Medical Laboratory Science - A Booming Career Field

Medical Technologist -  Public Domain (National Institute of Health) via Wikimedia Commons

Medical Laboratory Careers

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About Medical Laboratory Scientists

Medical Laboratory Scientist - College Degrees and Certifications

Not all laboratory technologists have bachelor level degrees. It is possible to be 'grand fathered' into the certification by on the job experience. Many phlebotomists (locally trained) go on to enroll in a junior college or higher to become a technician or technologist.

There is a hierarchy of positions available in the modern laboratory as well as a number of specialty areas that one may become proficient in. The American Society of Clinical Pathologists is trying to standardize the designations of certified laboratory workers. They offer certifications in all of the following:

  • Donor Phlebotomy Technician (DPT)
  • Histotechnician (HT)
  • Medical Laboratory Technician (MLT)
  • Cytotechnologist (CT)
  • Histotechnologist (HTL)
  • Medical Laboratory Scientist (MLS)
  • Technologist in Blood Banking
  • Technologist in Chemistry
  • Technologist in Cytogenetics
  • Technologist in Hematology
  • Technologist in Microbiology
  • Technologist in Molecular Biology
  • Pathologist's Assistant
  • Specialists in Chemistry, Cytotechnology, Hematology, Microbiology, Blood Banking
  • Diplomate in Laboratory Management (DLM)

College degrees vary from Associate Degrees to Doctoral Degrees (everything in between).

About Medical Laboratory Scientists

Through the years, Medical Laboratory Scientists (MLS), have been called many names. Designations have included:

  • lab technician
  • lab technologists
  • laboratory scientists
  • phlebotomists
  • chemists
  • hematologists
  • blood bankers
  • microbiologists

They wear these career hats and more. The vast majority of MLS work in hospital or reference laboratories. Some advance to management roles. Some prefer research. Crime scene analysis branched off from medical technology.

Through a specified training curriculum at most major colleges, a student can follow a career path to achieve a degree in Medical Technology.

Typical Medical Technologist Task - How to Analyze a Blood Specimen:

When you go for lab tests, what do you think they do with your blood?

Let's follow one CBC (Complete Blood Count) specimen through the process.

A phlebotomist, either through training or licensing) will draw tubes of blood from a vein. This is the part you see. The phlebotomist should be very careful to label your tubes with your full name, some sort of ID number and the date/time the blood was drawn. They will also add their initials to the tube as a way of signing the sample.

Next the blood goes to the lab and is 'accessioned'. A CBC is drawn into a purple top (or lavender top) plastic tube. The different colored tops indicate which specific anti-coagulant (or lack of) is also present in the tube along with the blood. Many automated blood analyzers only accept anti-coagulated blood. Otherwise, the blood will not flow through the tubes and openings of the machine.

The accessioner checks the tube and assigns a bar-coded laboratory number that will identify this particular specimen. Then it is delivered to the Hematology analyzer. The blood will be inserted into an automated analyzer which quickly samples the blood and checks for the parameters asked for by the physician.

A typical CBC is analyze for volume of white cells, red cells, hemoglobin. The analyzer also checks for the different types of white cells and the size distribution of red cells. To see the complete analysis of a CBC, visit the Lab Tests Online website which has information for nearly every lab test that can be done on blood.

The analyzer either directly sends the results to the computer or prints out a paper analysis. Both are reviewed by a laboratory professional, who then transmits the results directly to the doctor or to the electronic medical record for each patient for review at a later time.

Career Outlook for Medical Technologists

Because of the baby boom generation reaching the point in their life requiring increased health care, the medical field is struggling to find qualified workers to fill the job vacancies left from retirees and attrition.

Most in demand are Blood Bank technologists, followed closely by Chemistry techs, Cytology techs, Hematology professionals, Histology, Immunology, Microbiology and Phlebotomy. Some of the vacancy rates for hospitals exceeds 12%.

Salary Ranges (From a 2015 survey):

Staff level certified Medical Laboratory Technologists - Average wage = $63,444 per year Supervisor level - Average wage = $72,900 per year Entry level - Average wage = about $35,000 to $50,000 per year. Management level - Average wage = about $75,000 and above per year depending on the size of the laboratory and its budget.

National Medical Laboratory Professionals Week

NMLPW - National Medical Laboratory Professionals Week is generally held in April of each year.

Lab Week is a time to honor this invisible profession. More than 300,000 medical laboratory professionals around the country perform and interpret more than 10 billion laboratory tests in the US every year!

As laboratory professionals tend to 'work behind the scenes', few people know or appreciate the hard work of people in this career field. NMLPW is a great time to introduce yourself to the profession and maybe give a small token of appreciation to your local laboratory.

  • Volunteer at your local hospital for a few days a month.
  • Ask that your flowers be donated to the lab when you are discharged from a hospital stay.
  • Leave a thank you note (or send one to the hospital CEO) if you had a great phlebotomist.
  • Visit the lab and just say, "Hi!"
  • For NMLPW, take a batch of cookies to your local lab director and help celebrate the laboratory role in health care.
  • Buy gifts for the techs in a small lab from my CafePress store.

Medical Technologist Certification Program At Cleveland Clinic

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