Early in the 20th century, physicians commonly performed the few diagnostic laboratory examinations in existence. By the 1930s, the complexity and scope of diagnostic testing had advanced to the point that the physician had neither the time nor skill to continue that practice and specialists in the performance of clinical testing emerged. These specialists are medical laboratory scientists (also sometimes known as clinical laboratory scientists or medical technologists).
The University of Kansas was among the pioneers in providing CLS education to students and the specialty areas of laboratory medicine now include clinical chemistry, hematology, transfusion services, clinical immunology, clinical microbiology and the emerging field of molecular diagnostics. CLS at KU began as a hospital-based program, then known as medical technology, in 1933. Phyllis Boyle was one of the early Program Directors, and her long tenure produced significant advances in education in the lab sciences.
In the summer of 1984, medical technology joined the School of Health Professions (at that time known as the School of Allied Health). Established officially as the Department of Clinical Laboratory Sciences, Virginia Johnston was the first chair and served until her retirement in 1991. Venus Ward, Ph.D., was appointed her replacement and held the position until 2015 when Eric Elsinghorst, Ph.D., was appointed chair.
The University of Kansas continues to demonstrate the “pioneer” spirit in this field today. A comprehensive molecular biotechnology concentration was created in 2001 to meet the needs of diagnostic and research laboratories of the future. In the spring of 2004, the program was granted initial accreditation from NAACLS for its molecular concentration – one of the first two programs in the nation to seek and achieve this goal.
In 2005, the 12-month program expanded to a 24-month curriculum for the bachelor's degree, graduating the first 2-year class in 2007. An undergraduate, international student exchange program with the University of Wolverhampton in Great Britian was also established and is now self-funded by students.
With the addition of the master's in molecular biotechnology degree program in 2006, the program moved from its location in the hospital building to expanded lab space in the Eaton Building on the KU Medical Center campus. Led by program director Elsinghorst, the graduate program has grown steadily since.