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What is a Clinical Laboratory Science Degree?
Medical laboratory technologists, also referred to as medical laboratory scientists, perform complex diagnostic tests. The data that they provide is crucial in identifying cancer, heart disease, diabetes, and many other illnesses and conditions. In the simplest of terms, these scientists are the detectives of healthcare, whose work helps doctors determine appropriate treatment for patients.
Degree programs in clinical laboratory science are centered on clinical chemistry – the study of bodily fluids, hematology – the study of the physiology of the blood, immunology and serology – the study and analysis of the immune system’s response to disease, immunohematology – the study of the reactions between antigens and antibodies associated with blood transfusion, and parasitology – the study of parasitic organisms such as viruses and bacteria.
The bachelor’s degree is the most prominent credential in the field. Associate level programs exist, but they are aimed at medical laboratory technicians, not at laboratory technologists/scientists.
Note: It is important to select an education program that is accredited by the National Accrediting Agency for Clinical Laboratory Sciences (NAACLS). This ensures that the curriculum meets the requirements of the American Society for Clinical Pathology (ASCP) / Board of Certification for Medical Laboratory Science.
Associate Degree in Clinical Laboratory Science – Two Year Duration
The Associate Degree in Clinical Laboratory Science is designed for students who wish to work as clinical lab technicians, who work under the direction of clinical lab technologists. Technicians in the field collect, process, and analyze biological specimens. Technologists perform advanced analyses and evaluate and interpret results and data.
Bachelor’s Degree in Clinical Laboratory Science – Four Year Duration
A bachelor’s degree is generally the minimum requirement to work as a clinical laboratory scientist or technologist. Typically, students begin their clinical laboratory science concentration in their junior year. This means that in the first two years of undergraduate studies students have considerable freedom regarding the courses they take. They must, however, complete some prerequisite coursework in preparation for the two academic years of clinical laboratory science-specific study. These prerequisites vary somewhat from school to school, but normally include credits in sciences and mathematics or statistics.
Below is a snapshot of the courses that make up the two years of a bachelor’s program that are focused on clinical laboratory science. The curriculum consists of lectures, labs, and a practicum component. At the associate, level, the curriculum is structured around these same topics, but provides students with fundamental, less in-depth study and fewer, less extensive practicum experiences.
- Procedures in Phlebotomy – venipuncture, skin puncture, medical terminology, laboratory safety, CPR, basic anatomy and physiology, specimen collection techniques, hazards and complications, quality assurance methods, medicolegal issues of phlebotomy, clinical rotations
- Urine and Body Fluid Analysis I – urinalysis screening procedure and its application in the diagnosis of renal, systemic, and metabolic diseases; analysis and morphology (form and structural relationships) of body fluids
- Medical Parasitology – medically important parasites: life cycles, clinical features, infective diagnostic stages; slide studies, and diagnostic procedures
- Quantitative Analysis (Chemical) – chemical principles important to analytical clinical chemistry; judging the accuracy and precision of experimental data and the application of statistical methods; fundamental and practical aspects of chemical analysis, neutralization titrations, acid-base titrations, spectrophotometric methods, and electrochemical and chromatographic methodologies
- Physiology – physiology of the human body including cellular, neuromuscular, cardiovascular, respiratory, gastrointestinal, renal, and endocrine systems
- Hematology I – normal hematologic physiology, cellular development, and hemostasis in the human; pathophysiology, clinical and laboratory evaluation of hematologic status; theory and background of laboratory procedures used in diagnosis and treatment of hematologic and other diseases; evaluation of normal and abnormal cellular morphology
- Hematology II – routine and special laboratory procedures used in diagnosis and treatment of hematologic and other diseases; peripheral blood-cell morphology, haematopoiesis, maturation, and kinetics; pathophysiology of hematologic disorders, including anemias and hematologic malignancies; correlation of hemostasis testing with clinical hemostatic disorders
- Clinical Immunology – basic principles of immunology; humoral and cell-mediated immunity, complement, autoimmunity, immunodeficiency, hypersensitivity, tumor immunology, transplant immunology, virology, syphilis serology, immunologic laboratory techniques; laboratory procedures and clinical significance
- Clinical and Pathogenic Microbiology I – microbiological concepts, the major groups of pathogenic bacteria and their relationship to human disease, clinical lab identification methods and procedures
- Clinical and Pathogenic Microbiology II – nature and control of microorganisms encountered in clinical material and various anatomical sites; antimicrobial agents, mycology, and virology, including hepatic viruses and HIV/AIDS
- Biochemistry – chemical structure and metabolism of carbohydrates, amino acids, lipids, and nucleic acids; protein synthesis, functions, and analysis; enzymes and their structure, function, kinetics, and regulation
- Clinical Chemistry I – fluids and electrolytes, acid-base balance, carbohydrates and diabetes mellitus, and proteins; quality assurance, method evaluation, and establishment of reference ranges
- Clinical Chemistry II – lipids, lipoproteins, cardiovascular disease, enzymes, liver function, and the endocrine system; thyroid, parathyroid, adrenal cortex and catecholamines, and steroids; reproduction, pregnancy, and fetal well-being; therapeutic drug monitoring and toxicology
- Immunohematology I – fundamentals of antigen-antibody reactions, major blood-group systems, compatibility testing, and antibody-identification techniques; clinical analysis of hemolytic disease of the newborn
- Immunohematology II – blood collection, donor testing, component preparation, and quality management in the collection facility; identification of multiple antibodies, typing discrepancies, hemotherapy, hazards of transfusion, and investigation of autoimmune hemolytic disease
- Introduction to the Senior Year Clinical Practicum – the clinical laboratory and its operations; pre-analytical, analytical, and post-analytical areas
- Urine and Body Fluid Analysis II – theory, clinical experience, and analytical techniques; assessing and interpreting data; evaluating and comparing methodologies; urinalysis screening procedures and applications in the diagnosis of renal, systemic, and metabolic diseases; processing, analysis, and morphologic evaluation of body fluids
- Diagnostic Microbiology – theory, clinical experience, and analytical techniques; assessing and interpreting data; evaluating and comparing methodologies; diagnostic bacteriology, mycology, and virology; isolation and identification of pathogenic microorganisms; susceptibility, testing, instrumentation, and rapid identification methods
- Clinical Parasitology – theory, clinical experience, and analytical techniques; assessing and interpreting data; evaluating and comparing methodologies; review of medical parasitology; testing for and identifying pathogenic parasites
- Hematology III – theory, clinical experience, and analytical techniques; assessing and interpreting data; evaluating and comparing methodologies; review of hemostasis, cellular quantification and identification techniques, and clinical hematology; white cell, red cell, platelet, and hemostatic disorders
- Clinical Chemistry III – theory, clinical experience, and analytical techniques; assessing and interpreting data; evaluating and comparing methodologies; carbohydrates, proteins, lipids, enzymology, electrolytes, acid-base balance, endocrine system, and therapeutic drug monitoring
- Immunoassay and Molecular Diagnostic Techniques – immunoassay methodologies, immunoassay technologies, and chemiluminescence; molecular diagnostic techniques such as extraction and purification, DNA sequencing, and amplification technologies; laboratory design and safety issues
- Immunohematology III – theory and techniques used in transfusion medicine; type and screen, antibody identification, investigation of hemolytic disease of the newborn, hemotherapy, and hazards of transfusion; donor facilities, donor criteria, records management, component preparation, blood storage, and infectious disease testing
- Clinical Laboratory Management I – management styles, professional communications, business ethics, team building, process management, process control, and personnel
- Clinical Laboratory Management II – financial management and decision making, healthcare reimbursement systems, coding, billing, development of operating budgets, financial reports, inventory management
- Clinical Laboratory Management III – quality management, government agencies, legislation, regulatory bodies
- Special Procedures – theory-based and clinical assessment and interpretation of data; comparisons of methodologies including immunoassays, thin-layer and high-pressure liquid chromatography, electrophoresis, spectrophotometry, toxicology, and amino acids assay
- Clinical Practicum I – parasitology, hematology, urinalysis, body fluids
- Clinical Practicum II – microbiology and immunohematology, transfusion services, blood collection, quality control procedures and evaluation
- Clinical Practicum III – chemistry and special procedures
Degrees Similar to Clinical Laboratory Science
The focus of biochemistry is the chemical processes and reactions that occur in living matter. Biochemists apply principles of both biology and chemistry to issues in many different sectors, including the environment, medicine and health, industry and manufacturing, agriculture, biofuels, and marine science.
Majors in this field study engineering and the life sciences to create new products – such as vaccines, medicines, growth hormones for plants, and food additives – for the agricultural, industrial, and environmental industries. Among typical classes are biochemistry, general biology, cell biology, chemistry, and genetics.
Chemistry deals with identifying the substances that make up matter. Degree programs in chemistry focus on investigating these substances: their properties; how they interact, combine, and change; and how scientists can use chemical processes to form new substances.
Cytotechnology is the study of cells and cellular anomalies. Cytotechnologists use a microscope to examine slides of human cells to uncover evidence of abnormalities that may reveal inflammation, infection, or disease.
Forensic chemistry applies the principle and techniques of chemistry to the testing of evidence from victims and crime scenes.
The objective of forensic science is to solve crimes by applying science and scientific methods to the justice system. Degrees programs in the field, therefore, train students to use cutting-edge techniques to examine and interpret evidence in criminal and civil cases. Because forensic science draws upon the sciences of biology, physics, and chemistry, these subject areas make up an important part of the forensics curriculum.
Materials scientists apply principles of engineering, physics, and chemistry to study existing materials and invent and manufacture new materials. Their work has broad applications to solving real-world problems. It is essential to our everyday lives. Degree programs in materials science cover the structure and composition of materials, how they behave under various conditions, and how they can be manipulated and combined for specific uses in specific industries – from health and engineering to electronics, construction, and manufacturing.
Microbiology is the study of all living organisms that are too small to see with the naked eye. These ‘microbes’ include bacteria, archaea, viruses, fungi, prions, protozoa, and algae.
Degree programs in molecular biology teach the composition, structure, and interactions of cellular molecules like nucleic acids and proteins that are essential to cell function.
Nuclear Medicine Technology
Nuclear medicine technology uses radioactive drugs or radiopharmaceuticals to help diagnose and treat illnesses. Programs in the field include courses in anatomy and physiology, physics, medical microbiology and immunology, radiobiology, and pathophysiology.
Pharmacologists study how drugs and medicines work so they can be used in the right way. The work naturally involves an understanding of chemical and biological interactions.
Radiological Science and Technologies
Degree programs in radiological science and technologies prepare students for careers as radiologic technologists. These professionals, also known as radiographers, use medical diagnostic equipment, tools, and instruments to capture images of the organs, bones, and tissues inside the body. They also analyze and interpret these images in consultation with doctors and other medical team members.
In addition to learning imaging procedures and image interpretation, students take foundational courses in anatomy and physiology, physics, and pathology. They also learn how to maintain imaging equipment, prepare patients for imaging procedures, and protect patients from harmful radiation.
Surgical technology certificate and degree programs teach students how to be effective members of operating room teams. Students learn how to equip operating rooms for specific procedures, how to prepare patients for surgery, how to sterilize surgical instruments, and how to assist doctors, nurses, and patients. Coursework includes anatomy and physiology, surgical patient care, and health law and ethics.
Skills You’ll Learn
Here are some of the competencies associated with the study of clinical laboratory science:
- Ability to use technology – clinical laboratory professionals need to be able to operate computerized lab equipment
- Attention to detail – following instructions and being meticulous in performing procedures and tests are essential to the job
- Communication and collaboration – although individual clinical laboratory technologists often perform their assignments independently, the laboratory environment in which they work is a collaborative, team environment
- Manual dexterity – a large part of the work involves working with needles and precision instruments
- Physical stamina – the work involves standing for long periods of time and turning disabled patients to collect samples for testing
- Stress management – the medical and health implications of the work can make it stressful
What Can You Do with a Clinical Laboratory Science Degree?
Career options for clinical laboratory science grads span the fields of clinical analysis and testing, research, public health, education, and industry.
These are the most common workplaces for clinical laboratory technologists:
- Medical and surgical hospitals
- Medical and diagnostic laboratories
- Physicians’ offices
- Colleges, universities, and professional schools
- Outpatient care centers
These are additional areas of employment:
- Pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies
- Blood banks
- Health information systems
- Scientific research laboratories
- Federal government agencies
- Public health facilities / patient education
- Medical product development, marketing, and sales
- Forensic medicine / DNA analysis / crime investigation
- Food, cosmetic, and consumer-product testing laboratories
- Health insurance companies, in the role of insurance underwriter
- Veterinary practices and laboratories
- Non-profits and Non-governmental organizations (NGOs) such as Doctors Without Borders and the Peace Corps
These are among the most common titles in the field:
- Clinical Laboratory Scientist
- Clinical Laboratory Technologist
- Laboratory Scientist
- Medical Laboratory Technologist
- Medical Laboratory Scientist
- Medical Technologist
A degree in clinical laboratory science is also an excellent pre-medicine degree, as it fulfills the requirements to apply for medical school.
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