What is a medical laboratory scientist?

Clinical laboratory sciences (also known as medical technology) is a biology/chemistry-based bachelor's degree that prepares students for exciting, challenging and dynamic careers in places such as hospital labs and clinics, forensic labs, veterinary clinics, industrial research labs and molecular biotechnology labs. Professionals in this field are in high demand, and with future growth predicted to be above average for all professions, CLS provides solid job security. Here you will find out about types of careers available to the CLS graduate. As a medical laboratory scientist, you will analyze blood, urine, tissue or other body specimens - these test results play an important role in the detection, diagnosis and treatment of disease.

Explore the Careers of CLS

Earning a degree in clinical laboratory science opens doors to a wide variety of career opportunities. The majority of CLS graduates sit for the national certification examination that grants them the credentials of Medical Laboratory Scientist, or MLS. An MLS (also formerly known as a clinical laboratory scientist or medical technologist) is a "disease detective" helping to pinpoint the cause of disease through the examination and anaylsis of blood, tissue and other body fluids.

Specialty areas of laboratory medicine include clinical chemistry, hematology, transfusion services, clinical immunology, clinical microbiology and the emerging field of molecular diagnostics. It is estimated that 70-80% of a physician’s medical decisions on any one patient are a direct result of laboratory test data.

The field of laboratory testing has evolved, and with the appearance of sophisticated automated analytical instruments, the CLS practitioner finds him or herself in the role of making decisions about the validity of data to be used by physicians in medical decisions. This type of analysis requires extensive knowledge of normal and abnormal physiology, correlation of laboratory data to specific disease as well as extensive knowledge of instrumentation and individual test principles.

The high-demand field of CLS offers rapid advancement, multiple employment opportunities and a competitive salary.

Careers in Pathology and Medical Laboratory Science Are you considering a career as a laboratory professional? Learn about career preparation, educational requirements, scholarships, salaries and job opportunities for a career in laboratory medicine.

Why choose CLS as a career? It's a great opportunity!

  • Excellent employment outlook – one of the Top 20 best jobs and #3 in the medical occupation category (Wall Street Journal, 2009).
  • U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects 4,500 new laboratorians needed each year from 2008 to 2018. This figure is double the number of newly certified graduates each year. (U.S. Burear of Labor Statistics 2010-2012 ed.)
  • High demand – 7.9% national average vacancy rate, with a higher vacancy rate in the West for current positions (ASCP; 2010)
  • Rapid advancement within the field
  • Outstanding background for pursuing further academic or professional studies, as well as multiple employment opportunities outside of the medical arena. (see our graduate profiles and career opportunities PDF document (icon))

Earning Potential:

  • Competitive salaries for bachelor’s level degree: (median for 2011 = $57,010 - U.S. Department of Labor); National average = $58,120 ($27.94/hour)
  • Local starting salaries (Kansas City and surrounding area) average $24 per hour (as reported by recent graduates). National range = $23.78 to $36.10 per hour, 2010 (ASCP) 
  • Sign-on bonuses $1,000 to $5,000.

male student working in lab

Careers

Careers in CLS are dynamic, high-tech and versatile. They offer numerous career options that are not only exciting but are stable, secure and less dependent on the economy.

career pathways thumbnail (graphic)Careers in CLS
With advanced education you may also find rewarding careers in medicine, teaching and management.

A degree in CLS can lead to exciting career opportunities. Graduates of CLS have unlimited opportunities in hospital laboratories, clinics, forensic laboratories, veterinary clinics, and in medical, biotechnology and industrial research laboratories. Other areas include cytogenetics, cytotechnology and histology.

Where to Begin

How to decide if this field is for me

Do you like solving puzzles and problems? Do you excel in handling multiple tasks? Do you like a fast-paced and challenging environment? Do you like hands-on science? Do you want to find a science-based degree that prepares you for advanced studies in science or applied sciences such as medical school? Do you want a career that develops skills and provides experience to be used in a variety of employment settings?

If you answered yes to most of these questions, clinical laboratory science may be a good choice for you.

How to Get Started

faculty working with student at microscopeA good first step is to talk with someone who is a medical laboratory scientist or medical technologist. If possible, “shadow” an MLS for a few days. The most obvious place to find an MLS is in your local hospital laboratory – keeping in mind that hospital laboratories do not reflect the nature of all CLS work opportunities.

The molecular biotechnology specialty of CLS can be found working in areas of research, industrial, and forensic laboratories for example as well as in medical laboratories. For students already enrolled at the University of Kansas, CLS 210 is offered fall and spring semesters on the Lawrence campus. This course does provide an overview of the profession and all of its subspecialities and is a very good way to learn about a CLS career.

We are happy to help answer any questions you may have: to contact the KU Department of CLS Education, please email us at clsed@kumc.edu or call (913) 588-5220 to schedule an informational visit or have a personal tour of the clinical laboratories at the KU Medical Center in Kansas City, Kansas.

Preparation: High School and College Coursework

High school preparation should include as much math and science as possible – minimally biology, chemistry and physics and math through calculus. If you have completed high school, did not take the math and science courses but want to become an MLS, you may need to take preparatory courses before enrolling in the standard college level biology, math and chemistry courses. Most community colleges offer these preparatory courses.
cells under microscope (image)

To become an MLS, one must enroll in an accredited program. The KU School of Health Professions, located on the KU Medical Center campus, offers a 2+2 accredited program culminating in a bachelor’s degree in clinical laboratory science. Since clinical laboratory science is an undergraduate degree, it is your “major”.

Even though the Clinical Laboratory Science degree is offered through the School of Health Professions, the prerequisite coursework (first 2 years) is taken at any accredited post-secondary educational institution, and at KU is offered through the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences on the Lawrence or Edwards campus. The first 2 years of the degree consist of traditional academic coursework such as a biology or pre-med major might take - biological sciences, chemistry and math. It is strongly recommended that students seek advising from the Department of CLS as early as possible in their college career to get assistance in selecting appropriate courses and minimize scheduling conflicts.

If you already have a college degree you may be able to enter an accredited CLS program to complete the professional component if you have the necessary prerequisites.

What to do to enter our CLS Professional Program (last 2 years of CLS degree)

Students who have entered their sophomore year of college and anticipate completion of prerequisites by the end of the academic year may apply to the KU CLS Education Department for admission into the professional component of the program (see How to Apply).

female student works with lab equipment (photo)The last 2 years (beginning in August each year) of clinical coursework and practicum are taken in the metropolitan Kansas City area primarily at the University of Kansas Medical Center, although some courses during the junior year are taught at the Edwards Campus.

During the senior year, students may choose to pursue the traditional clinical concentration or enter the molecular biotechnology concentration. These concentrations will differ in the coursework and practicum taken during the last semester of the senior year when both groups of students will rotate through a series of affiliate sites both medical and non-medical, to gain experience in the application of the skills and knowledge acquired during the professional program (see curriculum for details). These practicums also provide exposure to a wide range of potential employers and work settings.

Most of the clinical sites for practicum rotations are located within two hours of the Kansas City metropolitan area. Students need to be aware of the possibility of relocation during the final semester. Housing and meals are the responsibility of the student.

National Certification – how to get it and what it means

After graduation from the KU's CLS program, students are eligible to take the national certification examination. In most medical laboratories, certification is a requirement for continued employment (as well as advancement and optimum salary). Some states have a separate licensure process as well. Kansas does not.

Specific information on the certification process will be provided by KU to students during their senior year. The ASCP (American Society of Clinical Pathologists) administers certification examinations for both the traditional MLS and the molecular biology credentials.

Most of the students from the University of Kansas Department of CLS have received employment offers by graduation or shortly thereafter. Prospective employers may recruit actively on campus or send notifications of employment opportunities to the department to be distributed to students.

Last modified: May 08, 2013
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