If so, clinical laboratory science is the career for you! Join over one half million laboratory practitioners in the U.S. who are proud of their many roles in healthcare, research and industry!
What is a clinical laboratory science professional?
Clinical laboratory science professionals, often called medical laboratorians, are vital healthcare detectives, uncovering and providing laboratory information from laboratory analyses that assist physicians in patient diagnosis and treatment, as well as in disease monitoring or prevention (maintenance of health). We use sophisticated biomedical instrumentation and technology, computers, and methods requiring manual dexterity to perform laboratory testing on blood and body fluids. Laboratory testing encompasses such disciplines as clinical chemistry, hematology, coagulation, immunology, immunohematology, microbiology, and molecular biology. Clinical laboratory science professionals generate accurate laboratory data that are needed to aid in detecting cancer, heart attacks, diabetes, infectious mononucleosis, and identification of bacteria or viruses that cause infections, as well as in detecting drugs of abuse. In addition, we monitor testing quality and consult with other members of the healthcare team.
The clinical laboratory science profession has more than one career track based on level of education: clinical laboratory technician (2 years) and clinical laboratory scientist (4 to 5 years). Clinical laboratory technicians are competent in the collection, processing and analysis of biological specimens, the performance of lab procedures, the maintenance of instruments, and relating lab findings to common diseases/conditions. Clinical laboratory scientists have a more extensive theoretical knowledge base. Therefore they not only perform laboratory procedures including very sophisticated analyses, but also evaluate/interpret the results, integrate data, problem solve, consult, conduct research and develop new test methods.
In order to participate in a clinical laboratory science educational program, students must be able to comply with program-designated essential functions, or request reasonable accommodations to execute these essential functions. Requirements include a sound intellect; good motor skills: eye-hand coordination and dexterity; effective communication skills; visual acuity to perform macroscopic and microscopic analyses, or read procedures, graphs, etc.; professional skills such as the ability to work independently, manage time efficiently, to comprehend, analyze and synthesize various materials, as well as to hold sound psychological health and stability.
A solid foundation in high school biology, chemistry, and math usually provides the groundwork for clinical laboratory science education. A career as a clinical laboratory technician requires completion of either an associate degree program integrating general education, science and clinical laboratory science courses; or, a shorter certificate program that focuses on technical courses. The clinical laboratory technician curriculum addresses the theoretical and practical aspects of each of the major laboratory disciplines.
Clinical laboratory scientists complete a baccalaureate degree program that includes more in depth courses than the technician classes, as well as management and education courses. Such courses may be offered through a hospital-based program that provides the senior year for students from affiliated universities. An integrated university based program provides professional coursework prior to a shorter clinical experience, e.g. 5 to 6 months. Such a program usually is found in a major university or academic medical center. College science graduates who meet a programs prerequisites are also eligible to apply to a clinical laboratory science program.
Accreditation of clinical laboratory science or technician programs by the National Accrediting Agency for Clinical Laboratory Sciences ensures that the programs maintain high educational standards. To locate an accredited educational program in your state, visit http://www.naacls.org/search/programs.asp. A list of online educational programs may be viewed at http://www.ascls.org/education/index.asp#Anchor-Education-35326; click on the Clinical Laboratory Education Online Directory.
Upon completion of a clinical laboratory science or technician program, graduates are eligible for national certification as a clinical laboratory scientist, CLS, or clinical laboratory technician, CLT, by exams offered by the National Credentialing Agency for Laboratory Personnel (NCA).
Masters and doctoral programs are also available in clinical laboratory science for those who wish to further their education. The American Society for Clinical Laboratory Science publishes a Directory of Graduate Programs for Clinical Laboratory Practitioners that is available for purchase; contact the ASCLS Education department at 301-657-2768 for information about the directory.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics of the U.S. Department of Labor projects that the employment of clinical laboratory technicians and scientists will increase by 10-20% through the year 2008. According to Jobs Rated Almanac, clinical laboratory science has 25% job growth and good job security. Among health related professions, it currently ranks #3. In 2004, the average starting salary for clinical laboratory technicians was about $26,000 to $30,000 and $38,000 to $43,000 annually for clinical laboratory scientists, based on geographic location. Currently there is a shortage in many parts of the country guaranteeing employment and higher salaries for graduates.
If a hospital, physicians office, or clinic laboratory is not the environment you may choose, clinical laboratory science professionals find challenging employment in a variety of arenas. From industrial, research, or public health laboratories, to forensic or pharmaceutical laboratories, the clinical laboratory science professionals analytical, scientific and technical skills are a valuable and desired asset. Some career options beyond laboratory analysis for which clinical laboratory science professionals are well qualified follow with descriptions. For more information about career opportunities, visit http://www.ascls.org/jobs/careeropps.asp.