Clinical Laboratory Science: Bachelor, Associate & Online Degree Info

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What will you learn in a clinical laboratory science degree program? Read about degree requirements, the pros and cons of an associate's and bachelor's degree and potential careers.
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Studying Clinical Laboratory Science: Degrees at a Glance

A degree in clinical laboratory science can prepare you for a career in a range of laboratory environments, including medical, dental and forensic labs. Degree candidates in these programs study the biological and chemical sciences as they gain familiarity with laboratory equipment, practices and protocols.

The associate's degree is generally the entry-level degree for medical lab technicians, while the bachelor's degree is required to be a medical laboratory technologist. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the job outlook for technicians was slightly more robust. The BLS reported that technologists could expect an 11% increase in employment opportunities from 2010-2020. Technicians should experience a 15% increase over the same period.

Associate's Bachelor's
Who is this degree for? Individuals interested in entry-level medical lab positions Individuals interested in medical lab technologist careers
Common Career Paths (with approximate mean annual salary) Medical laboratory technician ($39,000)* Medical laboratory technologist ($58,000)*
Time to Completion 2-3 years full-time Four years full-time (could be longer based on prerequisite course requirements)
Common Graduation Requirements Some programs may require an internship Minimum grade point average in required courses
Prerequisites - High school diploma or GED
- Prerequisite coursework may include chemistry, biology or other science courses
- High school diploma
- Programs generally require prerequisite coursework in the sciences
Online Availability Yes Yes

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (May 2011 figures).

Associate's Degree in Medical Laboratory Science

Enroll in an associate's degree program in medical laboratory science and you'll study all aspects of the laboratory sciences. You'll begin with an analysis of lab practices, such as the handling of blood and fluid samples and proper disposal techniques. You'll also study organic and clinical chemistry, anatomy, physiology and hematology. Practicums along with supervised clinical experience will round out your coursework. Many programs also feature an internship as a graduation requirement. Upon graduating, you should be prepared to sit for any of the certification or licensing exams required by your state or employer.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • You can begin your professional career after just two years of full-time study
  • These programs can be found at community colleges, which offer more affordable tuition than most universities
  • Upon graduating you'll most likely be able to transfer your credits to a 4-year technologist program

Cons

  • The BLS states that medical lab technicians may have to work evening or weekend hours
  • Will not qualify you for as many career paths as a 4-year degree
  • Depending on where you work, you may need to be both licensed and certified to practice

Courses and Requirements

Your coursework will be divided between classroom lectures and lab courses. In addition to your lecture and lab coursework, you'll complete a clinical component. You will work in an actual clinical lab environment, supervised by an instructor. Below are listed several common course topics.

  • Anatomy
  • Laboratory analysis
  • Immunohematology
  • Microbiology

Online Availability

While not as widely available as campus-based programs, online associate's degree programs in clinical laboratory science are available. Programs may require that you be a working medical laboratory healthcare employee. You would then use the laboratory where you are employed to complete the lab portion of your degree program. Provided that the online program is offered by an accredited institution, few differences exist between online and campus-based programs. Both should leave you prepared to sit for whatever licensing or certification exams are required.

Getting Ahead with This Degree

One way to get ahead with your degree is to pursue certification. Some states require you to become certified as part of their licensing processes. However, even if the state in which you work does not require it, becoming licensed can be a way of signaling to potential employers that you have the skill set they require. The National Accrediting Agency for Clinical Laboratory Sciences (NAACLS) offers an accreditation exam for medical lab technicians. The process consists of an exam designed to test your proficiency in key areas. The NAACLS also offers scholarship information for current students.

Bachelor's Degree in Clinical Laboratory Science

These programs are designed to prepare you for a career as a medical laboratory technologist. The first two years of the 4-year program will resemble the training and teaching of the associate's level as you master lab practices and equipment. In the final two years you learn how to manage and coordinate all elements of the lab. You'll learn how to interpret the epidemiological information amassed and how best to communicate those findings. A practicum or clinical experience will occupy most of your final year.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • Serves as a suitable undergraduate degree for later pursuing graduate studies in medicine
  • You'll be able to conduct a nation-wide job search
  • Upon graduating you'll be able to pursue leadership positions in a cutting-edge healthcare field

Cons

  • The BLS states that medical lab technologists may face heavy lifting on the job in the form of moving or turning disabled patients
  • Clinical lab technologists were expected to experience only average (11%) job growth from 2010-2012*
  • Depending on which prerequisite courses you need to take, this degree could take you longer than four years to complete

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Courses and Requirements

The exact courses and requirements for this degree vary between programs. Many programs are designed so that you complete 2-3 years of prerequisite college courses before applying to the clinical laboratory program. This schedule of prerequisites includes science courses such as immunology, organic and general chemistry, microbiology, genetics and biology. Also included are math courses such as statistics and calculus along with English and public speaking. The final 1-2 years of your studies will be dominated by the clinical lab experience.

Online Availability

These programs are available in an online format. Some of the online bachelor's degree programs require you to already have your associate's degree and be employed in the medical lab field. Be certain that the online program is accredited by both a higher education board and a professional organization such as the NAACLS.

Getting Ahead with This Degree

The NAACLS also offers a certification process for medical lab technologists. This level of certification is referred to as Medical Laboratory Scientist (MLS) accreditation. To receive certification you must first complete an educational program at an accredited institution. The process also consists of an examination designed to test the skill set appropriate for a technologist.

Popular Schools

  • Online Programs Available
    1. Indiana Wesleyan University

    Program Options

    Associate's
      • A.S. General Studies - Life Sciences
      • A.S. General Studies - Life Sciences
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    2. Keiser University

    Program Options

    Associate's
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      • Associate of Sciences - Medical Assistant
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    Kilgore College

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Featured Schools

Indiana Wesleyan University

  • A.S. General Studies - Life Sciences

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Keiser University

  • Associate of Sciences - Medical Assistant

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Northwest Mississippi Community College

Kilgore College

Itawamba Community College

Westmoreland County Community College

Grand Rapids Community College

Galveston College