The practice of medicine relies heavily upon the information obtained through performing clinical laboratory tests. Laboratory testing plays a critical role in the detection, diagnosis and treatment of disease. More than 80 percent of a physician's decisions regarding a patient's diagnosis and treatment are based on laboratory test results. The role of the medical laboratory scientist is to ensure the accuracy and validity of these test results.
The MLS uses complex biomedical instruments, often interfaced with computers, to analyze blood, body fluids and tissues. These lab professionals monitor quality of laboratory results, recognize testing errors, and detect and correct problems that may occur during the testing process. They help research and develop new methods for testing and evaluate new instruments. They may be involved with teaching other health care professionals and training laboratory staff. Some may become supervisors, giving guidance and direction to both technical and support personnel. Others may choose to become managers, taking responsibility for budgeting, staffing, productivity, quality management, problem resolution, planning and more.
There are many advantages to entering the profession of medical laboratory science:
- Employment opportunities: Job placement is excellent; there are more jobs than graduates.
- Employable skills: Graduates are able to put their talents to work immediately following the completion of their education.
- Transferable skills: Individuals may decide to switch career paths and find their previous education experience is very beneficial in other health professions.
- Constant challenges and changes: New methods, instruments, diseases, treatments and more keep professionals stimulated and continually learning.
- Status: As health care professionals, graduates may be involved in a variety of interdisciplinary tasks and functions, using their expertise to improve health care services for patients.
Employment opportunities abound for medical laboratory scientists. Once certified, one may choose to work in microbiology, clinical chemistry, hematology, blood bank or molecular diagnostics. Some graduates enjoy working in all areas as a generalist.
Jobs are available not only in hospital laboratories, but also in physicians' offices, public health facilities, industry, sales, marketing and research. MLSs may continue their education and advance to positions in health administration or elect to pursue graduate studies to become physicians, veterinarians, physician assistants, pathologists' assistants and more.
The MLS is an individual with a baccalaureate degree in medical laboratory science. The education includes both college courses and clinical courses with clinical experiences.
There are several curriculum options:
- A student may enroll in a college or university majoring in medical laboratory science (medical technology or clinical laboratory science). The curriculum usually is set up as a "2+2" program; students take only college courses during the first two years and during the last two years take college courses AND clinical courses with clinical experiences. The college or university holds the accreditation and awards the degree.
- A student may elect a "3+1" curriculum. With this option, students take three years of college or university courses, then apply to accredited hospitals for the 12-month program of clinical study that includes both clinical courses and laboratory experiences. Upon successful completion of the clinical program, the student receives college or university credit and is awarded a baccalaureate degree and a certificate from the clinical program.
- An individual with a degree in biology or chemistry may apply to an accredited hospital as a "4+1" option. If they have completed the appropriate required science courses, they may compete with "3+1" students for placement. A few colleges or universities grant a second degree to individuals completing this option. Applicants with a baccalaureate degree must have completed the required coursework within seven years of the application.
- An individual who is certified as a medical laboratory technician (MLT) may elect to complete baccalaureate degree requirements. Depending upon the college or university, this student may be eligible to matriculate directly into the MLS/MT/CLS major. The student may also apply to a hospital program after receiving a degree and may be eligible for an individualized program of study.
There are many colleges and universities that offer the MLS major. Contact the college or university of choice for information on the major and its requirements.
Graduates usually become certified as a medical laboratory scientist when they have completed the education requirements. Certification is beneficial and a requirement for many job opportunities and for post-graduate study. National certification is recognized in all states and identifies, to employers, the competence of the job applicant.
The organization that provides certification opportunities for medical laboratory scientists is the American Society for Clinical Pathology—Board of Certification.