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Medical Laboratory Scientists

“Technology has changed tremendously and all for the better. We can do many things in a medical laboratory today we weren’t able to do just a few years ago. And we can do it much faster than what we ever used to.”

That’s Terry Brockman, the Director of Laboratory Services at CCMH. Brockman has been a laboratory professional for 43 years with all of those years spent with CCMH.

“It’s obviously different today than when I started. It’s hard to remember that far back but there’s no doubt medicine has come a long ways in the last 43 years.”

Brockman says a medical laboratory scientist has many roles and responsibilities.

“We used to be called ‘medical technologists.’ The change to ‘medical laboratory scientists’ is more descriptive of the work we do. Medical laboratory scientists are highly educated individuals who perform tests on blood and other bodily fluids as well as different tissues. This aids the physicians in their diagnosis, management and treatment of a disease. Medical laboratory scientists interpret data, analyze results, develop and evaluate new testing procedures. We manage a lot of information, and we communicate with other members of the health care team. Approximately 85% of medical decisions are based on the results of laboratory testing. A diagnosis usually results from the confirmation of a disease by lab tests.”

There are a considerable number of jobs as medical laboratory scientists. Brockman says it is a field where there aren’t quite enough people who are studying for it.

“One answer is people just don’t know about us. Where radiology, pharmacy, or nursing, are the types of medical careers people are most familiar with they just don’t know as much about lab or lab techs. In fact, people that have come into our hospital as students say they really never had heard of it until they were introduced to it in college as an alternative to something else. There is a big shortage of lab techs nationwide. And most of the students that we have that come out, they have multiple opportunities to go to work.”

Brockman also notes medical laboratory technologists can earn a significant wage right out of college.

“Depending on the location and size of the facility, most new graduates could expect to make around $50,000 a year or more. There are higher salaries if you’re working evenings or nights and weekends. There’s are supervisory and management roles you can eventually work into, and you can make more money doing that.”

The variety of tasks to be completed in a given day is something that keeps the job interesting. Brockman says he’s rarely had a boring day work in the lab.

“The scope of testing that you learn about when you become a medical laboratory scientist is actually very impressive. And it takes a pretty smart person to be able to do this. For example, clinical chemistry, which is testing for chemical analytes in the blood. There’s hematology, which is examination of blood, counting the diverse types of cells, looking distinct types of cells in the blood. Urinalysis includes the detection of components and the elements that are in the urine. Microbiology, which is looking for microorganisms and then identifying them. Immunohematology, which is the blood typing and the cross matching of blood for patients. Immunology, which is detecting different antibodies that are in the blood using various tests. Some of the newer areas right now are flow cytometry and molecular diagnostics. There’s so much variety in what medical laboratory scientists do it’s difficult to be bored.”

In addition to the medical laboratory scientist positions available in hospitals, Brockman explained there are many more industries where lab research is particularly important.

“You can work in medical clinics and public health. Many jobs doing research for private laboratories. You can get into manufacturing the instrumentation used in labs and for the supplies and equipment. There are state and national crime labs, physician’s offices, fertility labs, biotechnology, and the food and cosmetics industries. There’s a host of things you can do as a medical laboratory scientist. We talk about a shortage of scientists in hospital labs. If we have that shortage, then we know that everybody else in all of those other areas is also experiencing a shortage.”

Brockman also notes there are options for education.

“There are two-year programs at most community colleges. It’s what we call a medical laboratory technician. That qualifies you to work in a laboratory. There’s a four-year degree, which is the medical laboratory science program. The four year degree involves more of the theory and delves into how things work. With those options, some are lower cost, some higher cost. It all depends upon your point of view and what your appetite is for education. Regardless of a two or four year degree, when you finish, you take a certification exam. Most hospitals, including CCMH, do require you have passed the certification exam once you’ve finished your education.”

To learn more about becoming a certified medical laboratory scientist, Brockman has several suggestions.

“People who have an interest can go online to the website for the American Society of Clinical Laboratory Science or the American Society of Clinical Pathology. We’re also happy to have students who have would like to know more about becoming a medical laboratory scientist, to give us a call or stop by the lab. We’ve had both high school and college students ‘shadow’ us for a day or week to see what we do in the lab. They can contact me by email or call the hospital, We’ll be more than happy to talk to them and then answer any questions that they might have.”



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