Diagnostic Molecular Scientist

A part of the allied health professionals family, diagnostic molecular science involves laboratory testing on RNA and DNA. These tests are mainly used for diagnosing and monitoring hereditary conditions such as leukemia and infectious diseases.

A diagnostic molecular scientist has three areas of responsibility: performing diagnostic testing, designing and processing RNA and DNA isolation tests, and researching infectious diseases.

Diagnostic molecular scientists primarily work in laboratories, studying various human samples including fetal cells, hair follicles, and blood and bone. Their duties include sequencing DNA, preparing samples, reporting findings, and analyzing data. They use computerized equipment as well as manual processes for analyzing substances at the molecular level. The complexity of the process and the type of equipment required depends on what the scientist is looking for and the material being tested.

As specialized molecular scientists, these professionals perform tests such as gene expression profiles, allele-specific PCR, and CGH microarrays. These may be used to identify genetic disorders, discover people who are at risk of developing cancer, and other serious conditions such as Alzheimer’s. Diagnostic molecular scientists also play a role in treating infections. 

The following guide provides an overview of what it takes to become a molecular scientist. 

Specializations & Degree Types in Diagnostic Science

There are several specializations in diagnostic molecular science that these professionals can pursue, depending on their unique career ambitions. These include:

  • Infectious disease
  • Coagulation
  • Disease risk management
  • Oncology
  • Leukocyte testing
  • Pharmacogenomics
  • Clinical chemistry
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Admissions Requirements for Diagnostic Science Programs

Diagnostic molecular scientists generally have at least a bachelor’s degree in subjects such as molecular biology, biochemistry, microbiology, medical technology, biology, chemistry, or related fields. Some have master’s degrees, and yet others go on to complete PhDs. 

Admissions requirements for a bachelor’s degree in this discipline include a high school diploma, an acceptable ACT or SAT score (for some colleges), a high school grade point average of at least 2.5, an official copy of a high school transcript or GED, official transcripts from each college or university previously attended, and proof of English proficiency for international students.

In order to earn a master’s degree in molecular science, a bachelor’s degree in a basic or medical science (e.g., biology, chemistry, microbiology) from a regionally accredited institution is required along with a grade point average of 3.0 or better, as well as the submission of a statement of purpose, a completed application, a current resume, letters of recommendation, and official transcripts from every college and university attended. 

Applicants who are not U.S. citizens are also required to submit official test scores for TOEFL or PTE.

Program Accreditation in Diagnostic Molecular Science

Accreditation assures that an institution has met minimum quality requirements. It is beneficial for students to know if a program is accredited and by what entity, as it can help them decide where to pursue their studies in molecular science. Further, accreditation can be a consideration used by employers to screen candidates, as accredited universities can be counted on to provide students with the necessary training. Finally, graduates from accredited universities are also eligible to sit for certification exams. 

The National Accrediting Agency for Clinical Laboratory Science (NAACLS) is one of the major international agencies responsible for accrediting education programs in molecular science and related professions. Their accreditation process has been recognized by the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA). 

The NAACLS provides accreditation to educational programs in the US and globally at various levels including associate, pre-bachelor’s, bachelor’s, post-master’s, and master’s. Some of the professional disciplines accredited by this organization include: 

  • Medical laboratory scientist
  • Medical laboratory technician
  • Histotechnologist
  • Histotechnician
  • Pathologist assistant
  • Diagnostic molecular scientist 
  • Cytogenetic technologist

On-Campus Degree Programs Related to Diagnostic Molecular Science

University of Minnesota

The University of Minnesota offers a bachelor of science (BS) in microbiology program. This is an on-campus degree, with a majority of the classes being taught face-to-face. The program will provide students with the building blocks for the treatment of infections and other diseases. 

Admission requirements for the program include a high school diploma, a minimum grade point average of 2.0, and proof of English proficiency for international students, among others. 

The program comprises 120 credits. Some of the courses include biotechnology and bioengineering for biochemists, microbial genomics and bioinformatics, immunology, molecular and genetic bases for microbial diseases, biology, genetics, the pathogenesis of viruses, and microbial physiology and diversity. 

Students in the program are prepared to apply to graduate programs in microbiology and similar fields, as well as build a strong foundation for careers in the health sciences. They learn about the role of microbes, such as bacteria, fungi, and viruses. Graduates work in professional roles in governmental, industrial, and pharmaceutical fields. 

  • Location: Minneapolis, Minnesota
  • Accreditation: Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools
  • Expected Time to Completion: 48 months 
  • Estimated Tuition: $1,216 per credit 

Arkansas State University

Arkansas State University offers a master of science (MS) in molecular biosciences. The program provides students with training and research opportunities that integrate cellular, molecular, developmental, and genomic information and knowledge. 

Applicants to the program must have a BS degree in basic or applied science with a minimum grade point average of 3.0, complete an online application for admission, and submit official transcripts and GRE scores.

​Made up of 30 to 36​ credits, courses in the program include specialized biochemistry, molecular genetics and genomics, techniques in molecular biosciences, topics in molecular biosciences, and advanced cell biology. 

The program prepares students to pursue scientific research or technology-driven careers in multiple fields ranging from agriculture to medicine, forensics to environmental sciences, and food science to renewable energy. It encompasses the areas of cell biology, biotechnology, computational biology, food safety, immunology, neurobiology, and structural biology.

  • Location: Jonesboro, Arkansas
  • Accreditation: Higher Learning Commission
  • Expected Time to Completion: 24 months 
  • Estimated Tuition: $554 per credit

Florida Gulf Coast University

Students who already have a bachelor’s degree in biological or chemical sciences and are seeking licensure as a molecular scientist can complete the molecular diagnostic certificate at Florida Gulf Coast University. Along with classroom lectures and labs, students will participate in intensive clinical experiences that will prepare them for work in a diagnostic molecular laboratory. 

Students must complete 23 to 26 credit hours in courses such as molecular diagnostics, diagnostic microbiology, and clinical immunology to earn this certificate. Admission requirements include already holding a bachelor’s degree, have an undergraduate GPA of 3.0 or higher, and prerequisite coursework in biology, chemistry, and math. International students will need to provide proof of English proficiency with either a TOEFL or IELTS exam score. 

  • Location: Fort Meyers, FL
  • Accreditation: National Accreditation Agency for Clinical Laboratory Sciences (NAACLS) 
  • Expected Time to Completion: 15 months
  • Estimated Tuition: $1,300.66 per credit

Upstate Medical University- College of Health Professions

The bachelor’s of science in medical technology at Upstate Medical University’s College of Health Professions is a 60-credit five-semester program for students who have already completed their general education requirements. Graduates of this program are prepared to work in a variety of laboratories, including diagnostic molecular labs. During their studies, students will have the opportunity to work in university labs assisting scientists in designing and performing experiments that contribute to active medical research studies. 

With a heavy research focus, many of the graduates of this program go on to work in research laboratories where diagnostic molecular scientists are in high demand. Required coursework includes hematology, health care ethics, statistics, and laboratory operations. Admission requirements include 60 credit hours of prerequisite coursework.  

  • Location: Syracuse, NY
  • Accreditation: National Accreditation Agency for Clinical Laboratory Sciences (NAACLS) 
  • Expected Time to Completion: Two years
  • Estimated Tuition: $25,470 per year for tuition 

University of North Carolina– School of Medicine

The University of North Carolina School of Medicine offers a master’s in clinical laboratory science with a specialized track in molecular diagnostics. This program specifically trains scientists to work with acquired, inherited, or infectious diseases. 

Students gain the necessary skills to work in this field through intensive lecture courses and then learn how to apply their new skills in molecular diagnostic laboratories. As part of the clinical rotations, students will complete a method evaluation project and then present their findings at the end of their course. 

Upon completing this program graduates are eligible to sit for the molecular biology certification through the American Society for Clinical Pathology (ASCP). From 2017 to 2019, 100 percent of students passed this exam. Admission requirements are rigorous, and students must already hold a bachelor’s degree and have either two years of work experience or hold a medical laboratory technician certification from the ASCP. 

  • Location: Chapel Hill, NC
  • Accreditation: National Accreditation Agency for Clinical Laboratory Sciences (NAACLS) 
  • Expected Time to Completion: Five semesters
  • Estimated Tuition: $15,118.32 per semester for tuition and fees

Online and Hybrid Degree Programs Related to Diagnostic Molecular Science

Arizona State University – School of Molecular Sciences

Arizona State University’s School of Molecular Sciences offers an online bachelor of science (BS) in biochemistry. The program focuses on chemical processes in living beings, and the 120-credit curriculum consists of courses such as ​general biology, physical chemistry with a biological focus, general biochemistry, analytical biochemistry laboratory, biophysical chemistry, and general organic chemistry. Students delve into the discovery of drugs, new pathogens, and develop solutions to global problems such as food and environmental degradation. 

This online bachelor’s program helps students develop critical thinking skills and prepares them to take up jobs in areas such as biotechnology, pharmaceuticals, healthcare, research, government, teaching, and chemical industries. Some of the roles they can pursue with the degree include biological sciences professor, business intelligence analyst, clinical data manager, clinical trial manager, and medical scientist.

Major admission requirements for the program include a high school diploma, a grade point average of 3.0 in competency courses, a completed online application, ACT and SAT scores, official transcripts, and proof of English language proficiency for international applicants. The program requires students to complete some laboratory courses at the Tempe campus.

  • Location: Tempe, Arizona
  • Accreditation: Higher Learning Commission
  • Expected Time to Completion: 48 months  
  • Estimated Tuition: $628 per credit

George Washington University

George Washington University offers a 100 percent online master of health sciences (MSHS) in molecular diagnostic sciences program. The program combines coursework in biotechnology and molecular biology, along with experience in clinical work. Students who complete the program are also eligible to sit for the technologist in molecular biology (MB) exam administered by the American Society for Clinical Pathology (ASCP). 

Admission requirements for the program include a bachelor’s degree in a basic or medical science (e.g., biology, chemistry, microbiology) from a regionally accredited institution, a grade point average of 3.0 or above, and a completed application along with a statement of purpose, a current resume, two letters of recommendation, official transcripts from every college and university attended, and proof of English language proficiency for international applicants.

The program consists of 35 credits and helps students excel in molecular diagnostics. The courses include ​biostatistics for clinical and translational research, advanced laboratory management and operations, microbial pathogenesis, medical biotechnology, molecular pathology, and molecular biology. 

Students develop a wide range of skills such as molecular-based testing, designing correlations, maintaining safety at the workplace, and researching and developing preventive and corrective programs. 

On successful completion of the program, graduates can pursue opportunities in healthcare organizations such as public health laboratories, biotechnology companies, and clinical molecular laboratories. They can take up roles such as biotechnology or government research associate, molecular laboratory scientist, MLS teaching positions, and public health laboratory scientist. 

  • Location: Washington, DC
  • Accreditation: Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools
  • Expected Time to Completion: 24 months
  • Estimated Tuition: $1040 per credit

Michigan State University– College of Natural Science

After completing just three courses, students can earn a molecular laboratory diagnostics online certificate at Michigan State University’s College of Natural Science. This certificate is an excellent preparation to sit for the molecular biology certification through the ASCP as it covers the information on the exam. However, this course does not meet the requirements to sit for the exam. This program is also a great fit for professionals already working in the field who need to advance their skills or education for advancement or employment opportunities. 

The three required courses are concepts in molecular biology, clinical application of molecular biology, and molecular pathology laboratory. While most of the coursework is completed online, students will have to travel to campus for a one-week intensive lab. Should travel be prohibitive, this component can be completed at a remote site. 

  • Location: East Lansing, MI 
  • Accreditation: Higher Learning Commission (HLC)
  • Expected Time to Completion: Six months
  • Estimated Tuition: $1,007 per credit

Northern Michigan University– School of Clinical Sciences

There are two tracks for the master’s of science in clinical molecular genetics at Northern Michigan University’s School of Clinical Sciences. The first track is for professionals already working in the field who want to perform more advanced experiments. In this first track, students can choose between an emphasis in human genetics or infectious disease.  The second track is for students who want to use their molecular biology training to be clinical educators. 

To graduate from this program, students must complete either a project, capstone, or thesis. This final component is when students are expected to utilize the skills and education gleaned in the program and demonstrate them to the faculty and their peers. To be considered for admission, students must hold an undergraduate degree in a science related field with at least a 3.0 GPA. Students must also have completed prerequisite coursework, have laboratory experience, provide three letters of recommendation, and write a statement of intent. 

  • Location: Marquette, MI
  • Accreditation: National Accreditation Agency for Clinical Laboratory Sciences (NAACLS) 
  • Expected Time to Completion: Two years
  • Estimated Tuition: $648 per credit

University of Cincinnati

The bachelor’s of science in medical laboratory science at the University of Cincinnati can be completed online, with a clinical practice completed near the student’s home. This program is perfect for medical laboratory science professionals who want to earn a more advanced certification or are looking for career advancement opportunities. Students must complete 60 credits of general education coursework or a medical laboratory technician program prior to enrolling in this program. 

To complete this degree students must earn 60 credits in a variety of classes including diagnostic molecular science, laboratory operations, hematology, statistics, and more. All students must also complete a capstone project where they present a research project they have designed and completed under faculty supervision. 

  • Location: Cincinnati, OH
  • Accreditation: Higher Learning Commission (HLC)
  • Expected Time to Completion: Two years
  • Estimated Tuition: $527 per credit

How Long Does it Take to Become a Diagnostic Molecular Scientist?

Most positions for diagnostic molecular scientists require at least a bachelor’s degree. This takes four to five years of full-time study. Some candidates may also have a master’s degree, and some have PhDs. Completing a master’s usually takes two years, while a PhD takes another two to three years. 

Additionally, a large number of employers in the field also require candidates to have at least a year of work experience in a laboratory. Finally, a few states require diagnostic molecular scientists to be licensed, while some prefer to hire diagnostic molecular scientists who have achieved professional certification, which can add extra time to the expected career pathway.

How To Become a Diagnostic Molecular Scientist – Step-by-Step Guide

Diagnostic molecular scientists are trained professionals who conduct research and tests for many types of medical diagnoses and analyses, including infectious diseases, cancer, pharmacogenetics, genetic disorders, identity testing. They are typically involved in RNA and DNA isolation, detection, amplification, and viral load analysis.

To become a diagnostic molecular scientist, most positions require at least a bachelor’s degree in subjects such as microbiology, molecular biology, biochemistry, chemistry, medical technology, biology, and related fields. Some of these professionals hold master’s degrees, while others may also have completed PhDs.

Here’s a step-by-step guide to becoming a diagnostic molecular scientist:

Step 1: Earn a Bachelor’s Degree in Science (Four to Five Years)

Common areas of study for future molecular scientists include microbiology, molecular biology, biochemistry, chemistry, medical technology, biology, and related fields.

Step 2: Gain Industry Experience (One Year or More)

Students must also consider working in laboratories on-campus or getting involved in research, as it will help strengthen their resume. Employers often seek candidates with professional work experience in a laboratory.

Step 3: Earn an Advanced Degree (Optional, Two to Five Years)

For better opportunities, students should consider getting a master’s degree. Earning a PhD also helps students gain access to lucrative opportunities in universities and research labs, as well as top-paying industries such as pharmaceuticals. 

Step 4: Become Licensed and/or Certified (One Year or More)

Consider getting licensed through organizations such as American Medical Technologists (AMT) or the American Society for Clinical Pathology (ASCP), as this is a requirement in some states. 

Some employers also prefer hiring diagnostic molecular scientists with a certification, such as medical technologist or biology technologist. In order to earn a certification, students must have a bachelor’s degree from an accredited institution, as well as meet coursework and experience requirements. 

See the section below for detailed information about relevant certifications in the US.

What Do Diagnostic Molecular Scientists Do?

The work of diagnostic molecular scientists mainly revolves around studying human samples including hair follicles, blood and bone, and fetal cells. They examine these materials at a molecular level and make inferences. They study DNA and RNA samples, conduct research on infectious disease, and report findings.

Some of their duties are as follows: 

  • Sequence DNA and RNA samples
  • Report and analyze data
  • Write documents and develop quality control protocols
  • Research infectious diseases 
  • Supervise laboratory work

While the majority of molecular scientists are employed by hospitals, some work in public health agencies, forensic settings, or pharmaceutical companies.

Diagnostic Molecular Scientist Certifications & Licensure

Diagnostic molecular scientists are required to be licensed in some states. While some states have their own licensing exam, others allow professionals to sit for an exam administered by an organization such as the American Society for Clinical Pathology (ASCP) or the American Medical Technologists (AMT). Employers also prefer candidates who have obtained certifications such as molecular biology technologist and medical technologist. 

The ASCP offers the following certifications that are related to diagnostic molecular science (among others):

  • Histotechnician (HT)
  • Technologist in blood banking (BB)
  • Technologist in chemistry (C)
  • Technologist in cytogenetics (CG)
  • Technologist in hematology (H)
  • Technologist in microbiology (M)
  • Technologist in molecular biology (MB)
  • Cytotechnologist (CT)
  • Histotechnologist (HTL)
  • Medical laboratory technician (MLT)
  • Medical laboratory scientist (MLS)
  • Specialist in microbiology (SM)
  • Specialist in molecular biology (SMB)

AMT offers the following certifications that are related to diagnostic molecular science:

  • Molecular diagnostics technologist (MDT)
  • Medical technologist (MT)

Eligibility requirements for these certifications vary but generally include multiple pathways to achieve. Typically, candidates must have at least an associate (or bachelor’s degree) from an accredited university, proof of specific qualifying coursework (e.g., molecular biology, infectious disease testing, mass spectrometry, genetics and genomics, etc.), and a certain amount of professional work experience, in addition to passing the relevant certification exams.

How Much Do Diagnostic Molecular Scientists Make?

As a final note, although the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS 2020) does not keep detailed salary data specifically for diagnostic molecular scientists, it does track the pay of two related professions: clinical laboratory technologists and technicians and medical scientists.

According to the BLS (May 2020), 326,220 clinical laboratory technologists and technicians were employed in the US with an average annual salary of $55,990. They had the following percentiles:

  • 10th percentile – $31,450
  • 25th percentile – $39,680
  • 50th percentile (median) – $54,180
  • 75th percentile – $69,650
  • 90th percentile – $83,700

According to the BLS (May 2020), there were 126,110 medical scientists (except epidemiologists) employed in the US with an average annual salary of $101,800. They had the following percentiles:

  • 10th percentile – $50,240
  • 25th percentile – $63,400
  • 50th percentile (median) – $91,510
  • 75th percentile – $126,270
  • 90th percentile – $164,650

Please note that medical scientists generally need a doctorate.

According to PayScale (April 2021), the average salary for a molecular scientist is $60,453 per year and has the following percentiles:

  • 10th percentile – $41,000
  • 50th percentile (median) – $60,000
  • 90th percentile – $98,000

Diagnostic Molecular Scientist Alternatives

Here are some alternative careers to being a diagnostic molecular scientist:

Become a Veterinary Technologist and Technician

Veterinary technologists and technicians work under the supervision of a veterinarian to diagnose and treat medical conditions in animals. They do this through physical examinations, running labs, and monitoring animals’ conditions. They may also collect and process samples of blood, urine, or tissue in the lab. 

  • Typical Education: Associate’s or bachelor’s degree
  • Licensing or Certifying Organization: American Association of Veterinary State Boards

Become an Epidemiologist

Public health professionals who investigate patterns or causes of diseases are called epidemiologists. Duties performed by epidemiologists include collecting and analyzing data about diseases or injuries, writing reports of findings, and writing and implementing plans to reduce the prevalence of the disease or injury. 

  • Typical Education: Master’s of public health (MPH)
  • Licensing or Certifying Organization: None required

Become a Radiologic & MRI Technologist

Radiologic and MRI technologists have received specialized training on how to perform x-rays, CT scans, MRIs, and other diagnostic imaging. Often, they have obtained national certification and state licensure in order to practice in this field. Their work allows physicians to make a diagnosis without unnecessary exploratory surgeries. 

  • Typical Education: Associate’s degree
  • Licensing or Certifying Organization: American Registry of Radiologic Technologists (ARRT) 
Farheen Gani

Farheen Gani

Writer

Farheen is a freelance writer, marketer, and researcher. She writes about technology, education, and marketing. Her work has appeared on websites such as Tech in Asia and Foundr, as well as top SaaS blogs such as Zapier and InVision. You can connect with her on LinkedIn and Twitter (@FarheenGani).

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