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The pathology laboratory offers doctors powerful diagnostic tools. Laboratory personnel perform tests on a wide range of blood and tissue samples, identifying everything from blood type to bacteria and from cancer cells to genetic abnormalities. Laboratory staff includes technicians and technologists. Technologists benefit from longer training and perform more complex procedures than technicians. It could be called medical technologists, medical laboratory scientists, or clinical laboratory scientists, depending on your employer and their certifications.
Terminology and Certification
Medical technologists and clinical laboratory scientists perform the same roles, undergo the same training, and write the same tests. The difference between them is purely a terminology. Some workplaces and accreditation organizations use one term and some the other. For example, technologists obtain their certification through American Medical Technologists or the American Association of Bioanalysts would use the MT (AMT) or MT (AAB) credential and are called medical technologists. Their peers who certify through the American Society for Clinical Pathology would wear the MLS credential, identifying them as ASCP-certified medical laboratory scientists. Technologists can also earn specialized certifications in cytotechnology, histotechnology, and other disciplines.
Medical laboratory technicians are limited to performing only routine tests in most situations. Medical technologists or clinical laboratory scientists generally supervise the work of technicians in addition to their own duties. Technologists perform more demanding tasks, such as high-tech molecular and genetic testing. They also deal with samples that present unusual diagnostic challenges, where their further training and experience can help select appropriate testing agents and methodologies. Technologists prepare tissue samples and slides for pathologists to use, often scan them in advance, and only those with irregularities send them to the doctor. This frees the pathologist for the most demanding tasks.
Medical technologists require a solid science background, ideally beginning in high school. They must earn a bachelor’s degree in laboratory science through a college or university program accredited by the National Accreditation Agency for Clinical Laboratory Sciences, or NAACLS. The curriculum typically includes a high concentration in science, with a special emphasis on biology, microbiology, and organic chemistry. Students also receive hands-on instruction through a series of clinical rotations, learning testing procedures in a working laboratory, under the supervision of experienced technicians. Some states require graduates to pass a licensing exam. Certification is voluntary but improves earnings and job prospects.
Income and Perspective
In its May 2011 figures, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported an average salary of $ 57,010 for medical technologists, with the lowest-paid 10% earning up to $ 39,550 and the highest-earning $ 78,160 per year or more. The 2010 ASCP salary survey reported average salaries of $ 54,412 for the personal level of technologists and $ 65,478 for supervisors. A similar study by the journal “Medical Laboratory Observer” reported an average technologist salary of $ 60,815. Prospects are subdued, with BLS projected job growth at 11% between 2010 and 2020.