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What Is A Clinical Laboratory Science Professional?

Clinical laboratory scientists, often called medical scientists, 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, 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 scientists 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.

Essential Functions

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.

Educational Requirements

A solid foundation in high school biology, chemistry, and math usually provides the groundwork for clinical laboratory science education.
Clinical laboratory scientists complete a baccalaureate degree program that includes courses in chemistry, biological sciences, microbiology, mathematics, statistics, and specialized courses devoted to knowledge and skills used in the clinical laboratory. Many programs also offer or require courses in management, education, and computer applications. 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.

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 (visit www.naacls.org for a list of accredited programs and contact information). Upon completion of a clinical laboratory science, graduates are eligible for national certification as a clinical laboratory scientist, CLS, by exams offered by the National Credentialing Agency for Laboratory Personnel (NCA).

Job Outlook/Salaries

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) of the US Department of Labor reported that the demand for medical technologists (also known as medical laboratory scientists) would exceed the supply of new graduates. Employment of clinical laboratory workers is expected to grow 14 percent between 2006 and 2016, faster than the average for all occupations. The volume of laboratory tests continues to increase with both population growth and the development of new types of tests. Job opportunities are expected to be excellent because the number of job openings is expected to continue to exceed the number of job seekers.

Employment

Clinical laboratory scientists held about 319,000 jobs in 2008. About half worked in hospitals. Most of the remaining jobs were found in medical laboratories or offices and clinics of physicians. A small number were blood banks, research and training laboratories, forensic or pharmaceutical laboratories, and in federal government - at US Department of Veterans Affairs hospitals and US Public Health Service facilities.