A 2-year associate's degree is the minimum requirement for a position as a technician, while a technologist usually needs a 4-year bachelor's degree. Some schools offer certificate programs for students who already hold a bachelor's degree and are interested in a career in clinical lab technology. These usually take about a year to complete.
All these programs usually include courses in clinical chemistry, histology, urinalysis and pathophysiology. Clinical experience is usually required as well. Graduates may qualify for professional certification.
In terms of prerequisites, associate's and bachelor's degrees may require prior coursework, while certificate programs require a bachelor's degree and prerequisite coursework.
Associate's Degree in Clinical Laboratory Technology
Associate degree programs are designed for students interested in entry-level careers in clinical labs as clinical lab technicians. Technicians generally perform less complicated tests than technologists. These programs combine general education courses, classroom instruction in clinical lab technology and hands-on clinical experience. The National Accrediting Agency for Clinical Laboratory Sciences (NAACLS) accredits educational programs in this field.
Many clinical lab technology programs require previous coursework in chemistry, biology, math and English. Students may be required to complete some college-level general education courses before enrolling in clinical lab courses.
Associate degree programs require 70-80 credit hours of coursework. Biology, chemistry and psychology are typically required as part of the general education requirements. Most programs include a clinical practicum. Major course topics might cover:
- Laboratory techniques
- Body Fluids
Bachelor's Degree in Clinical Laboratory Technology
Bachelor's degree programs in clinical lab technology prepare students for careers as lab technologists or clinical laboratory scientists. Programs generally require four years to complete and include a clinical rotation during the final year. The NAACLS accredits clinical technology education programs at the bachelor's degree level.
Programs generally follow the admissions requirements of the college or university. Many programs enroll students in a pre-professional track, where they complete general education and prerequisite courses before being admitted into the professional or clinical portion of the clinical lab technology program.
Bachelor's degrees require 120 credit hours of coursework, on average. General education courses are required in addition to major coursework and a clinical experience. Typical topics covered include:
- Bodily fluids
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Certificate Program in Clinical Laboratory Technology
Certificate program in the area of clinical lab technology are typically designed for students who already hold a bachelor's degree in another area. These programs cover the technical concepts needed for a career in a clinical laboratory.
Most certificate programs require coursework in chemistry, biological sciences, physics, biochemistry and medical microbiology.
Certificate programs are usually full-time programs lasting 52 weeks. Programs include 5-6 courses covering the following topics:
- Body Fluids
- Clinical Chemistry
Popular Career Options
Some clinical laboratory technologists are generalists, while others specialize in a specific area. Common job titles include:
- Medical laboratory scientist
- Clinical laboratory scientist
- Clinical laboratory technologist
Employment Outlook and Salary Information
Clinical laboratory technicians earned mean annual salaries of $41,420 in May 2015, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). The majority of clinical laboratory personnel work in hospitals. The remainder work for physicians' offices, medical laboratories, outpatient care centers or ambulatory health care services. The BLS projects employment of medical and clinical laboratory technicians to grow by 18% from 2014-2024.
Salaries for clinical lab technologists are higher than those of technicians. In May 2015, the BLS reported mean average salaries of $61,860 annually. As technological advances have led to new and expanding uses for diagnostics tests, the demand for clinical lab personnel has grown. According to the BLS, jobs for medical and clinical laboratory technologists will increase by about 14% during the period between 2014 and 2024.
Certification and Continuing Education
Several professional organizations certify clinical laboratory personnel. The American Society for Clinical Pathology (ASCP) offers a Medical Laboratory Technician certification for those who have earned an associate's degree. Technicians can advance to positions as technologists by continuing their education and gaining experience.
Those with a bachelor's degree can apply for ASCP certification at the technologist level. Certification is also available in specialty areas such as chemistry or hematology. Continuing education is required to maintain most certifications.
The job market for those earning a degree or certificate in clinical laboratory technology is rapidly growing at a projected rate of 14-18% over the next decade. By earning a higher level degree, students can take the leap to clinical laboratory technologist, as opposed to technician, and increase earnings potential in excess of $20,000 per year.