Also known as medical laboratory science, clinical laboratory technology is the use of sophisticated medical devices, machines, and computers (other than medical imaging technology) in the diagnosis and analysis of medical conditions.  Behind these incredible devices is a growing and well-paid army of technologists and technicians that must be trained to operate, maintain, and repair them.

Some of the devices they operate are powerful improvements on old technology – the anachronistic microscope of the late 16th Century has become today’s powerful electromagnetic microscope, and will become tomorrow’s Automatic Imaging Microscope (capable of creating 3D images of neurological functions with a resolution 1000 times greater than an MRI).  Other devices are more recent inventions with vast application and potential that has barely been unlocked.

Clinical and Laboratory Medical Technology Career Opportunities

Related Careers: CLINICAL LABORATORY TECHNOLOGISTS AND TECHNICIANS

As of 2008, there were 328,100 clinical laboratory technologists and technicians in the United States.  The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that by 2018 that figure will be 373,600, a 14% increase of over 45,000 jobs.  This is substantially higher than the 8.2% expansion of the general civilian economy expected over the same time period.

Projected Growth Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

The Occupational Information Network, a project of the Department of Labor’s Employment and Training Administration, estimates that there will be almost 108,000 job openings for clinical laboratory technologists and technicians from 2008 to 2018 (job growth + vacated positions).

The BLS notes that the increasing sophistication of the computer systems that administer the tests will have a mixed effect on long-run employment:  on the one hand there are more tests than ever that can be done by clinical and laboratory technologists and technicians; on the other hand, the increasing analytic capacity of medical computers may eventually be able to do some of these tests with no human assistance.

As with most technologist/technician distinctions, technologists are more educated or experienced, and are qualified to complete more sophisticated or important tests than technicians.  As a result, they earn more money and may have more opportunities for future advancement.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median yearly wages of technologists in 2008 were $53,500.  Technicians made a median of $35,380.

The middle 50% of technologists made between $44,560 and $63,420, while the bottom 10% of the field made less than $36,180 and the top 10% made more than $74,680.

The middle 50% of technicians made between $28,420 and $44,310, while the bottom 10% made less than $23,480 and the top 10% made more than $53,520.

Annual Earnings Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

Clinical and Laboratory Medical Technology Educational Benefits

According to the BLS, clinical laboratory technologists generally need a bachelor’s degree in medical technology or one of the life sciences (the study of living organisms) to qualify for entry-level positions; clinical laboratory technicians need a 2-year associate’s degree or 1-year diploma.

According to The Occupational Information Network, a government career resource Web site, only 12% of medical technologists and technicians have no post-secondary education.  36% have completed some college, including diploma and associate’s-level programs.  The remaining 52% have a bachelor’s degree or higher.   The Occupational Information Network groups technologists and technicians together, but technologists within a given field are generally more educated than technicians in that same field.

Educational Achievement Source: Occupational Information Network

Clinical laboratory tech professionals can be generalists capable of running a wide range of different tests or expert specialists in one or two kinds of tests, often depending on the size of the lab in which they work.  Small labs may employ only one or two technologists and technicians, who must be able to operate all of the lab’s diagnostic technology.  Larger labs like research labs and those found in hospitals are more likely to have specialized tech professionals working as part of a diagnostic team, each practicing a highly advanced specialization like cytotechnology (examining cells for cancer) or microbiology technology (finding and identifying foreign microorganisms).

Clinical Laboratory Technology Programs Online

Degrees possible: Associate’s, Bachelor’s, and Master’s Degrees

As with many in-demand medical support professions which require advanced, post-secondary training, there are a growing number of technical schools, colleges, and universities offering medical technology degrees of all level online.  The best of these programs will provide a rigorous, high-level education comparable to a medical technology degree offered at a local institution, but in a more flexible format better suited to working students – meaning that you will be able to continue full-time employment while completing your degree.

As with any serious educational decision, it is important to do your research when picking an online medical technology program:  is the school accredited?  Will earned credits transfer? (Transfer of credits is often a good rubric in determining the quality of an education: other educational institutions should recognize the viability of the training a course entails.) What is the school’s job placement rate?  What are people saying about this school in general and this program specifically?  If you learn better in a hands-on, work environment, consider whether the program facilitates internships.  You’ll find the answers to many of these questions within the University Bound Network of Web sites, but don’t be afraid to ask your admissions counselor pointed questions.

Clinical and Laboratory Medical Technology Skills and Abilities

Obviously, these jobs require advanced technical skills and knowledge.  A strong science and math background is useful, as with all medical technology jobs.

Clinical laboratory technologists and technicians often work as part of a diagnostic team, so communication and active listening skills are very important.  Because of the nature of the data that they analyze, attention to detail is important to clinical laboratory technologists and technicians.

Clinical and Laboratory Medical Technology Advancement and Qualification

Completion of a master’s degree in medical technology generally qualifies the recipient for rapid advancement in the field:  a clinical laboratory technologist with a master’s degree and work experience is qualified for well-paid positions like chief laboratory technologist, laboratory manager, or even the laboratory director of a smaller laboratory.

Completion of associate and bachelor’s-level clinical laboratory technology programs qualifies the graduate for entry-level positions as CLINICAL LABORATORY TECHNOLOGISTS AND TECHNICIANS.

Additional Information

The American Society for Clinical Laboratory Science (ASCLS) maintains a Web site at http://www.ascls.org.