Are you thinking about a career in health care but know, deep down, that
you're not a people person? If you've got a knack for science and enjoy a
lab environment, consider a medical laboratory science program.
Lab technicians and technologists examine blood and tissue samples to help
Training programs vary from two years to a four-year bachelor's degree.
Programs may be called medical laboratory science, clinical laboratory science
or medical laboratory technology.
Jennifer McPhee is the coordinator of medical laboratory sciences (MLS)
at a university. At her school, students start with a year of general sciences.
"And then they do a year in the basic didactic areas," says McPhee. "So, hematology,
clinical chemistry, clinical microbiology [and] transfusion medicine.
"Students have to have a good attention to detail and good dexterity."
Generally, grads of two-year programs become technicians. Grads of three-
and four-year programs become technologists.
Technologists usually have a higher salary and more responsibility. They
may spend more time in the lab. Technicians may work under technologists.
They may spend more time collecting samples from patients than doing lab work.
"The type of individual that chooses clinical laboratory sciences as a
career is the type that really loves science, takes a true analytical approach
to solving problems and usually wants to help humanity...without direct involvement
with patients," says Dorilyn Hitchcock. She is the director of University
of Central Florida's clinical laboratory sciences program.
High school students should develop a "good background in the sciences
-- biology and chemistry," says Cindy Brown. She is the education coordinator
of the clinical laboratory sciences program at the University of Wisconsin
She also suggests that students volunteer at a hospital or laboratory.
That isn't always easy. "It's very difficult to volunteer in a lab because
there [are] biohazards," says McPhee.
"We will encourage students to receive [the] hepatitis B vaccine. And they
will be required to have a box of gloves and a lab coat that stays in our
student lab. We actually receive specimens from the clinical labs, so they
work with the real thing from the start."
Medical laboratory scientists must become certified through the American
Society for Clinical Laboratory Science.
Occupational Outlook Handbook
For more information related to this field, see: Clinical Laboratory
Technologists and Technicians
ASCLS Career Center Website
Frequently asked questions about clinical laboratory science
Follow That Sample: A Short Lab Tour
Follow the analysis of a blood sample and throat swab from collection
to results reporting