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 in order 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, work in this field can be quite lucrative, with average wages being $62,440 per year. Because of an aging population with an increased need for medical care and diagnostics tests, opportunities in this field will grow 7 percent nationally between 2019 and 2029. This translates into more than 24,000 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 needed to enter this profession, degrees required, 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 it can be required by employers 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 scientists programs vary based on the type of program. Traditional bachelor’s degree programs typically require a minimum GPA, SAT or ACT test 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 standards of quality in faculty, curriculum, and facilities and is necessary in order to pursue ASCP MLS certification applicants as candidates 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

In just four years, students can complete a bachelor of science in medical laboratory science (BS MLS) at the Oregon Institute of Technology. This program is offered in partnership with Oregon Health Sciences University 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 16-week, 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, as well as 100 percent employment within six months of graduation.

  • Location: Wilsonville, OR
  • Duration: Four years
  • Accreditation: National Accreditation Agency for Clinical Laboratory Sciences (NAACLS)
  • Tuition: $651 per credit

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 prior to 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.

  • Location: Tempe, AZ
  • Duration: Two years
  • Accreditation: National Accreditation Agency for Clinical Laboratory Sciences (NAACLS)
  • Tuition: $1,412 per credit

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 years 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, there is a solution that 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 2016 this program has had at least a 98 percent graduation rate, 87 percent pass rate on the ASCP exam, and 100 percent employment rate within six months of graduation.

  • Location: Grand Forks, ND
  • Duration: One to four years
  • Accreditation: National Accreditation Agency for Clinical Laboratory Sciences (NAACLS)
  • Tuition: $729.72 per credit

University of Washington – School of Medicine

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

Students are required to 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.

  • Location: Seattle, WA
  • Duration: Two to four years depending on the program
  • Accreditation: National Accreditation Agency for Clinical Laboratory Sciences (NAACLS)
  • Tuition: $39,028 per year

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 provided students with a well-rounded education that prepares them for entry-level work in the field.

Preprofessional courses that students must complete included algebra, biological chemistry, statistics, and cross-cultural communication. 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.

  • Location: Salt Lake City, Utah
  • Duration: Four years
  • Accreditation: National Accreditation Agency for Clinical Laboratory Sciences (NAACLS)
  • Tuition: $13,035.97 for 12 credits

Online or Hybrid Medical Laboratory Scientist Degree Programs

University of Cincinnati – College of Allied Health Sciences

Professionals who already hold a certification as a medical laboratory technician 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.

  • Location: Cincinnati, OH
  • Duration: Two years
  • Accreditation: National Accreditation Agency for Clinical Laboratory Sciences (NAACLS)
  • Tuition: $281 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. In the second two years, students complete more advanced coursework and clinical practices to earn their bachelor’s degree. This ladder approach affords students the flexibility 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 coursework in chemistry, microbiology, anatomy, and biochemistry to be eligible for admission.

Location: Ogden, UT
Duration: Four years
Accreditation: National Accreditation Agency for Clinical Laboratory Sciences (NAACLS)
Tuition: $278 per credit

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. Completion of this program can result in either a second bachelor’s degree or a certificate of completion.

  • Location: Lubbock TX
  • Duration: 12 months
  • Accreditation: National Accreditation Agency for Clinical Laboratory Sciences (NAACLS)
  • Tuition: $620 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 bachelor of science in health sciences in medical laboratory sciences. Professionals who already have a medical laboratory technician (MLT) certificate can complete this program entirely online, while those who do not have an MLT can complete this program in a hybrid format. Graduates of this program have a 93 percent pass rate on the ASCP MLS exam, and 95 percent are employed in this field within three months of graduating.

To be eligible for admission, students must have completed extensive coursework in chemistry, biology, algebra, statistics, and more. Application requirements include a personal statement, official transcripts, a current resume, and a recommendation letter. International applicants are required to provide proof of English proficiency with a TOEFL or IELTS exam.

  • Location: Washington, D.C.
  • Duration: Two years
  • Accreditation: National Accreditation Agency for Clinical Laboratory Sciences (NAACLS)
  • Tuition: $615 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.

Location: Hattiesburg, MS
Duration: Two to four years
Accreditation: National Accreditation Agency for Clinical Laboratory Sciences (NAACLS)
Tuition: $370 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 path to certification 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 towards 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, 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 2019), medical laboratory scientists earn $62,440 per year on average. The percentiles for wages were:

  • 10th percentile: $41,550
  • 25th percentile: $51,370
  • 50th percentile (median): $61,070
  • 75th percentile: $73,760
  • 90th percentile: $85,160

Medical Laboratory Scientist Alternatives

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

Veterinary Technologists and Technicians

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: Associate degree
  • Licensing or Certifying Organization: American Association of Veterinary State Boards

Chemists and Materials Scientists

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 often are responsible for managing a team of technicians who are helping them. They work primarily in manufacturing and research.

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

Biological Technicians

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 a variety of 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

Kimmy is a freelance writer with extensive experience writing about healthcare careers and education. She has worked in public health, at health-focused nonprofits, and as a Spanish interpreter for doctor’s offices and hospitals. She has a passion for learning and that drives her to stay up to date on the latest trends in healthcare. When not writing or researching, she can be found pursuing her passions of nutrition and an active outdoors lifestyle.

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