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 Medical Laboratory Professionals Week celebrates the impact of the laboratory on the medical profession. For a better understanding, let’s take a closer look inside this mostly unseen profession. 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 education. 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: www.ascp.org American Society of Clinical Laboratory Scientists: www.ascls.org US Bureau of Labor and Statistics: www.bls.gov National Accrediting Agency for Clinical Laboratory Science: www.naacls.org References 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 http://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/medicaland-clinical-laboratory-technologists-andtechnicians.htm 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 www.ncdhhs.gov www.publichealth.nc.gov 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 services.