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Clinical laboratory technologists identify diseases by conducting complex medical tests involving chemistry, biology, hematology, immunology, microscopy, and bacteriology. Technologists often oversee the work of clinical laboratory technicians, who assist them in tests and laboratory procedures. Technologists use microscopes, cell counters and other laboratory equipment to analyze bodily fluids to determine the presence of bacteria, fungi, parasites, or other types of microorganisms living in the body. Technologists also match blood for transfusions; test drug levels in the blood to determine how a patient is responding to treatment, prepare specimens for examination, count cells, and relay information to physicians.
Automation has become an integral part of the clinical laboratory technologist's job, changing their day-to-day duties. As clinical laboratory equipment becomes more automated, technologists' analytical skills are becoming among their most important assets. Additionally, technologists must stay up-to-date on the latest computer technologies in the field, as computers are central to automated laboratory equipment.
In addition to possessing exceptional analytical skills, clinical laboratory technologists must be extremely detail-oriented. Because even tiny differences in test results can substantially alter the diagnosis and treatment of diseases, this is vital. Technologists also must possess excellent manual dexterity and color vision, and work well under pressure. Computer skills are becoming more important as laboratory automation advances.
According to the U.S. Department of Labor's Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the median annual salary for clinical laboratory technologists was $53,500 in 2008. The lowest 10 percent earned a median $36,180 a year, while the highest 10 percent earned a median $74,680 per year. The highest mean salaries were found in the federal government, as seen in the following break down of salaries by employer:
- Federal Executive Branch (OES designation): $60,480
- General medical and surgical hospitals: $54,870
- Medical and diagnosis laboratories: $53,890
- Offices of physicians: $50,110
- Colleges, universities, and professional schools: $49,340
Training and Education
The Clinical Laboratory Improvement Act requires clinical laboratory technologists who perform complex tasks to have an associate's degree. But most employers require their technologists to have a bachelor's degree in medical technology or life sciences. Bachelor's degree programs include courses in chemistry, biological sciences, microbiology, mathematics, statistics, and specialized clinical laboratory courses, and are offered through universities and hospitals. Many programs also include courses in computers, business, and management.
In the U.S. there are 470 programs for medical and clinical laboratory technologists that are fully accredited by the National Accrediting Agency for Clinical Laboratory Sciences (NAACLS). The Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs and the Accrediting Bureau of Health Education Schools, also nationally recognized agencies in the field, accredit specialized areas for clinical laboratory workers. There are a number of professional organizations that offer certification in the field, each with their own requirements for certification; many employers prefer their clinical laboratory technologists to be certified. Certification might help technologists to advance to supervisory positions. Completing a master's or doctorate degree might also lead to advancement.
In 2008, clinical laboratory technologists and technicians held 319,000 jobs in 2006. Of these, 167,000 were technologists. More than half of the positions were found in hospitals, the biggest employers of clinical laboratory employees. The second-largest employers were medical and diagnostic laboratories.
According to the BLS, rapid growth in employment of clinical laboratory technologists will lead to excellent job opportunities. The BLS estimates there will be 12 percent growth in technologist jobs between 2006 and 2016, or from 167,000 to 188,000. Although most jobs should continue to be in hospitals, employment should grow faster in other settings, such as medical and diagnostic laboratories and doctor's offices.About the Author
Candice Mancini is a freelance writer and a teacher of AP English literature and college writing. She has an M.A. in Education and a B.A. in English and history.