How Much Do Medical and Clinical Laboratory Scientists Make?

Anyone who’s ever experienced waiting for medical test results has relied on the impeccable work of medical and clinical laboratory scientists. Using microscopes instead of stethoscopes, medical and clinical laboratory scientists test tissue and fluid samples as requested by doctors.

When a patient comes in for a medical check-up or a procedure, a doctor may recommend a biopsy or collect urine or blood samples to diagnose or rule out medical issues. Once these samples are packed and labeled carefully, they’re sent to medical and clinical laboratory scientists for evaluation. Once the requested tests are complete, medical or clinical laboratory scientists report lab results to clinics to share with their patients. Occasionally, they may request further tests or order more samples if the results are inconclusive.

Medical and clinical laboratory scientists (also known as clinical laboratory technologists) are crucial to the healthcare industry. Salaries for these in-demand positions keep pace with the national median salary for all occupations ($53,490 according to the BLS in 2019).

Pay rates depend on factors such as the cost of living in a particular area, places of employment, or types of specialization. The US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) shows that the median salary for clinical laboratory technologists and technicians is $53,120 (BLS 2020). In the same year, the vast majority (47 percent) of medical laboratory scientists were employed in general and surgical hospitals with the second-highest employer being medical and diagnostic laboratories at 20 percent (BLS 2020).

To compare the cost of living data, the Missouri Economic Research and Information Center (MERIC 2021) provides a cost of living data series that can be useful in helping determine competitive salary information as well as living expenses for a particular area in the United States. 

To further illustrate the complete earnings spectrum for these positions, the BLS breaks down the salary percentiles in 2019 for the 326,020 employed medical and clinical laboratory scientists as follows:

  • Average annual salary: $54,780
  • 10th percentile: $30,920
  • 25th percentile: $39,030
  • 50th percentile: $53,120
  • 75th percentile: $68,100
  • 90th percentile: $81,530

Unlike clinical positions which require many years of education, becoming a medical and clinical laboratory scientist requires a four-year bachelor’s degree in medical technology or life science. Two-year programs are available to those with bachelor’s degrees in non-science disciplines. Most programs emphasize didactic coursework and hands-on experience. Laboratory safety is an essential component of any laboratory degree program and often includes theoretical and practical knowledge learning opportunities.

With so many schools available, how can prospective students and employers verify educational quality? The answer is accreditation, which can be sorted into two types: programmatic and institutional.

The National Accrediting Agency for Clinical Laboratory Sciences (NAACLS) is the premier agency for international programmatic accreditation of educational programs in clinical laboratory sciences. When hiring, it’s not uncommon for medical laboratories to seek out candidates who have graduated from NAACLS-accredited clinical laboratory science programs. As well, institutional accreditation is awarded to institutions by the following six organizations which are approved by the US Department of Education:

  • Higher Learning Commission (HLC)
  • Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE)
  • Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC)
  • Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities (NWCCU)
  • New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC)
  • Commission on Colleges for the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS)

Prospective students are highly advised to invest their time and tuition dollars into attending schools with institutional accreditation and, when possible, an academic program that holds programmatic accreditation.

What’s the difference between a medical laboratory scientist and a clinical laboratory scientist? The short answer is: they are the same. Different credentialing agencies assign unique certification titles for the same position. In the past, the National Credentialing Agency for Laboratory Personnel (NCA) offered a clinical laboratory scientist (CLS) certification and the American Society for Clinical Pathology (ASCP) offered a similar certification for medical technologists (MT). In an effort to streamline these credentials, these two agencies merged in 2009 and became the ASCP Board of Certification (BOC) and began offering the medical laboratory scientist (MLS) credential.

To expand career opportunities and career interests, there are many types of healthcare specializations for medical laboratory scientists to pursue. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), medical and clinical laboratory scientists specialize in specific fields of healthcare such as blood banking, immunology (testing for diseases), cytotechnology (testing for cancerous cells), and clinical chemistry (testing hormone levels) among others. Certifications for these specialization areas can be earned through the ASCP BOC.

The demand for medical and clinical laboratory scientists is projected to grow seven percent in the coming decade. Between 2019 and 2029, the BLS predicts that clinical laboratory technologist positions will grow 7 percent nationally, which is much faster than the average for all occupations at 4 percent. This means an estimated 24,700 new positions will be created in the same time period.

For those wanting to join a rapidly expanding allied health field of healthcare with a four-year degree, becoming a medical and clinical laboratory scientist is an ideal career choice. Read on to learn more about the top-paying regions and specializations for medical and clinical laboratory scientists.

Top-Paying Cities for Medical and Clinical Laboratory Scientists

Below are the cities and corresponding metropolitan areas with the highest wages for medical and clinical laboratory scientists according to the BLS Occupational Employment Statistics (May 2019). It’s worth noting that all of the top-paying regions in this profession are in large metropolitan areas across the United States. On this list are also the number of estimated medical and clinical laboratory scientists in that area. Salaries for these cities range between $50,330 and $68,260.

Metropolitan areaEmployment of medical and clinical laboratory scientistsAverage annual salary
New York-Newark-Jersey City, NY, NJ, PA18,460$68,260
Los Angeles-Long Beach-Anaheim, CA11,240$62,200
Chicago-Naperville-Elgin, IL, IN, WI10,040$52,660
Boston-Cambridge-Nashua, MA-NH8,710$61,100
Dallas-Fort Worth-Arlington, TX8,240$57,380
Houston-The Woodlands-Sugar Land, TX7,330$54,520
Washington-Arlington-Alexandria, DC-VA-MD-WV6,830$61,520
Atlanta-Sandy Springs-Roswell, GA6,720$53,580
Phoenix-Mesa-Scottsdale, AZ6,670$50,330
Miami-Fort Lauderdale-West Palm Beach, FL6,200$54,050

Top-Paying States for Medical and Clinical Laboratory Scientists

Here is a list of the states with the highest mean wages for medical and clinical laboratory scientists according to data from the BLS (May 2019). An estimated number of medical and clinical laboratory scientists working in that state is also provided.

StateEmployment of medical and clinical laboratory scientistsAverage annual salary
Alaska640$72,690
Rhode Island960$68,000
Connecticut3,680$67,900
New York18,110$65,560
Oregon3,130$64,880

Most Popular Work Environments for Medical and Clinical Laboratory Scientists

According to the BLS (2020), these are the largest employers for medical and clinical laboratory scientists:

Work environmentPercentage of employed medical and clinical laboratory scientists
Hospitals; state, local, and private47 percent
Medical and diagnostic laboratories20 percent
Offices of physicians9 percent
Colleges, universities, and professional schools6 percent
Outpatient care centers3 percent

Top-Paying Specializations for Medical and Clinical Laboratory Scientists

As previously mentioned, medical and clinical laboratory scientists can choose to specialize in a specific healthcare area. To prove professional competencies in an area of specialization, additional training and certification in methodologies and processes are required to support doctors and nurses in providing the best and most accurate care for patients.

Below are five specialization areas and the corresponding hourly wage, as self-reported by professionals in the field to Payscale.com (February 2021).

SpecializationAverage hourly wage
Generalist$26
Quality Assurance/Quality Control (QAQC)$26
Microbiology$26
Technical Analysis$27
Phlebotomy$26
Rachel Drummond

Rachel Drummond

Writer

Rachel Drummond is a freelance writer, educator, and yogini from Oregon. She’s taught English to international university students in the United States and Japan for more than a decade and has a master’s degree in education from the University of Oregon. A dedicated Ashtanga yoga practitioner, Rachel is interested in exploring the nuanced philosophical aspects of contemplative physical practices and how they apply in daily life. She writes about this topic among others on her blog (Instagram: @oregon_yogini).

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