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What is a medical laboratory scientist?

male student working in lab

Clinical laboratory sciences (also known as medical technology or medical laboratory science) 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 analyze blood, urine, tissue, and other body specimens. These test results play an important role in the detection, diagnosis, and treatment of disease.

Laboratory scientists are in high demand. And with future growth predicted to be above average for all professions, laboratory science provides solid job security.

Considering a career in laboratory science?

  • Learn about career preparation, educational requirements, scholarships, salaries and job opportunities at

  • The American Society for Clinical Laboratory Science asked laboratory professionals, "What do you love about your career?" Here is what they had to say.

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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!

Explore Laboratory Science Careers

Earning a degree in clinical laboratory science opens doors to a wide variety of career opportunities. The majority of graduates sit for the national certification examination that grants the credentials of medical laboratory scientist, or MLS. Formerly known as a clinical laboratory scientist or medical technologist, the MLS 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 science include clinical chemistry, hematology, transfusion services, clinical immunology, clinical microbiology and the emerging field of molecular diagnostics.

The field of laboratory testing has evolved. With the appearance of sophisticated automated analytical instruments, laboratory scientists find themselves in the role of making decisions about the validity of data to be used by physicians in medical decisions. It is estimated that 70-80% of a physician's medical decisions on any one patient are a direct result of laboratory test data.

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Career pathways (PDF)

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.

A degree in laboratory science can lead to exciting career opportunities. The opportunities are virtually unlimited in hospital laboratories, clinics, forensic laboratories, veterinary clinics, and in medical, biotechnology and industrial research laboratories. Other areas include cytogenetics, cytotechnology and histology.

With advanced education you may also find rewarding careers in medicine, teaching and management.

In high demand, clinical laboratory science offers rapid advancement, multiple employment opportunities, and a competitive salary. It's a great career opportunity!

  • Excellent employment outlook – one of the Top 20 best jobs and number 10 in the medical occupation category (Forbes, 2015).
  • U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects 5,210 new laboratorians needed each year from 2014 to 2024. This figure is almost double the number of newly certified graduates each year.
  • High demand –
    • 10% national average vacancy rate, with a higher vacancy rate in the Western U.S. states for current positions. 
    • Projected Job Growth 2014-2024: 16% (Bureau of Labor Statistics)
    • Projected retirements 2014-2019: 20.3% (AJCP; 2015) cannot be filled by current graduation rates.
    • 2011-2015 average: 3,420 graduates per year.
  • Rapid advancement within the field
  • Outstanding background for pursuing further academicor professional studies, as well as multiple employment opportunities outside of the medical arena. (see our graduate profiles and career opportunities PDF document (icon))

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Interested in CLS? Here's a brief intro to the field.

Earning Potential

  • Competitive salaries for bachelor’s-level degree: Median for 2013: $55,550; National average: $61,860 ($27.74/hour); (U.S. Department of Labor)
  • Local starting salaries (Kansas City and surrounding area) average $25.50 per hour as reported by recent graduates. National range: $7.13 to $30.81 per hour, 2013 (ASCP) 
  • Sign-on bonuses: $1,000 to $5,000.

Edna Garcia, MPH, Iman Kundu, MPH, Melissa Kelly, PhD, Ryan Soles, MS, The American Society for Clinical Pathology's 2018 Vacancy Survey of Medical Laboratories in the United States, American Journal of Clinical Pathology, Volume 152, Issue 2, August 2019, Pages 155-168, Accessed July 14, 2020.

ASCP Vacancy Survey Reveals Laboratory Workforce Shortage Expanding, American Society of Clinical Pathology Vacancy Report 2014, SEPTEMBER 22, 2015. Webpage at visited May 17.2016.

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2016-17 Edition, Medical and Clinical Laboratory Technologists and Technicians; online at visited May 17, 2016.

The Best Health Care Jobs In 2016, Susan Adams DEC 18, 2015. Forbes Magazine. Webpage at visited May 17, 2016

How to Get Started

faculty working with student at microscopeA good first step is to talk with someone who is a clinical 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 laboratory science work opportunities.

The molecular biotechnology specialty 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, course CLS 210 is offered fall and spring semesters on the Lawrence campus. It provides an overview of the profession and all of its subspecialities and is a very good way to learn about a career in laboratory science

The KU Department of Clinical Laboratory Sciences is happy to help answer any questions at or call 913-588-5220 (711 TTY) to schedule an informational visit or have a personal tour of the KU Medical Center campus in Kansas City, Kansas.

Preparation: High School and College Course Work

High school preparation should include as much math and science as possible – minimally biology, chemistry and physics and math through calculus. Students having completed high school but without the necessary math and science courses may need to take preparatory courses before enrolling in the standard college level biology, math, and chemistry classes. Most community colleges offer these preparatory courses.
cells under microscope (image)

To become an MLS, students 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 considered a student's official “major.”

Even though the clinical laboratory science degree is awarded through the School of Health Professions following completion of the student's junior and senior years of college, the prerequisite course work is taken at any accredited post-secondary educational institution. At KU, these first two years are offered through the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences on the Lawrence campus. The first two years of the degree consist of traditional academic course work such as a biology, biological sciences, chemistry and math.

It is strongly recommended students seek advising from the department as early as possible in their college career to get assistance in selecting appropriate courses and to minimize additional expenses and/or scheduling conflicts.

College gradutes may be able to enter an accredited laboratory science degree program if the necessary prerequisites have been completed.

How to Enter KU's Clinical Laboratory Science Bachelor's Degree Program

Students who have entered their sophomore year of college and anticipate completion of prerequisites by the end of the second academic year may apply for admission to the KU clinical laboratory science program (see How to Apply).

female student works with lab equipment (photo)The last two years (beginning in August each year) of clinical course work and practicum are taken in the metropolitan Kansas City area primarily at the University of Kansas Medical Center.

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 course work and practicum taken during the last semester of the senior year. 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 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

After graduation, 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 in the program. The American Society of Clinical Pathologists administers certification examinations for both the traditional medical laboratory scientist and the molecular biolotechnologist credentials.

Most of the students from the University of Kansas program 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: Oct 21, 2020

Prospective Students
The priority deadline to apply to this program is December 15. Applications may be accepted after the deadline based on space available in the next class.

Learn about this program:
Program overview
Eligibility and requirements
Tuition and fees
KU Core courses PDF document
How to apply
Clinical affiliate sites

For advising on the KU Lawrence campus, please contact Robin Merritt at the KU Undergraduate Advising Center or visit third floor Summerfield Hall.

Students from other institutions: please provide your information online to schedule an advising session.