CLINICAL LABORATORY SCIENCE

Clinical laboratory scientists work together to determine the presence, extent, or absence of disease and provide data needed to evaluate the effectiveness of treatment. The laboratory medical team includes pathologists, specialists, technologists, and technicians.

Providing quality healthcare would be impossible without the support of a modern laboratory and its team of experts. Many medical conditions begin slowly without outward symptoms. However, changes in the body’s blood or cells can point to problems in time to take preventive action. When medical conditions are more advanced, tests performed by the laboratory staff aid physicians in diagnosing abnormalities and in selecting proper treatment approaches.

While laboratory procedures require the use of a variety of sophisticated electronic equipment, often automated, and an array of complex precision instruments, the foundation of any laboratory’s success is the men and women working there who are rarely seen by the patient but whose skills can mean the difference between life and death.

FOR MORE, CONTINUE READING OR CLICK ON ANY OF THE FOLLOWING TOPICS BELOW:

   
MEDICAL TECHNOLOGIST CYTOTECHNOLOGIST
MEDICAL TECHNICIAN HISTOTECHNOLOGIST
AREAS OF SPECIALIZATION PHLEBOTOMIST
BLOOD BANK TECHNOLOGIST BIOTECHNOLOGIST
   
WORK ENVIRONMENT
CAREER OPTIONS
 

lab-technician

WHAT CLINICAL LABORATORY SCIENTISTS DO

Work responsibilities for staff members of a modern laboratory include such tasks as the following:

  1. Examine and analyze body fluids, tissues, and cells
  2. Search for bacteria, parasites, and other micro-organisms in the body
  3. Analyze the chemical content of body fluids
  4. Match blood for transfusions
  5. Test for drug levels in the blood to evaluate how a person is responding to treatment
  6. Prepare specimens for examination
  7. Count the number of cells to determine if there is a shortage or overage
  8. Search for abnormal cells
  9. Conduct tests using sophisticated electronic equipment
  10. Analyze test results and relay them to physicians and other medical professionals
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PERSONALITY TRAITS AND INTERESTS REQUIRED

To enjoy and be successful in this field, you need to have an interest in and aptitude for biology, chemistry, and mathematics. You should be accurate in your work, reliable, enjoy research, and be able to recognize how you can affect the lives of others. You must be able to think logically, organize and prioritize tasks, have good manual dexterity, and function well under pressure. You must be able to work both independently and cooperatively with others. You also must be able to communicate effectively both orally and in writing.


MEDICAL TECHNOLOGIST

Medical laboratory technologists, also known as clinical laboratory scientists, are highly skilled professionals who possess the knowledge and training to assist the pathologist or physician in discovering what is wrong or right with a patient. They generally have a bachelor’s degree in medical technology or in one of the life sciences, or they have a combination of formal training and work experience. The medical technology educational program should be accredited by the National Accrediting Agency for Clinical Laboratory Science so it will qualify for certification. Graduates of all programs must pass an examination given by one of three national accrediting agencies (see Educational Programs for more information).

Medical Technologists analyze human blood, tissues, and body fluids. They must exercise independent judgment, correlate test results, and interpret findings. Some technologists supervise medical and clinical laboratory technicians or supervise the performance of thousands of medical laboratory tests.

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MEDICAL TECHNICIAN

Medical laboratory technicians generally work under the supervision of medical technologists and perform routine clinical laboratory tests on blood, tissue, and body fluids. Their responsibilities include collecting blood samples, preparing chemical solutions, preparing and analyzing specimens, enforcing quality control measures, maintaining equipment, keeping records of tests completed, and reporting results to the appropriate health professionals or agencies.

Completion of a two-year, accredited, associate degree program is required to apply for certification. Like medical technologists, technicians also must pass a national examination given by one of three agencies (see Educational Programs).

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AREAS OF SPECIALIZATION

Roles in the clinical laboratory are assigned based on level of education and area of certification. Minimum time of study required to apply for certification as a medical laboratory technician is two years. A pathologist (known as the doctor’s doctor because of his/her role in research and ability to interpret and report laboratory test results) may spend four or more years in additional training after completing medical school. Technologist-level certification requires a minimum of four years of study.

In addition to the areas of blood bank, cytotechnology, histology, and phlebotomy, which are covered in greater detail later, other areas or departments that make up today’s modern laboratory are as follows:

Chemistry:
Laboratory professionals use state-of-the-art technology to quickly analyze the chemical composition of blood and body fluids. Some of the tests performed in the chemistry section of the laboratory include drug testing, and glucose testing for the diagnosis of diabetes and cholesterol.

Hematology:
This area concentrates on counting, describing, and identifying cells in blood and other body fluids to assess change in shape, size, or number of cells and thus determine the possibility of such conditions as anemia or leukemia.

Immunology:
Laboratory professionals study the body’s response to disease and allergy-causing agents, and assess the efficiency of the human immune system.

Microbiology:
Here, disease-causing bacteria, parasites, and viruses are tracked down and identified. Also, growth characteristics in artificial media, chemical testing, and slide identification are used to determine which medications are best for treating infections.

Virology:
This area concentrates on tests for viral and chlamydial diseases designed to detect viruses or the body’s defense to a virus. Tests include those for herpes simplex virus, hepatitis B antibody, measles, immunity status, human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), and antibody screening (AIDS).

Laboratory Information:
Supporting all the clinical laboratory departments is Laboratory Information, which produces reports for nursing stations, physicians, and outpatient clinics. These professionals support the computerized ordering and output of results, reporting, and billing for all laboratory procedures.

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BLOOD BANK TECHNOLOGIST

This clinical laboratory scientist is responsible for the supply of all blood products necessary for the treatment of many types of blood disorders such as anemia and blood-clotting problems. Blood bank technologists perform and supervise routine and specialized tests in blood banks, transfusion centers, or blood collections centers.

Their duties include the following:
  • Identifying blood types and antibodies
  • Screening for transfusion-transmitted viruses
  • Cross-matching collected blood units with the patient’s sample to insure compatibility
  • Investigating adverse responses to transfusions
  • Supervising the collection, separation, delivery and storage of blood components
  • Supporting other healthcare professionals in blood transfusion therapy

Prior certification by the Board of Registry of the American Society of Clinical Pathologists as a medical technologist is required as well as a bachelor’s degree from a regionally accredited college or university with a major in any of the biological or physical sciences to be accepted into an accredited blood bank training program. Programs are usually 12 months in length and require that applicants have at least one year of prior work experience as a medical technologist.

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CYTOTECHNOLOGIST

Cytotechnologists specialize in the study of human cells. They are responsible for the evaluation of cellular material from all body sites. They examine human cell samples under the microscope to discover early signs of cancer or other diseases, searching for evidence of diseases in the cytoplasm and nucleus of cells that have been stained with special dyes. Of paramount importance is their ability to recognize normal and abnormal cell development and to detect malignant neoplasm, pre-cancerous lesions, infectious agents and inflammatory processes in gynecologic, non-gynecologic, and fine needle aspirate specimens. Examination of pap smears is one of their areas of expertise.

Cytotechnologists issue the final reports on normal cell evaluations and work with a pathologist to arrive at a final appraisal of abnormal cell growth. Generally, they work independently with little supervision. This specialization area requires a solid foundation in biology, chemistry, mathematics, and computer science; good eyesight; a love of research; and a great amount of patience and precision.

To become a cytotechnologist, you must have a bachelor’s degree plus clinical education in an educational program accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs and must pass a national certification examination.

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HISTOTECHNOLOGIST

Histologic technicians and histotechnologists prepare microscopic slides from sections of tissue so that pathologists can evaluate the structure and formation of cells in tissues and organs. These evaluations identify signs of disease, illness, or malignancies in the body as well as signs of normality or improvement. The technician or technologist freezes and then cuts tissue before mounting the very thin tissue sections on slides and staining them with special dyes to make them visible under the microscope. Unlike the cytotechnologist who works with human cells only, the histotechnologist or technician may study tissue samples of human, animal, or plant origin.

Professionals in this area must work quickly and perform well under pressure since tests often must be performed and results returned while the patient is in surgery. They are problem solvers and their work is critical in determining the best treatment approach for the patient. They must value precision and have good hand-eye coordination and manual dexterity.

Histotechnologists perform more difficult assignments than histologic technicians. Their responsibilities include histochemistry, electron microscopy, and immunofluorescence procedures. They often act as section supervisors, teach students, and perform complex analyses of tissue structure and cell components. Their training requirements include a bachelor’s degree followed by one year of laboratory experience or completion of an accredited histotechnology program. Technicians must complete either a 12-month hospital-based, on-the-job training program or complete a two-year associate degree program. Both professional groups must pass a national examination to earn certification.

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PHLEBOTOMIST

Professionals in this clinical laboratory science area are more directly involved with patients than any of the other specialized laboratory personnel. Their primary responsibility is to collect blood specimens from the patient in a safe, quality-controlled and reliable manner. They are integral in building trust and confidence, factors that are essential in a supportive and productive patient-technician relationship. They are the eyes and ears for the laboratory staff and must be aware of and communicate any important information obtained during the interaction with the patient.

Phlebotomists are trained to draw blood using several different techniques. Safety precautions are critical during these procedures to prevent the transmission of infectious diseases.

Educational programs for phlebotomists generally are 16-to-34 weeks in length.

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BIOTECHNOLOGIST

Biotechnology is a growing clinical science area that has developed to meet increasing demands for skilled laboratory technicians in various fields of biological and chemical technology. Biotechnologists generally are employed in various areas of industry and government, including research and development, manufacturing, sales, and customer service. They are particularly involved in the production of pharmaceuticals and in research and diagnostic activities. Educational programs for biotechnologists generally are two-year, associate degree, applied science curriculums.

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WORK ENVIRONMENT

Clinical laboratory scientists work in a variety of settings, including hospital and independent laboratories, clinics, health maintenance organizations (HMOs), public health agencies, pharmaceutical firms, research institutions, scientific equipment companies, blood donor centers, physician offices, and at teaching institutions. Hours vary depending on the size and type of employment setting. Large hospital laboratories operate around the clock in day, evening, and night shifts – both during the week and on the weekends. Smaller hospitals may have rotating shifts. In some facilities, personnel may be on call several nights a week or on weekends for emergencies. Although clinical laboratory specialists work with infectious specimens, proper methods of infection control address and prevent hazards.

CAREER OPTIONS

Clinical laboratory scientists in all areas can look forward to an increasing demand for their special skills as the baby boomer generation ages into that group of older adults who use hospital facilities more frequently. With experience and advanced study, these scientists can move up to supervisory positions in hospitals, to teaching positions in colleges and universities, or to research positions for special projects. Some clinical laboratory scientists join private business and work for large scientific or medical companies directing their research and development laboratories.

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