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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.

How to Become a Medical Technologist

If you've seen an episode of a hospital drama TV show, then you may have noticed that a great deal of the detective work involved in diagnosing various conditions takes place outside of the patient's room, in labs equipped with sophisticated equipment designed to analyze everything from blood and cellular structure to fungi and bacteria. In the real world of medicine, much of this behind-the-scenes analysis is carried out by the highly trained scientists in lab coats known as medical technologists. These are the clinical analysts who carry out tests crucial in determining the biological causes of disease — the laboratory scientists of the health care industry. Indeed, medical technologists are also commonly referred to as medical laboratory scientists, and medical technologist degrees often fall under the heading of clinical laboratory science.

Medical technologist program requirements and prerequisites

Early on, the path to earn a career as a medical technologist is not all that different from the route taken by anyone interested in pursuing a career in medicine. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS.gov) recommends a strong grounding in biology, chemistry and mathematics, which can begin to take shape as early as high school. While those interested strictly in a medical or nursing degree will eventually move on to professional programs, medical technologists can begin planning out a career path while enrolled in a four-year bachelor's degree program. Again, this starts with solid foundation of math and science courses, including statistics and microbiology. But, unlike medical technicians, who can typically begin work after completing a one- to two-year associate's degree program, medical technologists are tasked with greater responsibilities that call for a higher level of training.

As the BLS notes, a Bachelor of Science is the basic requirement for embarking on a career as a medical technologists. Many four-year colleges and universities offer programs of study specifically tailored to the needs of medical technologists, whether it be a B.S. in medical technology or in medical laboratory science. However, completion of an undergraduate degree program in biology, the life sciences or allied health technologies is usually also considered adequate preparation for a career as a medical technologist.

Medical technologist skills and qualifications

By definition, medical technologists require a deep knowledge and familiarity with the instruments of a medical laboratory. ONet Online points out that critical thinking and complex problem solving skills are also an important part of what goes into being a successful medical technologist, as is the ability to carefully apply scientific methodology. Medical technologists may not deal as directly with patients as doctors and nurses, but the work a technologist performs in the lab is a key component of a proper diagnosis and treatment plan. Most bachelor degree programs include at least one year of clinical experience in a hospital setting, and many hospitals offer such training to qualified applicants. Medical technologist certification, which is required by many states, requires at least one full year working full-time in a clinical setting.

The American Society of Clinical Pathologists Board of Certification lists, as a prerequisite, two years of clinical lab experience in blood banking, chemistry, hematology, microbiology, immunology and urinalysis/body fluids. It is also expected that applicants will have completed a range of coursework in biological sciences, chemistry and mathematics. Other subjects typically covered as part of a degree program include:

  • Phlebotomy
  • Bacteriology
  • Hematology
  • Mycology
  • Immunodiagnostics

In addition, medical technologists need to be familiar with software applications for laboratory information systems and electronic medical records.

Working environment for medical technologists

The day-to-day work of a technologist can include collecting and preparing blood and tissues samples, microscopic and chemical analysis of specimens, checking lab reports, calibrating equipment and delivering test results to physicians and patients. In larger hospitals and testing facilities, medical technologists and technicians work in specialized groups: there are blood bank technologists, immunology technologists, microbiology technologists, and molecular biology technologists and cytotechnologists.

Medical innovations and technological advances have kept the demand for medical technologists high, as has an aging population base in need of medical care. The BLS expects employment for medical technologists to grow at a slightly above average rate of 14 percent from 2012 through 2022. The latest BLS report, from May of 2013, pegs the national average annual income for those currently in the field at $59,460. While general medical and surgical hospitals employed the largest number of medical technologists (94,150 out of a total 162,630), techs can also find work in independent and hospital-affiliated diagnostic laboratories, as well as private medical practices and clinics.

Medical Technologist Career

Are there other titles medical technologists?

Medical technologists can also be referred to as clinical laboratory scientists or clinical laboratory technologists. Medical Technologist and Clinical Laboratory Scientists are the same position educationally, but the difference in title is due to the organization one is credentialed by. Following the merger of the credentialing bodies, anyone becoming newly credentialed will have the title of “Medical Laboratory Scientist” (MLS). Casually in the field these professionals are referred to as “Med Techs”.

What types of other health care professionals work in the lab with medical technologists?

A different position in this field is that of the medical technician, commonly referred to as a clinical laboratory technician. This individual typically performs similar tests as medical technologists, but only is required to have an associate’s degree. Therefore, they have less training in the theory behind concepts and reaction. Due to not having as thorough of training as medical technologists who have a bachelor’s degree, medical technicians typically are paid less.

A medical lab assistant, commonly referred to as MLA or lab tech, typically works with a medical technologist but cannot perform the same job duties due to not being required to have formal training. MLAs prepare specimens for the medical tech to run the tests. This involves ensuring the specimen is correctly labeled and in the correct tube and entering the necessary information into the computer. MLAs are able to run some tests like urinalysis, but cannot test blood.

A cytotechnologist is another profession that is often employed in a lab setting. These individuals prepare and examine slides containing body cells under a microscope for abnormalities.

A histotechnologist prepares slides and specimens for the pathologist to review. The specimens may include that of placentas, body tissue, and bone marrow to name a few.

Phlebotomists also typically work in a lab. These professionals actually draw the blood from the patients. Sometimes individuals are dual tasked to work as the lab’s phlebotomist and medical lab assistant.

In a medical technologist career, one also works closely with pathologists since they serve as the “medical supervisors” of the lab, sharing their knowledge and expertise. Pathologists also sign off on policies and procedures and perform extra analyses of certain lab work, ensuring they are medically correct. Pathologists also serve as the liaison between the lab and other physicians.


Medical techs also work with certified nursing assistants, nurses, and sometimes doctors. Oftentimes with certain test results medical technologists have to report the information to nurses or even the ordering physician.

What types of equipment are used in this field?

Medical technologists use advanced laboratory equipment to run their analysis of a variety of types of specimen. Microscopes, cell counters, and automated analysis machines are a few of the types of equipment used in the field.

Medical Technologist Salary

Medical technologists work behind the scenes, performing a range of tasks that deal with preparing, studying and analyzing laboratory specimens. From microscopic to hematological analysis, medical technologists prepare tissues, body fluids and other items to be tested in various laboratory settings, including physician offices, hospitals, clinical labs and more.

Medical technologists are also commonly known as medical laboratory technologists, clinical laboratory technologists, and clinical scientists.

Salary overview for medical technologists

CareerAnnual Mean WageBottom 10% Annual WageTop 10% Annual Wage
Clinical Laboratory Technologists and Technicians$53,230$29,640$79,530
Source: 2016 Occupational Employment Statistics and 2016-26 Employment Projections, Bureau of Labor Statistics, BLS.gov.

The national median salary for medical technologists was $58,430 in 2013, according to earnings data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS.gov). Because wages can be impacted by numerous factors including location, experiencing and certifications, salaries for medical technologists ranged from approximately $39,000 to $80,000 in 2013.

The national salary breakdown by earning percentile in 2013 is as follows:

  • 10% - up to $39,940
  • 25% - $49,100
  • Median - $58,5430
  • 75% - $69,900
  • 90% - at least $80,820

Complementing the wage data from the BLS is a 2013 salary report from the American Society for Clinical Pathology (ASCP). The ASCP report details both annual and hourly wages for medical technologists, medical laboratory scientists and clinical laboratory scientists. National average salaries for medical and clinical laboratory technicians varied by title and position, according to ASCP:

  • Staff: $56,430
  • Lead: $64,085
  • Supervisor/Manager: $77,113
  • Laboratory Director: $92,946

The highest paying settings, per hour, for medical technologists included the following:

  • Physician's office laboratory: $24.99
  • Hospital (<100-299 beds): $30.89
  • Hospital (300-499 beds): $35.17
  • Hospital (>500 beds): $35.36

Best paying states for clinical laboratory scientists

The best states for medical technologist annual incomes included California ($79,710), Connecticut ($70,110), Massachusetts ($69,000), New Jersey ($65,930) and Vermont ($65,630), according to income data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Medical technologists earned salaries greater than the national average in 20 states, taking home between $58,530 and $79,710. Overall, the top ten paying states in 2013 included the following:

  1. California: $79,710
  2. Connecticut: $70,110
  3. Massachusetts: 69,000
  4. New Jersey: $65,930
  5. Vermont: $65,630
  6. Alaska: $65,450
  7. Rhode Island: $65,160
  8. Oregon: $64,950
  9. New York: $64,440
  10. Nevada: $63,750

The remaining thirty states had annual average salaries spanning from South Carolina ($44,930) to Montana ($58,510). The lowest paying states include Arkansas ($49,150), New Mexico ($48,340) and South Carolina ($44,930).

Employment projections for medical and clinical laboratory technologists

CareerTotal EmploymentProjected Job Growth Rate
Clinical Laboratory Technologists and Technicians322,38012.7%
Source: 2016 Occupational Employment Statistics and 2016-26 Employment Projections, Bureau of Labor Statistics, BLS.gov.

The medical technology and clinical science field is quickly growing and expanding nationally. In fact, the BLS projects 22 percent job growth in the US between 2012 and 2022. Texas (13,160), California (10,240) and New York (9,830) had the largest number of medical technologists employed in 2013, according to BLS employment data.

The top ten states for total employment of medical technologists in 2013 included:

  1. Texas: 13,160
  2. California: 10,240
  3. New York: 9,830
  4. Florida: 9,370
  5. Pennsylvania: 8,600
  6. Michigan: 7,000
  7. Ohio: 6,440
  8. Massachusetts: 6,310
  9. Illinois: 6,080
  10. Georgia: 5,300

ON the other hand, the best employment opportunities are projected to be in Utah (26.1%), Texas (23.3%) and Colorado (22.3%) between 2012 and 2022. The top ten states for total employment growth for medical technologists between 2012 and 2022, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics includes the following:

  1. Utah: 26.1%
  2. Texas: 23.3%
  3. Colorado: 22.3%
  4. Alaska: 21.8%
  5. Indiana: 21%
  6. Washington: 20.2%
  7. Virginia: 19.9%
  8. Idaho: 19.7%
  9. Arizona: 19.6%
  10. Minnesota: 17.3%

With growing employment opportunities and above average salary potential, becoming a medical technologist is a career path that prospective students may want to consider.

Medical Technologist Schools

Is a medical technology degree is required for a job in this field?

A four-year bachelor’s degree in medical technology or another related science field, along with passing a national certification exam administered by American Society of Clinical Pathologists, is required to work as a medical technologist. In order to pass the medical technologist certification exam, it helps to have completed a degree specific to medical technology.

Are internships required to graduate from a medical technology program?

Each school and medical technology program has different requirements in terms of internships, however almost all programs require some type of internship or practical experience in order to graduate. Some programs require just one semester, and others require a full year of clinical rotations. There are even programs that allow students to take classes online their final semester so they have the ability to relocate. Oftentimes, especially due to the shortage of medical technologists, students are hired at the lab or hospital they complete their clinical rotation at.

What types of medical technologist schools are available?

Typically a degree in medical technology can be earned from a larger four-year university. There are some online programs for this field as well.

What types of courses are included in a medical technology degree program? Each medical technology bachelor’s degree will differ in the courses required to graduate, but there are some main courses all programs include. Examples of classes typically in a medical technology program include:

  • Human anatomy and physiology – the study of the body, its processes, and how everything works together
  • Mathematics, including statistics
  • Microbiology – the study of organisms and bacteria
  • Lab Management
  • Chemistry –this class usually pertains to more of the clinical level of chemistry such as how your body produces chemicals and uses byproducts.
  • Coagulation –pertains to the process your blood goes through in order to clot, and how to determine different types of deficiencies
  • Disease Processes – the processes of disease and how medications can affect those processes
  • Hematology – the study of red and white blood cells and what is present in these cells during disease states and illnesses

Medical Technologist Training

Medical technologist training is not complete without passing the certification exam. Medical technologists nationwide are required to pass a national board exam administered by the American Society for Clinical Pathology (ASCP). Recently there was a merger between two different accrediting bodies; the ASCP and the National Credentialing Agency for Laboratory Personnel (NCALP). The education required to sit for either certification exam was the same; a bachelor’s degree in medical technology or another science related major. The only difference was that someone who sat for the ASCP exam would earn the credentials “MT” for Medical Technologist and those who sat for the NCALP would earn the CLS credentials for Clinical Laboratory Scientist. Following the merger the credentials a person who passes the exam now earns are Medical Laboratory Scientist (MLS).

In order to sit for the ASCP certification exam a person must have graduated from an accredited bachelor’s degree program in medical technology or a science-based field. While those with a science-based degree are able to sit for the exam, it is advantageous and advised to graduate from an actual medical technology program because it better prepares one to pass this complex exam.

The cumulative exam is computer-based and includes all multiple-choice questions. Each question is weighed in terms of difficulty so if a person continues to answer questions correctly, the test then provides more difficult questions which lessens the total number of questions one has to answer. The test includes different sections related to the different fields of study in a medical technology degree program. Sections tested include: hematology, coagulation, immunology, immunohematology, chemistry and microbiology. Tests are offered at a variety of testing centers at different times based on the location of choice.

Is state licensure required in this field?

To practice anywhere in the United States, medical technologists must be certified through the American Society for Clinical Pathology. However, only a handful of states additionally require state licensure to practice; California and New York being two of them. For the states that require a licensure to practice as a medical technologist, typically an exam must be passed that is specific to the scope of practice in that state.

What are the continuing education requirements for medical technologists?

The American Society of Clinical Pathology requires 30 continuing education units every three years in order for medical technologists to maintain their credential. Oftentimes these credits can be earned through ones employer without charge, and there are also seminars and a plethora of other opportunities for continuing education.

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

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

Technologist/Scientist Certification, American Society of Clinical Pathologists Board of Certification, 2014, http://www.ascp.org/Board-of-Certification/GetCertified#tabs-1

Medical Technologist Certification/Education, American Medical Technologists, 2014, http://www.americanmedtech.org/GetCertified/MTEligibility.aspx#141980-route-1-education

American Medical Technologist, Certifications, http://www.americanmedtech.org/GetCertified.aspx

National Society for Histotechnology, 2013 Wage Survey of Clinical Laboratories in the US, http://www.nsh.org/sites/default/files/2013%20ASCP%20Wage%20Survey.pdf

Bureau of Labor Statistics, OOH, Medical and Clinical Laboratory Technologists and Technicians, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/medical-and-clinical-laboratory-technologists-and-technicians.htm

Bureau of Labor Statistics, OES, Medical and Clinical Laboratory Technologists and Technicians, http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes292011.htm

Medical Technologist Schools