Pros and Cons of a Career in Clinical Laboratory Science
As laboratory technology advances, individuals with specialized training in this field should remain in high demand. Though technologist and technician positions in clinical laboratory science require less of an educational investment, state licensure and professional certification may be required. Explore the differences between four common careers in clinical laboratory science:
|Medical Scientist||Epidemiologist||Clinical Laboratory Technologist||Clinical Laboratory Technician|
|Career Overview||Plan and direct research studies||Study causes and prevention of disease||Supervise lab-based diagnostics; perform diagnostic tests||Perform diagnostic tests|
|Education Requirements||Doctoral or joint Ph.D./M.D. degree||Master's/doctoral degree||Bachelor's degree||Associate's degree|
|Program Length||7-8 years of advanced study||6-8 years||4 years||2 years|
|Licensure/ Certification||Medical license required for patient research||Medical license required for patient research||License required in some states||License required in some states|
|Job Outlook (2014-2024)||Fast as average growth (8%)*||Fast as average growth (6%)*||Faster than average growth (14%)*||Faster than average growth (18%)*|
|Mean Salary (2014)||Roughly $90,160*||Roughly $74,120*||Roughly $60,560*||Roughly $40,750*|
Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics
Medical scientists plan and direct research studies on human diseases and diagnostic techniques, as well as prevention and treatment methods. They use scientific instrumentation, following strict protocol and procedures for testing and data analysis. Medical research, in many cases, is funded through government grants and requires prospective research and analysis to produce grant proposals.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) predicted 36% job growth in this field from 2010-2020. Research in the pharmaceutical industry and demand for new treatments was expected to spur growth during this time.
According to O*Net, 74% of surveyed medical scientists held a Ph.D. as of 2010. For research studies that involve medical contact with patients, a state medical license is necessary. Requirements for licensure include completion of a Doctor of Medicine (M.D.) program and an exam. Some medical scientists pursue both a Ph.D. and an M.D. through a joint degree program.
Here are some real job postings for medical scientists from December 2012:
- A Connecticut pharmaceutical company seeks a senior clinical research scientist to prepare clinical trials and review data. Requirements include either a Ph.D. or pharmaceutical doctorate degree plus five years of clinical development experience.
- A hospital in Houston, Texas, seeks a senior research scientist to coordinate and direct biomedical research projects. Successful candidates will possess a doctoral degree and six years of experience in scientific application and related research.
- A Massachusetts pharmaceutical company seeks a senior medical director of clinical development in oncology to monitor clinical trials. Candidate must be licensed to act as program physicians, assuming responsibility for scientific and clinical aspects of the program. Requirements include an M.D. or Doctor of Osteopathy (D.O.) degree.
According to the BLS, earning both a Ph.D. and an M.D. may be beneficial for aspiring medical scientists. Some schools offer joint Ph.D./M.D. programs with specialized training in medical research and medical trial administration. These programs involve participating in original research studies.
Epidemiologists investigate the causes of diseases and develop disease prevention methods, including the prevention of communicable diseases that pose public health risks. In addition to laboratory research, these professionals may conduct surveys and manage public health programs. Above-average job growth was expected in this field from 2010-2020 due to a shortage of qualified professionals in many states. Over half of epidemiologists were employed by local, state or federal government agencies as of 2010, according to the BLS.
Professionals in this field are often required to obtain a master's or doctoral degree. Epidemiologists who engage directly in patient treatment are required to obtain a medical degree. According to O*Net, 67% of surveyed professionals had a master's degree, while 30% possessed a doctoral degree as of 2010. Professionals should have training in medical informatics, research methods, data analysis and demography.
Here's what some employers were looking for in December 2012:
- A California clinical research company seeks a biostatistician/epidemiologist to collect and organize data relating to clinical, telehealth (health services or info delivered through telecommunications devices) and administrative claims in support of population-based health management. Requirements include an advanced degree in epidemiology, biostatistics or a related field with three years of experience in health care.
- A New Jersey pharmaceutical company seeks an epidemiology research project manager to analyze and manage data using quantitative and qualitative methods. Successful candidates must have a Master of Public Health (MPH) or a related degree plus broad knowledge of biopharmaceutical development and commercialization.
- The state of South Dakota seeks a methodology epidemiology analyst to design research and write grant proposals. Requirements include working knowledge of a variety of methodologies, as well as an MPH or a related master's degree with up to two years of professional experience.
Because some positions in epidemiology require a medical degree, you might consider enrolling in a joint Ph.D./M.D. program. As a prospective epidemiologist, you may pursue professional certification through an organization such as the Association for Professionals in Infection Control and Epidemiology. Federal organizations, such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, also offer training programs and internships in preparation for your career.
Clinical Laboratory Technologists
Clinical laboratory technologists often perform and oversee diagnostic testing in hospital laboratories. Many technologists work in specialized areas of diagnostics, such as clinical chemistry, microbiology or cytotechnology. They receive blood samples and other specimens and supervise testing to help physicians diagnose illnesses and prepare treatment plans.
A bachelor's degree in medical lab technology or clinical laboratory science is generally required for technologist positions. These programs include an extended practicum in a diagnostic or hospital-based lab. Some states require professional licensure, and applicants usually need a bachelor's degree; an exam is necessary as well. In some cases, candidates may earn a state license by fulfilling requirements for professional certification, which is also preferred by many employers.
Here are some real job postings for clinical laboratory technologists from December 2012:
- A New York physicians' group seeks a medical laboratory technologist to perform hematology, coagulation and urinalysis testing. Applicants must be state licensed.
- A California medical center seeks a medical technologist to perform technical procedures in pediatric, adult and geriatric medical testing. Successful candidates must possess a bachelor's degree with state licensure and one year of laboratory experience.
- An Atlanta, Georgia, hospital seeks a medical technologist to process specimens using standard operating procedures. Requirements include a bachelor's degree; candidates with professional certification and previous experience are preferred.
Because many clinical laboratory technologists work in specialized areas of diagnostics, such as hematology and cytotechnology, you may wish to pursue a specialized certification. Many employers prefer to hire candidates with professional certification, and some states require certification for licensure. Certifying organizations include the American Society for Clinical Pathology (ASCP) and American Medical Technologists (AMT).
Clinical Laboratory Technician
Clinical laboratory technicians work under the supervision of technologists or physicians, providing diagnostic support for patient care. They may be asked to test blood samples or other specimens using strict protocol and laboratory procedures. Safety equipment, such as protective masks, goggles and gloves, is extremely important for these professionals because their work may involve contact with infectious specimens.
According to O*Net 2010 data, 58% of surveyed laboratory technicians earned associate's degrees. Your program should include science coursework and procedural training. Many hospitals offer 1-year certificate programs for those with a degree in another allied health field. Similar to clinical lab technologists, some states require lab technicians to be licensed.
Here are some examples of what employers looked for in December 2012:
- An Ohio hospital seeks a medical laboratory technician to utilize automation, computerization and manual testing methods. Requirements include a 2-year associate's degree in applied science or medical laboratory technology plus ASCP or equivalent certification with state licensure.
- A New Jersey hospital seeks a microbiology laboratory technician to perform testing to facilitate patient care. Successful candidates will possess an associate's degree and professional certification.
- An Iowa hospital seeks a laboratory technician to perform clinical testing of laboratory specimens. Requirements include an associate's degree in medical laboratory technology/medical technology or recent certification through ASCP.
Professional certification may enhance employment prospects. Clinical laboratory technicians can obtain professional certification through the ASCP or AMT. Certification generally requires an associate's degree and an examination, with continuing education required for credential renewal.