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Your Career In Medical Laboratory Science


In the blood bank at Lima Memorial Health System, Angie Baxter, lead technologist, supervises Ben Hedges, a clinical laboratory science student at Ohio Northern University, as they processes a unit of blood for transfusion.

SKILLS REQUIRED

Explore medical laboratory science if you enjoy:

  • Science and math
  • Hands-on science in the laboratory
  • Working with technology
  • Working in the medical field but don’t think being a nurse or doctor is right for you
  • Problem/puzzle solving

If you are:

  • Detail-oriented
  • Precise
  • Good at communication

WHERE/HOW TO GET TRAINING

Schooling

In the medical laboratory, medical laboratory scientists (MLS) hold a four-year bachelor’s degree. At Ohio Northern University, the medical laboratory scientist program includes three years of classroom study with an emphasis on biology, chemistry, biochemistry, mathematics and related sciences. The fourth year is a 12-month clinical program that begins with work in the University laboratory, followed by six months working in an affiliated hospital laboratory under the direction of a certified medical laboratory scientist. After graduation, students are eligible to take the MLS certification examination, needed for most MLS jobs. Graduates of Ohio Northern’s MLS program all have passed the MLS certification exam, and most are working in their chosen field.

College graduates with a science degree in a related field can take a one-year clinical MLS certificate program that will make them eligible to take the MLS certification examination.

Working with them in the medical laboratory are medical laboratory technicians (MLT), who have two-year degrees, and pathologists, physicians who specialize in laboratory study and diagnosis of disease.

Financial Aid

Grants, scholarships, loans, and work/study programs are available for students. For most of this aid, high school seniors must submit a Free Application for Federal Student Aid, which is available from high school guidance offices and postsecondary financial aid offices.

For more information on federal financial aid programs, or to apply electronically, visit the U.S. Department of Education’s Web site at http://www.ed.gov.
 

WORK ENVIRONMENT

Medical laboratory scientists work in:

  • Hospital laboratories
  • Blood distribution centers
  • Physician office laboratories
  • Research settings
  • Laboratory supply companies

Because hospital laboratories function 24 hours a day, medical laboratory scientists can work a variety of hours and shifts.

Medical laboratory science (MLS), also known as Medical Technologist or Clinical Laboratory Scientist, is a great career choice if you like science and want to work in a medical field, but don’t think being a nurse or doctor is right for you.

“What we do is show the doctors what’s going on in their patients’ bodies so they can make decisions about how to treat them,” says Angie Baxter, lead technologist for hematology and blood bank at Lima Memorial Medical System. “What we don’t do is diagnose. But we are a very important part of the medical team, giving the doctors the information they need to care for their patients.”

“I always knew I wanted to do something in health care,” says Baxter, “but not nursing. Patient contact is not my strong suit.” Instead, she chose to be a medical laboratory scientist, also called medical technologist or clinical laboratory scientist.

“The science is always interesting,” Baxter explains. “In a way, I feel I’m touching more lives. If you work as a nurse, you are assigned several patients a day. Here, we are assigned a couple of hundred a day – the young, the old, the sick and the healthy.”

The hospital laboratory processes samples from hospital, emergency and outpatients 24 hours a day. It is divided into four areas: the Blood Bank, which processes blood and blood products; Chemistry, which deals with the chemicals found in the body; Hematology, which studies cells; and Microbiology, which looks at bacteria. Medical laboratory scientists are generalists who can work in all those areas, although they may seek additional certification in specific areas.

Using the latest technology makes it possible to complete hundreds, if not thousands, of tests every day with the highest level of accuracy. This also means that the technologists must ensure that the automated equipment is properly calibrated, quality controls are maintained and everything is working correctly. When it’s not, the technologist must troubleshoot the problem. “The more automated we are, the more accurate we are,” Baxter says.

A graduate of Allen East High School, Baxter graduated from Ohio Northern University’s MLS program in 2005 and spent the next two years working in a physician’s office lab in Florida before moving back to Lima and taking a job at Lima Memorial Health System. Ben Hedges, a graduate of Lima Senior High School, spent two years trying to decide on a major, knowing he wanted to work in a lab, but not really aware of the medical laboratory field. When someone suggested a career in the blood bank, Hedges researched accredited programs in the area and enrolled at ONU. In May, he will receive his degree, and he has already applied for a job in the hospital.

“It’s rewarding,” he says. “But it’s scary too. There’s not much room for error, and it can be intense.”

Baxter agrees, “MLS professionals have a strong focus on accuracy,” she says.