboratory Scientist page to determine if you are eligible.
Medical Laboratory Scientist Employment Outlook
The job outlook for MLSs is strong and projected to remain positive. Medical laboratory scientists and medical laboratory technicians held about 335,500 jobs in 2020. Employment of medical laboratory scientists and medical laboratory technicians is expected to grow 11 percent from 2020 to 2030, faster than the average for all occupations. An increase in the aging population will lead to a greater need to diagnose medical conditions, such as cancer and type 2 diabetes, through laboratory procedures. Medical laboratory scientists will be needed to use and maintain the equipment needed for diagnosis and treatment.
Medical Laboratory Scientists Salary
According to the American Society for Clinical Pathology’s 2019 Wage Survey of Medical Laboratories, the average annual wage of staff-level medical laboratory scientists was about $68,250 in 2019. A supervisor or technical supervisor averaged about $84,270 annually in 2019. In general, salaries are higher in a hospital setting than in physician offices.
Career Advancement for Medical Laboratory Scientist
Medical laboratory scientists may advance to supervisory positions in laboratory work or may become chief technologists or laboratory managers in hospitals. Manufacturers of home diagnostic testing kits and laboratory equipment and supplies also seek experienced medical technologists to work in product development, marketing, and sales. Professional certification, specialization and/or a graduate degree in medical technology, one of the biological sciences, chemistry, management, or education usually speeds advancement.
Want To Learn More?
Check out our blog post on medical laboratory scientist's critical role on health care teams.