Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Clinical Laboratory Scientist - What is that, what kind of career is that?

Clinical Laboratory Science - Medical Technology - Medical Laboratory Technology
The field of Clinical Laboratory Science (CLS) is a diverse realm of disciplines encompassing the health care service industry.  Some areas represented in the lab field are Hematology, Microbiology, Immunology, Clinical Chemistry, Urinalysis, Coagulation, Serology, BloodBank, Histology and then there are some of the more recent exciting departments like Flow Cytometry, PCR, Histocytology, LIS Manager, and Point of Care Testing. Classically, this field was called Allied Health Professions and still that is an important term to describe the laboratory professional in the clinical setting working along side other health care professionals such as nurses, respiratory care techs, pharmacy, and radiology.

This field of science officially has a long history dating back to early 1900's when the profession was listed on U.S. Census forms.  Explosive growth in college curriculum and jobs occurred through the 70's and early 80's.  After mid 1980's demand for BS MT college programs declined as students opted for the computer science field and thus a rapid decline in available MT programs was experienced nation wide.  The college program I graduated from closed two years after I completed school.  Today, Med Tech BS college programs are few by number scattered across the country.  There are however many MS degree programs for Health Care Management and other related fields for the BS MT wishing to continue on with studies. If contemplating this field of study don't fool yourself by enrolling in a quick 15 month to 2 yr program without a complete investigation of the program or even worse a certificate program.  Without accreditation, the diploma or certificate will not gain you employment in certain demanding states.  Be careful and do your diligence to vet out prospective education programs.  There are some great two year programs of which the most bang for the buck can be had in the specialty of Histotechnology.  There are other programs that offer certificates of completion for Lab Assistant and Phlebotomist. While supporting the clinical laboratory as a lab assistant or Phlebotomist is a position in demand today and is a vital part of the laboratory, monetary rewards escalate with BS MT credentials after your name.  Several specialties are available for the established seasoned Med Tech with years of experience.  Computer sciences being on of them is a niche environment in the laboratory.  Interfacing laboratory instruments with the many computer systems that operate a health care facility is an arduous, demanding task.  Med Techs are uniquely suited for managing the laboratory computer systems.  The task requires knowledge of medicine, lab protocol and procedures, lab instrumentation, computer operation, and technology.  It is easier to train a Med Tech to build and operate/manage the computer system than it is to train an Information Technology type person Lab Medicine so he or she could successfully build the system from ground up or interface an analyzer with the system.  Laboratory Information System Manager is my current position and turns out to be the most difficult but interesting position I have ever held and succeeded in.

Why should you choose Clinical Laboratory Science as a career choice?  You must be satisfied with the answers of several key questions to head down the hallway to the laboratory.
1. Are you willing to work evening or night hours?  Although jobs are available for trained and credentialed MT's often lab vacancies occur on these off shifts as night and evening techs move to days after 1-3 years of service.
2. Are you willing to work weekends, holidays, and double shifts on the fly?  Health care never stops.  At least for general laboratory.  Sacrifices for the health care job and saving lives is part of the field.  Histology departments commonly operate a Monday-Saturday schedule day shift only.  So, histology as a specialty is enticing with a different work schedule. 
3. Do you have compassion for those that are sick, unable to care for themselves, and be able to dedicate your service to those in need?  Patients are important.  They depend on health care professionals to heal them back to good health.  Also, patients are revenue.  Patients have choices as to where they go for their health care so quality service is just as important as the service one would expect going to a mechanic to fix automobiles.
4. Do you have the ability to to work with body fluids of all kinds and not just blood and urine.  If you are "squeamish" at the site of blood then this job is not for you.
5. Can you handle stressful situations with tact and discipline while maintaining a high level of attention to detail and critical thinking skills?  This is a tough job.  Peoples lives depend on the work done in the clinical laboratory.  Correctly analyzed specimens lead to good outcomes.  Incorrect data from the laboratory can lead to all kinds of bad things from blood transfusion incompatibilities, drug dosage errors, and misdiagnosis and errant treatment or surgeries.
6. Are you patient when it comes to waiting for promotions, awards, recognition, and raises.  Generally, the health care field provides great job security with some advancement.  With tightening restrictions from government, the lab business is suffering just as many other businesses are in this present stifled economy.  Patience my friends and nice things will come.  You can expect 1-3% raises annually on average.  Probably less than that under a union controlled environment.

While CLS is a tough job there is much enjoyment and reward to be had.  Jobs are always in demand.  Career advancement is possible with education and training.  There is a great amount of job security with the health care field in general.  Typical hospital labs perform over one million lab tests per year. In 2010, median pay for a Medical Technologist was $22.44/hour with 330,600 jobs available.  If you are willing to work, pay attention, do a fair share of the work, success will abound. If working turns your stomach, blood and guts makes you ill and gives you nightmares then turn and run down the hall away from the direction of the laboratory.  If interested, most laboratories have programs were visitors can get a glimpse of the laboratory, the technology, and make staff available to answer questions about the field.  Call your local hospital and ask to speak with a supervisor or manager.  They will be more than happy to host a visit.

How does one go about getting started?  Look on-line for college programs specifically for Medical Technology or Clinical Laboratory Science.   There may be incentive or assistance offered by your state Dept. of Education, US Govt.,  or large teaching hospital facilities which would require a promise of employment once graduated.  Here is a list of resources for more information about careers in CLS.

Think about it.  Steady work in an interesting ever changing environment.   Sounds OK right?
Take care my friends,
Scott R. Mayorga  A.A.S., BS MT(ASCP)H CLS

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