Medical Laboratory Scientist (MLS), also formally referred to as Clinical Laboratory Scientist (CLS) or Medical Technologist (MT), provide up to 70% of patient’s test results to physicians so they can provide an accurate diagnosis according to an article titled, “The Value of the Laboratory Professional in the Continuum of Care,” in the Clinical Leadership and Management Review journal. Many people are unaware that the Medical Laboratory Scientist exist, assuming that a doctor or nurse performed their test, so it is a hidden profession. How does one become a MLS? Let’s start at the beginning. First ask yourself these questions:
- Am I detailed oriented?
- Am I very organized?
- Do I like detective work?
- Do I like medical science?
- Do I prefer working behind the scenes away from patients?
Sounds a lot like being a genealogist (minus the healthcare part). These are some of the basic traits that help shape great MLS. Still curious about becoming a laboratory professional? If so, you will need to locate a university that provides a bachelor of science degree in Medical Laboratory Sciences, Clinical Laboratory Sciences, or Medical Technology. Many times people overlook this degree because it is not found in the science department of universities but in the Allied Health Profession building. Also make sure the program you select is accredited by The National Accrediting Agency for Clinical Laboratory Sciences (NAACLS).
There are also programs that offer a two year associate’s degree leading to medical laboratory technician (MLT), or (CLT), designation. What’s the dif between the B.S. vs. the associates beside the obvious 2 years of extensive schooling? 1.) Pay and 2.) The ability for quick advancement in different job roles.
The MLS program is set up like many other Allied Health Professions, offering a 2+2 course structure, where upon the end of your second year you must apply into the clinical portion of your degree. The first two years are spent taking the prerequisite courses that will allow you to gain admission. The prerequisite course work usually consist of:
- 2 semesters of English
- 2 semesters of History
- 2 semesters of Biology with Labs (not intro)
- 2 semesters of General Chemistry with Labs (not intro)
- 2 semesters of Organic Chemistry with Labs
- 2 semesters of Anatomy with Labs
- Some require Physics
Now you’re looking at the list and thinking…wait aren’t these Pre-Med pre- requisites? And I would say you are correct. Your next question is probably…Why don’t students just get a MLS degree and apply to medical school? The answer to this is two fold.
- Many students that graduate from a medical lab science program do go on to obtain more education. Hence a very large shortage in the workforce.
- Many pre-med or biomedical (BMD) undergraduate students that do not get accepted into medical school just do not realize the MLS option exist. Remember being a Medical Laboratory Scientist is a hidden profession 😉
After you have obtained your prerequisites you are now eligible to apply to the clinical part of the MLS program. Get ready for these courses:
- Microbiology (+Lab)
- Biochemistry (+Lab)
- Immunology (+Lab)
- Molecular Diagnostics (+Lab)
- Urinalysis/Body Fluids I (+Lab)
- Hematology I (+Lab)
- Hemostasis and Thrombosis (+Lab)
- Diagnostic Microbiology I (+Lab)
- Medical Microbiology (+Lab)
- Serology (+Lab)
- Immunohematology I
- Clinical Chemistry I (+Lab)
- Clinical Chemistry II (+Lab)
- Special Clinical Topics
- Clinical Chemistry III
- Diagnostic Microbiology II
- Hematology II
- Immunohematology II
- Special Clinical Methods
- Urinalysis/Body Fluids II
Geeze that’s a lot of lab work you say? Well it is in the job title 🙂 Once you get the bulk of this done you are now ready to start your clinical rotations (a.k.a. Free work at the hospitals affiliated with your program). The only way to really learn is by doing. I remember my third year of the program requiring us to take course work in the summer—so be prepared to go straight through once you start. You will probably be doing your clinicals Monday through Friday from 6 or 7 A.M. to 5 ish P.M. You will probably meet in the classroom two times a week in the middle of the week–be assigned a craptacular amount of work on top of what your clinical instructors assigned and be given practicum exams pretty frequently.
Towards the end of the program, a.k.a. graduation!, you’ll want to start studying for your certification with the American Board of Clinical Pathology (ASCP). In order to work in most hospitals you will need to be ASCP certified and depending on which state you want to work in you will also need to acquire your license. Now let me just say this, getting your certification is not just a one time thing–yes you only take the exam once (hopefully), but your certification is only good for three years. You will be required to maintain your certification every three years by earning 32 CEUs. Once you have done all of this you are now able to sign your name ex: Jane Doe MLS (ASCP)CM. Now it’s time to head out into the workforce. Check out my next post on, “What types of jobs can Medical Laboratory Scientist do?”