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The Medical Laboratory Technician Career Ladder

If you’re currently working as a medical technician, you’re in a field with almost unlimited advancement potential. The American Society for Clinical Laboratory Science released a position paper in 2009 that placed clinical laboratory positions on a continuum from phlebotomist or laboratory assistant straight on through to graduate level laboratory management. A combination of experience and on the job training can result in moving up a level; formal education is required, though, at multiple points along the way.

While the ASCLS model, as written, is not yet a reality, you will see elements of it in the professional world. National certifying agencies, and some state regulatory bodies, distinguish between duties of a technician and those of a technologist. Many employers use designations like Technician I and Technician II to further differentiate responsibilities – and compensation.

Advancing to the Medical Laboratory Scientist Role

Education can allow you to move from associate’s level technician to medical laboratory scientist (sometimes referred to as medical laboratory technologist). According to a 2010 salary report released by the ASCP, clinical laboratory scientists enjoy an average wage of $26.16 (compared to $19.78 for laboratory technicians).

If you’re interested in moving up to the level of laboratory scientist, you’ll want to check the legal requirements in your own state or the one where you intend to practice. Clinical laboratory science is a regulated profession in just 12 states, though some other states are considering licensing. California has especially stringent requirements; a year of post-baccalaureate training is required. In most states, standards are set by individual employers – but employers are often heavily influenced by the certification standards set by the ASCP.

In most municipalities, progressing from laboratory technician to laboratory scientist requires that you complete a baccalaureate degree. You may want to look for an MLT to MT ladder program or articulation program. Such programs award advanced placement to medical laboratory technicians. MLT to MT articulation programs also schedule classes to accommodate working professionals. This may mean taking online classes or it may mean traveling to campus on the weekends. Admission requirements vary. Schools may require that you are currently working in a laboratory or they may accept past employment.

Courses that are not labeled ladder programs sometimes award credit as well. You may have the opportunity to enter a 2 + 2 medical laboratory program at the junior level. 2 + 2 programs have a curriculum that’s broken down into a pre-professional phase and a professional phase (two years each).

Notably, the ASCP does not require that the baccalaureate be in clinical laboratory science, provided it meets rather hefty standards for math and science content. If the degree includes sufficient coursework in all required areas, and if you have several years of acceptable laboratory work experience, you can be certified as a clinical laboratory scientist. In most cases, though, it makes sense to do a medical laboratory science program. There is a certain amount of variety from program to program. In some cases, you can choose a minor in an area like hematology, immunohematology, or microbiology depending on which specialty interests you.

Other Steps to Advancement

What else can an ambitious medical laboratory worker do to advance his or her career? Certification is important even when it’s not required for a job. The ASCLS reports that the one study that has been carried out found a positive correlation between ASCP certification and accuracy of test results. Some medical laboratory scientists also pursue advanced certifications in narrow branches of laboratory science. Others participate in professional activities to prepare them for supervisory roles. According to the ASCLS, technologists in supervisory roles earn about $4.00 an hour more than those without. Currently, you’ll find workers with various levels of education taking on supervisory roles. The ASCLS position paper, though, places most management positions in the realm of the master’s educated laboratory worker.