A medical laboratory scientist is a highly skilled individual who performs and evaluates laboratory procedures on blood and body fluids to aid physicians and other healthcare professionals in diagnosing and monitoring disease states. They may also be involved in developing new diagnostic procedures, supervising and conducting biomedical research, providing technical expertise, consulting and teaching as well as analyzing and implementing laboratory information systems. The primary disciplines in laboratory medicine include clinical chemistry, hematology, clinical microbiology, clinical immunology, immunohematology (transfusion medicine) and molecular diagnostics.
The medical laboratory science profession offers multiple career tracks based on level of education. A Medical Laboratory Technician (MLT) is an associate degreed individual involved in the performance of lab procedures, the maintenance of instruments, and the relating of lab findings to common diseases/conditions. A Medical Laboratory Scientist (MLS), previously called a Medical Technologist (MT), obtains a baccalaureate degree and has a more extensive theoretical knowledge base. The MLS performs high-level laboratory procedures as well as evaluates and interprets test results, integrates data, engages in problem solving, consults with other healthcare professionals, conducts research and develops new test methods. The MLS may also have opportunity to move into supervisory or management level positions.
University-based programs are typically degree programs. They are often two years in length and offer a slower pace for students. Upon completion of the program, students in a university-based program may be awarded a baccalaureate degree in Medical Laboratory Science. Hospital-based programs are typically certificate programs. They are often one year in length and offer a more intensive fast pace for students. Upon completion of the hospital-based program, students receive a certificate of completion. As hospital-based programs typically are unable to grant degrees, the students they accept must have completed a baccalaureate degree already (4+1 student) or be in the final year of degree completion (3+1 student). Hospitals maintain affiliation agreements with colleges or universities that allow the MLS program to send grades to the college or university that will grant the degree for the 3+1 student.
Regardless of whether a student has a degree in MLS from a university-based program or a certificate of completion from a hospital-based program, once a student completes a NAACLS accredited program, he or she is eligible to sit for a national certification exam.
Currently there is a nationwide shortage of medical laboratory science personnel. Graduates have many options related to where and what hours they want to work. MLS graduates work in hospital laboratories, physician office laboratories, veterinary laboratories and reference laboratories. They work in public health laboratories, at the CDC, in research and in molecular science. They work in reagent sales, instrument sales and service, marketing, education and management. They work in information systems, industry and forensics. Many graduates use MLS as a stepping-stone to medical school or law school. The possibilities are endless.
Salaries vary depending on geographic location and type of position. Graduates who work evening or night shifts frequently receive a “shift differential” in addition to their base pay. Those working in physician office labs may receive a lower salary, but they usually do not work nights, weekends or holidays. Contact a local MLS Program Director or see www.salary.com for more information related to MLS salaries in your area.
Most programs require basic biology and chemistry courses. The following is a non-inclusive list of the types of courses that will prepare you for a MLS program: Microbiology, Immunology, Cell Biology, Human Anatomy and Physiology, Molecular Biology, Parasitology, Statistics, Physics, Computer Science, Organic Chemistry, Biochemistry, Genetics and Research Methods.
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