Medical Laboratory Scientist

Physicians and surgeons rely on laboratory tests to help them diagnose and treat their clients. These tests are often complicated in nature and require a high level of precision to receive accurate results. Trained medical laboratory scientists perform this behind-the-scenes work to get doctors the information they need to care for their clients. 

Medical laboratory scientists (MLS) must know how to use specialized lab equipment, perform complicated multistep tests, interpret results, and troubleshoot irregularities. Because of the technical nature of the work, MLSs must have at least a bachelor’s degree, if not higher, in medical laboratory science or a related field. While certification is optional, it is an industry standard to earn an MLS certificate from the American Society for Clinical Pathology (ASCP) as this demonstrates a high level of education and competency in the field.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS 2023), work in this field can be quite lucrative, with a median wage of $57,380 per year (clinical laboratory technologists and technicians). Because of an aging population with an increased need for medical care and diagnostics tests, opportunities in this field will grow 11 percent nationally between 2022 and 2032. This translates into more than 16,800 new positions in the next decade.

If a technology-centric, detail-oriented job sounds interesting, continue reading to learn what it takes to become a medical laboratory scientist. This guide includes the steps to enter this profession, the required degrees, and certification and licensing requirements.

Medical Laboratory Scientist Specializations & Degree Types

Medical laboratory scientists typically earn at least a bachelor’s of science in medical laboratory science or a closely related field such as biology, chemistry, or biochemistry. Some earn a master’s degree in medical laboratory science as employers can require it and can boost job applications or opportunities for advancement. 

Within medical laboratory science, there is a lot of room for specialization. Typically, specialization is done through on-the-job training or certificate programs, although some specializations are offered through undergraduate and graduate programs. Specializations medical laboratory scientists may pursue include:

  • Hematology
  • Bacteriology
  • Transfusion services 
  • Clinical chemistry
  • Immunology and immunotherapy
  • Chemistry 
  • Microbiology
  • Molecular diagnostics
  • Urinalysis
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Admissions Requirements for Medical Laboratory Scientist Programs

Requirements for admission to medical laboratory scientist programs vary based on the type of program. Traditional bachelor’s degree programs typically require a minimum GPA, SAT or ACT scores, a statement of purpose, letters of recommendation, and a high school diploma or GED. Two-year bachelor’s degree completion programs for students who hold a medical laboratory technician require applicants to have an MLT associate’s degree, have a minimum GPA, provide letters of recommendation, and write a personal statement. 

Medical laboratory scientist programs can be very competitive, so applicants should strive to exceed the requirements to improve their chances of being selected into a program.

Medical Laboratory Scientist Program Accreditation

Ensuring a program is accredited is an integral part of choosing a medical laboratory scientist program. Accreditation ensures a program has met stringent quality standards in faculty, curriculum, and facilities and is necessary to pursue ASCP MLS certification. Applicants must complete a bachelor’s degree from a regionally accredited college or university.

The National Accrediting Agency for Clinical Laboratory Sciences (NAACLS) accredits medical laboratory scientist programs. Attending a NAACLS program gives students a direct path to certification and may be required for state licensure.

On-Campus Medical Laboratory Scientist Degree Programs

Oregon Institute of Technology

Students can complete a bachelor of science in medical laboratory science (BS MLS) at the Oregon Institute of Technology in just four years. This program is offered in partnership with Oregon Health and Science University (OHSU) and is the largest medical laboratory science program in the Pacific Northwest. Students move through this program as a cohort creating a collaborative learning atmosphere.

In addition to taking courses in body chemistry, biology and chemistry, hematological systems, and the immune system, students participate in intensive clinical labs that provide valuable hands-on experience. Students are also required to complete a four-month, 40-hours-per-week externship. There are over 50 externship locations in Oregon, Idaho, Washington, and Nevada. Graduates of this program have a higher than average ASCP exam pass rate and 100 percent employment within six months of graduation.

  • Location: Wilsonville, OR
  • Accreditation: National Accreditation Agency for Clinical Laboratory Sciences (NAACLS); Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities
  • Expected Time to Completion: Four years
  • Estimated Tuition: $10,492 per year

Arizona State University – College of Health Solutions

The bachelor’s of applied science in medical laboratory science at Arizona State University’s College of Health Solutions prepares students for a career in cytology, clinical laboratory services, or medical technology. Students are expected to complete 90 credits in general education coursework before starting this two-year intensive program. The second year of this program is intensive clinical experiences that put the clinical knowledge gained during the first year to the test.

Students must apply and be admitted to the Phoenix College Department of Health Professions, Fitness & Wellness to be admitted to this program. Upon admission to Phoenix College, students must then apply for the medical laboratory science program. Requirements include prerequisite coursework, immunizations, CPR certification, a background check, verification of observations in medical laboratories, and references.

As part of the program, students will delve into topics such as advanced immunohematology and immunology; advanced hematology and hemostasis; advanced clinical urinalysis and body fluids; advanced clinical microbiology; advanced clinical chemistry; and laboratory leadership, among others.

  • Location: Tempe, AZ
  • Accreditation: National Accreditation Agency for Clinical Laboratory Sciences (NAACLS); Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools
  • Expected Time to Completion: Two years
  • Estimated Tuition: $1,052 per credit

The University of North Dakota – School of Medicine & Health Sciences

There are six different paths to completing a bachelor’s in medical laboratory science at the University of North Dakota School of Medicine & Health Sciences. Students can complete a traditional four-year bachelor’s, a one-year program if they already hold a bachelor’s degree, a two-year program to transition from an MLT certificate to an MLS, and more.

While most options require students to be on campus, there is a hybrid option as well. With so many options, a solution fits almost every student. 

This program has been around since 1949 and has 70 clinical affiliates where students can complete their hands-on experiences. These sites are spread all across the country and include prestigious clinics such as the Mayo Clinic. Since 2017 this program has had at least a 98 percent graduation rate, 97 percent pass rate on the ASCP exam, and 100 percent employment rate within six months of graduation.

Some of the courses in the curriculum are clinical chemistry; clinical hemostasis; clinical urinalysis; clinical immunohematology; clinical microbiology; clinical hematology; medical mycology; clinical body fluids; and medical microbiology, among others.

  • Location: Grand Forks, ND
  • Accreditation: National Accreditation Agency for Clinical Laboratory Sciences (NAACLS); Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools
  • Expected Time to Completion: One to four years
  • Estimated Tuition: $494.21 per credit

The University of Washington – School of Medicine

The University of Washington School of Medicine offers a master’s in laboratory medicine & pathology or a bachelor’s in medical laboratory science. The master’s takes two years to complete, whereas the bachelor’s takes four years. This program’s ever-evolving curriculum strives to stay at the forefront of medical laboratory science to provide students with the most up-to-date education possible.

Students must take courses in bacteriology, biochemistry, coagulation, molecular diagnostics, phlebotomy (blood collection), parasitology, and more. The bachelor’s program’s admission requirements include 90 credits of general undergraduate coursework, an applicant essay, a letter of recommendation, and an interview.

Core courses in the master’s program include medical biometry; laboratory medicine grand rounds; laboratory medicine research conference; organization and management in laboratory medicine; critical thinking and research design in laboratory medicine; and master’s thesis in laboratory medicine.

  • Location: Seattle, WA
  • Accreditation: National Accreditation Agency for Clinical Laboratory Sciences (NAACLS); Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities (NWCCU)
  • Expected Time to Completion: Two to four years depending on the program
  • Estimated Tuition: WA state resident ($3,829 per quarter); non-resident ($12,952 per quarter)

The University of Utah – School of Medicine

The bachelor of science in medical laboratory science (BS) at the University of Utah School of Medicine consists of two years of preprofessional studies followed by two years of professional studies. Coursework includes lectures, lab instruction, and clinical rotations. This combination provides students with a well-rounded education that prepares them for entry-level work in the field.

Preprofessional courses that students must complete include algebra, biological chemistry, statistics, and principles of cell biology. Upon completing all preprofessional coursework, students formally apply to the program. Admission is competitive, and applications are scored on a point ranking system. Applicants earn points for GPAs, essay question answers, work experience, and letters of recommendation.

The curriculum explores topics such as body fluids analysis; clinical immunology; clinical chemistry; clinical hematology; clinical immunohematology; pathogenic microbiology; molecular diagnostics; parasitology and mycology; and laboratory management and supervision.

The University of Utah’s School of Medicine also offers a 30-credit master of science degree in laboratory medicine and biomedical science that allows students to choose from two-track options: clinical laboratory science and biomedical research.

  • Location: Salt Lake City, Utah
  • Accreditation: National Accreditation Agency for Clinical Laboratory Sciences (NAACLS); Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities (NWCCU)
  • Expected Time to Completion: Two to four years depending on the program
  • Estimated Tuition: Resident ($920.69 per credit); non-resident ($3,475.67 per credit)

Online or Hybrid Medical Laboratory Scientist Degree Programs

University of Cincinnati – College of Allied Health Sciences

Professionals already holding a medical laboratory technician certification can earn their bachelor’s degree in medical laboratory science at the University of Cincinnati College of Allied Health Sciences. This two-year online completer program builds on the skills and knowledge obtained for the initial certification and prepares students to sit for the ASCP medical laboratory scientist exam.

With the program being entirely online, students won’t have to travel to further their education. In fact, this program is designed with working professionals in mind. Students must complete 60 semester-credits in clinical immunology; special microbiology; principles of immunohematology; and clinical fluid analysis. Practicum requirements can be completed in clinics near the students’ homes. A capstone research project is required to graduate from this program.

Applicants to the program must have earned an associate degree in CLT or MLT from a NAACLS accredited institution with a minimum grade point average of 2.5 and provide proof of ASCP, AAB, or AMT CLT/MLT certification.

  • Location: Cincinnati, OH
  • Accreditation: National Accreditation Agency for Clinical Laboratory Sciences (NAACLS); Higher Learning Commission (HLC)
  • Expected Time to Completion: Two years
  • Estimated Tuition: Resident ($573 per credit); non-resident ($588 per credit)

Weber State University Dumke – College of Health Professions

The online bachelor’s of science in medical laboratory science at Weber State University Dumke College of Health Professions is divided into two two-year components. Students will complete an associate of applied science for medical laboratory technicians degree in the first two years. Students complete more advanced coursework and clinical practices in the second two years to earn their bachelor’s degree. This ladder approach allows students to take a break from their studies should the need arise and still have earned a degree.

In addition to clinical skills, students will also learn how to perform administrative and management laboratory jobs, including compliance, policy writing, and workload management. Students must complete prerequisite chemistry, microbiology, anatomy, and biochemistry coursework to be eligible for admission.

Core coursework includes biostatics, research & laboratory practices; advanced clinical immunohematology; advanced clinical hematology & hemostasis; advanced clinical chemistry; advanced clinical microbiology & molecular diagnostics; and clinical correlation.

Graduates of this program will be prepared to work in various growing and high-demand healthcare settings, such as hospitals, clinics, physician practices, pharmaceutical labs, research institutions, veterinary clinics, public health, forensic labs, and blood donation or transplant centers.

  • Location: Ogden, UT
  • Accreditation: National Accreditation Agency for Clinical Laboratory Sciences (NAACLS); Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities (NWCCU)
  • Expected Time to Completion: Four years
  • Estimated Tuition: $291 per credit hour

Texas Tech University – School of Health Professions

The one-year online clinical laboratory science second degree and certificate program at Texas Tech University School of Health Professions is for students who have already completed a bachelor’s degree but wish to pursue a medical laboratory science career. Students will complete two semesters of online coursework followed by an intensive six-day on-campus laboratory course.

Courses students must take to complete this program include clinical laboratory practice; clinical immunology; advanced microbiology; foundations of clinical microbiology; and principles of molecular diagnostics. Completing this program can result in either a second bachelor’s degree or a certificate of completion.

  • Location: Lubbock TX
  • Accreditation: National Accreditation Agency for Clinical Laboratory Sciences (NAACLS); Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC)
  • Expected Time to Completion: 12 months
  • Estimated Tuition: Texas resident ($215 per credit); non-resident ($623 per credit)

The George Washington University – School of Medicine and Health Sciences

The George Washington University School of Medicine and Health Sciences offers a two-year master of science in health sciences in medical laboratory sciences. Professionals with national certification as an MLT or MLS/MT/CLS, specialist, or subject technologist can apply to this program. Students with other certifications should contact the admissions office for additional eligibility criteria.

Additional admission requirements include a completed application, a bachelor’s degree from a regionally accredited college or university, a current resume, a personal statement, two letters of recommendation, a GPA of 3.0, and official transcripts from every college and university attended. International applicants are required to provide proof of English proficiency with a TOEFL or IELTS exam.

Made up of 36 credits, the program includes courses such as molecular pathology; research ethics and integrity; current topics in MLS; advanced laboratory management and operations; biostatistics translational research; molecular epidemiology; and data analytics and research methods in laboratory medicine.

  • Location: Washington, D.C.
  • Accreditation: National Accreditation Agency for Clinical Laboratory Sciences (NAACLS); Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools
  • Expected Time to Completion: Two years
  • Estimated Tuition: $1,030 per credit

University of Southern Mississippi – College of Arts and Sciences

Medical laboratory technicians (MLT) who want to advance their education and certification can earn medical laboratory science (MLT TO MLS) bachelor’s of science online at the University of Southern Mississippi’s College of Arts and Sciences. With no out-of-state tuition, this flexible program is also very affordable. Students can transfer credits from the coursework completed to earn their MLT certification, allowing them to complete their studies in as little as two years.

Part of this program is an intensive 20-week clinical practicum at a hospital affiliated with the program. To be eligible for admission, students must already hold an associate’s degree and an MLT ASCP certification.

Comprising 124 credits, the program includes coursework in clinical bacteriology; fundamentals of hematology; clinical chemistry; introduction to clinical immunology; clinical mycology; clinical parasitology; clinical immunodiagnostics; and clinical immunohematology.

  • Location: Hattiesburg, MS
  • Accreditation: National Accreditation Agency for Clinical Laboratory Sciences (NAACLS); Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC)
  • Expected Time to Completion: Two to four years
  • Estimated Tuition: $379 per credit

How Long Does it Take to Become a Medical Laboratory Scientist?

Since medical laboratory scientists must have a bachelor’s degree or higher, it takes at least four years after graduating from high school to enter this profession.

How To Become a Medical Laboratory Scientist – Step-by-Step Guide

Step 1: Graduate from High School or Complete a GED (Four Years)

To pursue a medical laboratory science career, students must first graduate from high school or earn a GED. Earning a high school diploma or GED demonstrates a minimum level of education and can help prepare students for the rigors of college coursework. Aspiring medical laboratory scientists should focus on science classes such as chemistry, physics, biology, and anatomy.

Step 2: Complete Medical Laboratory Scientist Education (Four to Five Years)

A bachelor’s degree is required to be a medical laboratory scientist. The most common degree earned is in medical laboratory science, although students can major in a related field such as physics, chemistry, biochemistry, anatomy, and biology.

While not required, completing a National Accreditation Agency for Clinical Laboratory Sciences (NAACLS) accredited program helps with the certification path and demonstrates to an employer that the candidate has a high-quality education in this field. Also, NAACLS programs include valuable hands-on practicum components that give students practical experience. Students can complete the NAACLS program as a bachelor’s degree or as a one or two-year certificate program post-graduation.

Step 3: Obtain Entry Level Medical Laboratory Scientist Work Experience (Optional, One to Two Years)

Entry-level employment as a medical laboratory scientist may not be the most glamorous work, but it provides new professionals in the field with much-needed work experience. These first jobs in the field help medical laboratory scientists learn how to work in a lab and help them determine if they want to pursue a specialization.

Step 4: Earn a Medical Laboratory Scientist Certification (Optional, Timeline Varies)

There are several paths toward earning a medical laboratory scientist certification. This voluntary step informs employers that the candidate has the necessary education, skills, and training to excel in this field. Certification can also lead to higher wages, an easier time securing employment, and more career advancement opportunities.

Step 5: Obtain a Medical Laboratory Scientist State Licensure (Timeline Varies)

Twelve states required medical laboratory scientists to be licensed. Licensing requirements vary by state, so candidates should contact their local boards to ensure they have completed any necessary education and certification.

What Do Medical Laboratory Scientists Do?

Most medical laboratory scientists work in hospitals and diagnostic labs, although some may work in private physician offices, outpatient clinics, and universities. Responsibilities can vary based on the place of employment and specialization. Here is a list of typical day-to-day duties:

  • Running tests on fluid, blood, or tissue samples
  • Maintaining laboratory equipment
  • Operating complicated laboratory equipment such as cell counters and microscopes
  • Participating in clinical research
  • Supervising inventory
  • Ensuring a high level of quality control throughout the lab
  • Logging test results
  • Discussing test results or finding with physicians
  • Maintaining careful client records

Medical Laboratory Scientist Certifications & Licensure

This field’s primary certification is the medical laboratory scientist (MLS) certificate through the American Society for Clinical Pathology (ASCP). While there are several paths toward licensure, the most direct is to complete a NAACLS accredited MLS program and earn a bachelor’s degree from a regionally accredited institution. There are five other paths to certification that include:

  • Have an ASCP medical laboratory technologist (MLT) certificate, bachelor’s degree from a regionally accredited institution, and two years of full-time work experience in a clinical laboratory or related field
  • Have an ASCP clinical laboratory assistant certification, bachelor’s degree from a regionally accredited institution, and four years of work experience in a relevant field
  • Have a bachelor’s degree from a regionally accredited institution and five years of related work experience
  • Have an ASCP medical technician (MT)/medical laboratory science (MLS) certification, a bachelor’s degree from a regionally accredited institution, and five years of full-time clinical experience
  • Complete a 50-week US military medical laboratory training course in the past ten years, have a bachelor’s degree from a regionally accredited institution, and have one year of full-time clinical work experience

Medical laboratory scientists must obtain a license to practice in California, Hawaii, Florida, New York, North Dakota, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Louisiana, Nevada, West Virginia, Montana, and Georgia. In these states, medical laboratory scientists are classified as laboratory personnel. Licensing requirements can include education, testing, fees, a background check, and a completed application.

How Much Do Medical Laboratory Scientists Make?

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (May 2022), on average, medical laboratory scientists earn $59,130 per year. The percentiles for wages were:

  • 10th percentile: $35,220
  • 25th percentile: $40,440
  • 50th percentile (median): $57,380
  • 75th percentile: $74,920
  • 90th percentile: $84,670

Medical Laboratory Scientist Alternatives

There are many alternatives to a career as a medical laboratory scientist. Here are a few:

Become a Veterinary Technologist or Technician

Veterinary technicians and technologists perform physical exams and diagnostics tests on animals. They work under the supervision of veterinarians. While most work with small animals such as cats and dogs, they can work in clinics that serve large or exotic animals.

  • Typical Education: Technicians (associate degree); technologists (bachelor’s degree)
  • Licensing or Certifying Organization: American Association of Veterinary State Boards

Become a Chemist or Materials Scientist

Chemists and materials scientists examine how substances interact with each other as well as the atomic and molecular makeup of the materials. They plan and carry out complex research projects and are often responsible for managing a team of technicians helping them. They work primarily in manufacturing and research.

  • Typical Education: Bachelor’s degree
  • Licensing or Certifying Organization: None required

Become a Biological Technician

Biological technicians, also called laboratory assistants, are responsible for performing tests for biological and medical scientists. They must have strong attention to detail and know how to use various laboratory equipment. Typically they work in research labs, although they can also work in hospitals and for pharmaceutical companies.

  • Typical Education: Bachelor’s degree
  • Licensing or Certifying Organization: None required
Kimmy Gustafson

Kimmy Gustafson

Writer

At HealthcareDegree.com, Kimmy Gustafson has delivered in-depth and insightful articles since 2019, aiding prospective students to navigate the complexities of choosing the right healthcare degree. Her recent work includes topics such as the ethics of gene editing and physician assistant’s fight for autonomy.

Kimmy has been a freelance writer for more than a decade, writing hundreds of articles on a wide variety of topics such as startups, nonprofits, healthcare, kiteboarding, the outdoors, and higher education. She is passionate about seeing the world and has traveled to over 27 countries. She holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Oregon. When not working, she can be found outdoors, parenting, kiteboarding, or cooking.

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