Medical Technologist Degree Programs and Training

Among allied health professionals, medical technologists are often thought of as canny sleuths or detectives, collecting and analyzing the clues and evidence so crucial to conclusive medical diagnoses. Like crime scene investigators, medical technologists deploy an array of sophisticated tests and laboratory procedures to solve the everyday clinical mysteries that lead to successful treatments. Specifically, the medical technologist -- also commonly known as a medical laboratory scientist -- can be charged with conducting chemical analyses of blood and other body fluids, cultivating and identifying microbial organisms that cause disease, and calibrating and operating specialized equipment used to pinpoint the cause of a patient's medical problems. Effective treatments and preventative care measures rely on precise diagnoses; technologists are the folks in the white lab coats with the knowledge, training, and skills to carry out needed tests and deliver decisive results.

Medical technologist degree programs

Work as a technician in a medical lab typically requires a one- to two-year associate degree or postsecondary certificate. However, medical technologists are entrusted with greater responsibilities, which can include overseeing the work of technicians and other laboratory staff. So, becoming a medical technologist calls for a higher level of training, typically in the form of a four-year bachelor's degree program. Some colleges and universities offer specialized Bachelor of Science degree programs in medical technology or medical laboratory science, but the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS.gov) notes that a B.S. in one of the life sciences, like biology, is also acceptable.

In addition, schools associated with medical institutions often include clinical courses of study in hospital settings that students attend during their senior year. For further training and specialization, there are master's of science degree programs available in medical technology and related fields (clinical laboratory science and medical research), but ONet Online's latest numbers from 2013 indicate that only 5 percent of people working in the field held master's degrees.

Medical technologist training

Becoming a medical technologist begins with a solid grounding in the life sciences. The BLS suggests that, "high school students interested in pursuing a career in the medical laboratory sciences should take courses in chemistry, biology, and mathematics." Four-year bachelor's degree programs in medical technology and medical laboratory science also cover chemistry, biology, and mathematics, as well as microbiology, statistics, and clinical laboratory skills. Some of the other courses that are commonly part of a medical technologist's training include:

• Phlebotomy -- proper protocols for drawing and testing blood for analysis, transfusions, and research.

• Bacteriology -- the branch of medical microbiology that deals with cultivating and identifying bacteria affecting human health.

• Hematology -- the study of diseases of the blood.

• Mycology -- the biology of fungi affecting human health.

• Immunodiagnostics -- the analysis of antigen-antibody reactions in the human body.

Due to the sophisticated nature of the laboratory equipment used by medical technologists and the sensitive nature of patient care and treatment, clinical training is integral to medical technology and medical laboratory science degree programs. In place of less formal internships, many hospital offer such training for students in the their final year of college study to insure that newly certified medical technologists are familiar with the tools of the trade, from automated chemistry and hematology analyzers, to software for laboratory information systems and electronic medical records.

Medical technologist career outlook

The rapid pace of technological innovation and the demand for the most up-to-date health care systems have combined to keep medical technologists in high demand. The national average annual income for medical and clinical laboratory technologists, according to the latest BLS numbers from May of 2013, was $59,460. That average topped out at just over $60,000 a year for technologists working in general medical and surgical hospitals, which is where a majority (94,150 of the 162,630) were employed.

The BLS expects those numbers to grow at a rate of 14 percent from 2012 to 2022, which is slightly above the average for all occupations. In part this is due to increasing specialization in the field. Large hospitals and laboratories often employ technologists with specific areas of expertise, including blood bank technologists, microbiology and molecular biology technologists, and immunology technologists. As physicians order more testing to meet the needs of an aging population, and a growing group of people gain access to health care, they'll be relying on the next generation of medical technology degree program graduates to ensure that all of the vital lab work is handled with the proper expertise by laboratory professionals.

Sources

Medical and Clinical Laboratory Technologist and Technician, Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2012, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/medical-and-clinical-laboratory-technologists-and-technicians.htm

Medical and Clinical Laboratory Technologist, Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Employment and Wages, May 2013, http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes292011.htm

Summary Report for: Medical and Clinical Laboratory Technologist, ONet Online, 2013, http://www.onetonline.org/link/summary/29-2011.00#Education

Merriam-Webster Medical Dictionary, 2014, http://www.merriam-webster.com/browse/medical/a.htm

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