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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.
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
- Disease risk management
- Leukocyte testing
- Clinical chemistry
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 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
- Pathologist assistant
- Diagnostic molecular scientist
- Cytogenetic technologist
On-Campus Degree Programs Related to Diagnostic Molecular Science
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 credit-hours. Some of the courses include biotechnology and bioengineering for biochemists, microbial genomics and bioinformatics, immunology, molecular and genetic bases for microbial diseases, biology, genetics, 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-hour
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 a basic or applied science with a minimum grade point average of 3.0, complete online application for admission, and submit official transcripts and GRE scores.
Made up of 30 to 36 credit-hours, 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-hour
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-hour 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: $640 per credit-hour
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 credit-hours 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: $980 per credit-hour
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 become 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 (2019), there were 321,220 clinical laboratory technologists and technicians employed in the US as of May 2018 with an average annual salary of $53,880. They had the following percentiles:
- 10th percentile – $29,910
- 50th percentile (median) – $52,330
- 90th percentile – $80,330
According to the BLS (2019), there were 120,320 medical scientists (except epidemiologists) employed in the US as of May 2018 with an average annual salary of $96,420. They had the following percentiles:
- 10th percentile – $46,810
- 50th percentile (median) – $84,810
- 90th percentile – $156,980
Please note that medical scientists generally need a doctorate.
According to PayScale (2020), the average salary for a molecular scientist is $75,372 per year and has the following percentiles:
- 10th percentile – $41,000
- 50th percentile (median) – $61,000
- 90th percentile – $99,000
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).