What is Medical Laboratory Science?
If you are looking for a career path that marries chemistry, biology, medicine, and problem solving, then a career in medical laboratory science may be a good fit for you. Professionals who work in the clinical laboratory perform tests on patient specimens to ensure accurate medical diagnoses. Successful completion of the accredited training program will qualify you to take the national certification exam. Once certified, you are eligible for employment as a Medical Laboratory Scientist/Medical Technologist in the medical laboratories of hospitals and clinics.
What does a medical laboratory scientist do?
Medical laboratory scientists use specialized procedures and equipment to determine the causes and cures of diseases. These experts use reagents, chemicals, and laboratory equipment to test body fluids and tissues. This is a very versatile career with many opportunities and specializations. The evaluation of blood and tissue samples, and the precision and insight involved in diagnosing and analyzing medical findings, are vital to treating injury and disease. A few specialties in clinical laboratory science include:
Hematology – the study of blood and blood-producing organs, involving analysis of blood cells and plasma proteins for clues which may indicate disease.
- Bacteriology – the medical study of bacteria.
- Clinical chemistry (or clinical pathology) – the study of bodily fluids.
- Chemistry – analysis of chemical constituents of bodily fluids.
- Immunohematology – the study of antigens and antibodies associated with the transfusion of blood components.
- Immunology/Serology – study of antigens and antibodies associated with disease.
- Microbiology – identification and evaluation of bacteria and viruses and their properties in relation to disease.
- Urinalysis – examination of urine on the physical, chemical, and microscopic level.
A career in medical laboratory science begins with a solid foundation in the underlying principles of science. Aspects of basic chemistry, organic chemistry, and biology lead to more specified investigation into the workings of the human body. After the fundamentals of science are mastered, interns will gain skills in microscopy, urinalysis, microbiology, hematology, immunohematology, immunology, and clinical chemistry. Working from this foundation, interns learn how to perform precise tests with laboratory equipment and how to analyze and interpret their findings. A career in clinical laboratory sciences will also prepare interns to develop skills in laboratory administration, leadership, research, and teaching.
Do you have what it takes?
Most laboratory scientists perform some combination of the following tasks:
- Test blood, fluid, and tissue samples;
- Run a lab which employs a team of specialists;
- Lead research projects to develop improved laboratory procedures;
- Undertake clinical research;
- Operate, maintain and repair clinical instruments;
- Use complex, computer systems for data entry, retrieval and analysis;
- Ensure quality control systems throughout the lab;
- Supervise inventory;
- Teach proper laboratory practices to students and health care personnel.
As you embark upon a career path that is as specialized as medical lab science, it is a good idea to consider whether your personal qualities are suited for this work. Some important questions to ask are:
- Am I interested in how bodies work and why?
- Am I a natural problem-solver?
- Do I work well with others in a collaborative manner for a single purpose?
- Do the mysteries of the physical and chemical world intrigue me?
- Am I cut out for a demanding job which potentially requires long working hours?
- Do I enjoy taking fragments of information and interpreting them to find a coherent answer?
- Am I willing and able to embark on a specialized field of study?
- Do I enjoy employing instruments and procedures to discover solutions to problems?
If you answered yes to the above questions, your personality may be suitable for a career in medical laboratory science. Per the U.S. Labor Department, job growth projections are high, 16% for 2014-2024, there is a national shortage of Medical Laboratory Scientists and job prospects are very good right now for those completing the one year intern program. Median beginning salary is about $48,000 year in our area. Many extended career paths are available to certified Medical Laboratory Scientists.
Prerequisites include a Bachelor’s degree with 16 semester hours in general chemistry to include biochemistry and 16 semester hours in biological sciences to include microbiology and immunology. A minimum of one university level mathematics is required. A minimum overall GPA for acceptance is 2.5 (a science GPA of 2.7 or higher is highly recommended).