The Clinical Laboratory Profession - State Laboratory of Public Health

July 2016 | Vol. 12, Issue 1
North Carolina State Laboratory of Public Health | Laboratory Improvement Unit
What You Need to Know: The Clinical
Laboratory Profession
The clinical laboratory profession is an often
unknown, if not misunderstood, medical
profession. Many believe the laboratory is a place
where people go “just to have blood drawn”. The
previous statement is true, in that the laboratory
encompasses blood drawing, but it is not limited
to this one task. Recognition of the laboratory
profession and acknowledgment of its many
facets often occurs only when there is media
coverage of a healthcare crisis, such as an
outbreak (does Ebola ring a bell?). However,
laboratorians have a hand in patient care,
working quietly and diligently behind the scenes
24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Usually, the work
is performed with little to no fanfare. Every year,
for one week in the month of April, National
celebrates the impact of the laboratory on the
medical profession. For a better understanding,
let’s take a closer look inside this mostly unseen
What is a clinical laboratory scientist
(medical technologist)?
A clinical laboratory scientist performs tests on
patient samples that provide information to a
physician to diagnose or monitor treatment of
diseases. Examples of these laboratory tests
include identifying sickle cell anemia in a patient,
diagnosing strep throat, and providing blood
products for transfusion to an accident victim.
Some duties that these professionals may
encounter on the job include operating highly
computerized equipment, correlating test results
with a patient’s condition, identifying bacteria
and viruses, and last but not least, monitoring the
quality of tests.
Educational background of a clinical
laboratory scientist
A clinical laboratory technician has completed an
associate’s degree program with specific studies
pertaining to clinical laboratory science. A clinical
laboratory technologist holds a four-year
bachelor’s degree in clinical laboratory science.
The clinical laboratory science curriculum is more
in-depth for a technologist than a technician. The
technologist may take additional courses such as
biology, microbiology, chemistry, math, statistics,
and business management. In most instances, the
clinical laboratory curriculum involves a six month
to one-year rotation in a hospital setting upon
completion. Both the associate and bachelor’s
degree must be obtained from a nationally
accredited clinical laboratory program. This is a
requirement held by many employers during the
hiring process. There are also scientists working in
the laboratory that hold master’s and doctorate
degrees. These advanced degrees may focus on
research, healthcare administration, and even
Certification vs. Licensure
When a clinical laboratory scientist is certified, it
means that they demonstrate the highest level of
competency needed to perform the critical
responsibilities of the profession. The certification
process involves the individual to pass (usually
80%) a national test upon graduation. This test
encompasses all material presented during their
course of study. In addition to passing the
nationally recognized test, some certifying
agencies require the professional meet a certain
number of hours of continuing education each
year. When all the criteria are successfully met,
the scientist is deemed certified, and credentials
can then be added to their title: MLT, MLS, SBB,
SLS, SM, DLM. Many employers will only hire
scientists that are certified or eligible to be
certified within a given time period. Certification
benefits both the employer and employee. Hiring
a certified scientist ensures that the individual is
competent in the discipline and is abreast of
current advances of the profession. A clinical
laboratory scientist who is certified has better job
prospects and higher salaries.
Some states require clinical scientists to be
licensed in order to work in the laboratory. The
process of licensure is similar to certification, but
may have additional requirements such as:
course of study, more tests, or increased number
of continuing education hours. The requirements
differ from state to state. The states that require
licensure are: California, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii,
Louisiana, Montana, Nevada, New York, North
Dakota, Rhode Island, Tennessee, West Virginia,
and the territory of Puerto Rico. Certification and
licensure is not the same. Being nationally
certified does not equal being licensed. One
should note that point when looking to relocate
to another state for a new job opportunity.
Where can I work?
The work environment is steadily expanding for
clinical laboratory scientists. Early in the
profession, the scientist was mainly employed in
a hospital. This is no longer the case. The
knowledge and expertise of clinical laboratory
scientists is being utilized by teaching on college
campuses and working for pharmaceutical
companies, regulatory agencies (i.e., Food and
Drug Administration, College of American
Pathologists, Center for Medicaid Services), and
public health laboratories. Furthering your
education opens doors to endless possibilities
where laboratory scientists can work.
leaving the profession due to retirement. Along
with the well-deserved exit, a void of history and
great knowledge is left. Some of the generation
Xer’s and millennials are taking advantage of
other new opportunities available. The most
critical reason for the shortage of skilled
laboratory scientists is the lack of awareness of
the profession. Many people are unaware that
this profession even exists. If you are a detailed
oriented, self-motivated individual searching for a
career in healthcare, then join the elite group of
clinical laboratory scientists. These individuals
help to save lives on a daily basis.
Additional Information
American Society of Clinical Pathology:
American Society of Clinical Laboratory
US Bureau of Labor and Statistics:
National Accrediting Agency for Clinical
Laboratory Science:
Berger, Darlene. A Brief history of Medical
Diagnosis and the Birth of the Clinical Laboratory.
Medical Laboratory Observer. July 1999.
Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of
Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2016-17
Edition, Medical and Clinical Laboratory
Technologists and Technicians,
on the Internet
at Accessed: May 20, 2016.
Future of the Profession
The job outlook is very favorable with the salary
compensation comparable to other healthcare
professionals. A dire need for clinical laboratory
scientists is being created by baby boomers
Submitted by:
Tiffany N. Perdue, MLS (ASCP)CM
State of North Carolina  Pat McCrory, Governor
Department of Health and Human Services
Rick Brajer, Secretary, Division of Public Health 
The Department of Health and Human Services does not
discriminate on the basis of race, color, nation origin, sex,
religion, age or disability in employment or the provision of