Through the study of topics such as immunology, chemistry, parasitology and diagnostics, clinical microbiology program participants can prepare for careers as technicians and technologists in the areas of clinical chemistry or microbiology. A clinical microbiology student may learn to perform scientific experiments to determine the ways in which such organisms live and thrive. In addition to classroom and laboratory instruction, graduate-level students may have to fulfill thesis requirements. Professional certifications are available to qualified graduates.
Certificate Programs in Clinical Microbiology
Some certificate programs related to clinical microbiology are for undergraduates currently enrolled in basic or life science programs; a high-school diploma or its equivalent is required.
Other certificate programs are geared toward those who already hold a degree and wish to enter microbiology technologist careers. Post-baccalaureate programs provide specialized training in clinical microbiology and prepare graduates for the exams and certifications often sought by employers.
Most certificate programs take 1-2 years to complete. Courses focus on the essentials of clinical lab skills for microbiology. Typical prerequisites include courses in molecular biology and organic chemistry. Students complete a practicum, as well as certificate-level courses in clinical microbiology technology that include:
- Laboratory science principles
- Specimen collection
- Clinical immunology
- Clinical microbiology
Bachelor's Degree Programs in Clinical Microbiology
While a few schools offer an undergraduate program that can lead to a Bachelor of Science (B.S.) in Clinical Microbiology, most offer more general courses of study that lead to a B.S. in Clinical Laboratory Science. Some of these general four-year programs allow students to specialize in an area of clinical lab science, such as clinical microbiology. Students who pursue these degree programs develop a foundation in biology and chemistry as part of their pre-professional training. During their junior and senior years, they focus on applied science for the medical laboratory. A high school diploma or equivalent is required for entry.
In a bachelor's degree program, students complete foundational coursework in anatomy and physiology, biology, genetics, chemistry and clinical lab science. They also receive training at hospital sites, where they have the opportunity to use state-of-the-art instrumentation. Clinical courses typically include the following:
- Clinical chemistry
- Clinical parasitology
- Clinical immunohematology
- Microbiology diagnostics
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Master's Degree Programs in Clinical Microbiology
As with the bachelor's programs, many two-year Master of Science degree programs are in clinical laboratory studies with a focus or concentration on microbiology; master's programs require an undergraduate degree for entry. Graduate school programs that offer concentrations in clinical microbiology may prepare candidates for the Specialist in Microbiology examination offered by the ASCP. Degree programs include both thesis and non-thesis options. Non-thesis programs may require an alternative professional paper or a project. This professional degree program lasts approximately two years for full-time students.
Graduate programs typically incorporate regular lab or hospital facility rotations into the curriculum as part of the graduation requirements. In addition, master's programs offer a variety of career-oriented electives in:
- Infectious disease epidemiology
- Clinical correlations
- Microbial pathogenicity mechanics
- Research methodology for vector-borne diseases
- Food microbiology
Graduates from master's programs in clinical microbiology have a broad scope of career options in areas such as:
- Infection control
- Public health
- Pharmaceutical sales
- Biotechnology marketing
- Clinic lab management
Graduates of a bachelor's program in clinical laboratory studies may find work as clinical laboratory technologists in public and private hospitals, laboratories and physicians' offices, or for the federal government. They may also pursue entry-level careers such as:
- Clinical microbiologist
- Clinical trials manager
- Research technician
- Lab research analyst
Employment Outlook and Salary Info
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), medical and clinical laboratory technologists usually need a bachelor's degree. The BLS projected 14% growth for technologists for the decade ranging from 2014 to 2024. Their median salary in May 2015 was $60,520.
Unlike technologists, medical and clinical laboratory technicians need only an associate's degree or certificate. While both technologists and technicians perform diagnostic tests ordered by physicians in hospitals and laboratories, technicians work under the supervision of a technologist. The BLS projected an 18% employment increase for clinical laboratory technicians between 2014 and 2024, with the majority of technicians employed at hospitals and diagnostic laboratories. As of May 2015, the median salary for clinical laboratory technicians was reported as $38,970 annually.
Most employers prefer medical technologists to be certified through the American Society for Clinical Pathology (ASCP). The ASCP offers specialized certification for clinical microbiologists to those who pass the certification exam and meet education and experience requirements. To be eligible for the Technologist in Microbiology exam, candidates are required to have recent experience in three areas of clinical microbiology, such as bacteriology, molecular microbiology and virology. This organization also offers continuing education programs for clinical microbiologists to maintain certification.
Graduates from master's programs in clinical microbiology may move on to medical school, veterinary school or Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) programs in biochemistry, microbiology or public health, among other fields. They may also pursue careers as research microbiologists in:
- Health and human services
- Medical technology administration
- Quality and regulatory operations
- Research and development
A certificate or degree program in clinical microbiology can prepare students to work as a technician or technologist, depending on the program level; other careers are also possible. Coursework typically includes biology and chemistry, and graduate programs may include training in a lab or hospital as part of the curriculum.