Microbiology & Molecular Biology Certifications (M, MB) - American Society of Clinical Pathology (ASCP)

The answers to the large-scale problems plaguing the planet often can be found in miniature details. By posing research questions, doing experiments, and forming conclusions, scientists are able to advance human knowledge and provide insight into how we as people can live healthier and happier lives.

Scientists who study life science on a small specific scale include microbiologists and molecular biologists. Microbiologists deal in microscopic organisms such as bacteria, fungi, and viruses, while molecular biologists primarily investigate biochemical processes in the cells of plants, animals, people, and living organisms. Although both scientific fields study biology on small-scale, microbiology studies organisms whereas molecular biology studies biological interactions at the molecular level. These two career pathways are proving to be crucial in advancements in the agricultural and pharmaceutical industries, among others.

Microbiology career pathways are somewhat varied; however entry-level careers in microbiology require a minimum of a bachelor’s degree in biology, microbiology, medical laboratory science, or a closely-related field. The leading accreditor of medical laboratory science programs is the National Accrediting Agency for Clinical Laboratory Sciences (NAACLS), which approves university programs to ensure high-quality instruction and academic rigor for the benefit of educational programs, students, employers, and healthcare patients. A doctoral degree is required for microbiologists who want to conduct independent research in university laboratories.

For all educational levels, professional certification for microbiologists and molecular biologists is available through the American Society of Clinical Pathology (ASCP), which offers the M(ASCP) credential for microbiologists and the MB(ASCP) credential for molecular biologists.

Job opportunities in microbiology are expected to grow 5 percent between 2018 and 2028, which is as fast as the national average for all occupations, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS 2019). The average annual salary for microbiologists is $82,760 per year (BLS May 2019) and the top-paying states for this profession are Maryland, California, Virginia, Georgia, and Montana (BLS 2019). Interestingly, the industries with the highest concentration of employment for microbiologists are pharmaceuticals, scientific research and development, chemical manufacturing, medical and diagnostic laboratories, and the federal government.

Contrary to popular belief, microbiology careers are not just about doing laboratory experiments. Many microbiologists report a high level of career satisfaction with regard to their subject matter and their research teams. Dr. Shanika Crusz, a consultant medical microbiologist at Nottingham City Hospital shared “I’ll admit I love the subject. It endlessly interests me and I never get bored with dealing with infections and bugs or the subjects I really enjoy. But I think really the best part for me is working with colleagues both inside the department and across the hospital.”

Read on to learn about two career pathways in biology and their ASCP certifications: microbiology M(ASCP) and molecular biology MB(ASCP).

Early Preparation in High School for Microbiology Careers

It should come as no surprise that high school students aspiring to pursue microbiology or molecular biology careers should take as many courses as possible in biology, chemistry, and mathematics to prepare them for post-secondary coursework in bachelor of science degree programs. A solid background in basic computing skills and computer programming is recommended for students wanting to pursue molecular biology careers.

Engaging in extracurricular activities related to laboratory science, math, and after-school team-building and activities in the arts or athletics are also recommended. Internships in a laboratory or outdoor research settings can help students gain valuable insights to laboratory careers prior to applying to a program. Students are advised to keep their grades as high as possible to get into a reputable and accredited associate’s or bachelor’s degree program to prepare for microbiology or molecular biology careers.

A list of schools with national and regional accreditation can be found at the U.S. Department of Education and a list of schools with programmatic accreditation for microbiology and molecular biology can be found through the National Accrediting Agency for Clinical Laboratory Sciences (NAACLS).

Postsecondary Microbiology Certification Preparation

The American Society of Clinical Pathology (ASCP) Board of Certification (BOC) offers two microbiology technologist certifications: microbiology (M) certification and molecular biology (MB) certification. To determine eligibility to sit for either exam, applicants should use the ASCP examination eligibility assistant which includes a series of yes or no questions to determine qualifications.

Technologist in Microbiology (M) ASCP Certification

To be able to sit for ASCP’s microbiology (M) certification exam, applicants must have at least one of the following degrees from a regionally accredited college or university, in addition to valid certification credentials and laboratory experience:

  • A four-year baccalaureate degree
  • A post-baccalaureate degree in medical laboratory science
  • A master’s degree in microbiology or an appropriately related field
  • Valid ASCP MT or MLS certification
  • One year of full-time experience (clinical, veterinary, industry or research) in a microbiology laboratory in the U.S., Canada or an accredited laboratory within the last five years
  • Have successfully completed a program in microbiology under the auspices of a NAACLS-accredited medical laboratory scientist program within the last five years

Aspiring microbiology technologists are encouraged to see out bachelor of science programs that are programmatically accredited by NAACLS. An example of a NAACLS-accredited medical laboratory scientist bachelor of science program is the bachelor of science in medical laboratory science at Wichita State University (WSU). This condensed program spans 17 months, including 12 months of instruction at WSU and five months of clinical practice at a medical facility.

Students can choose to take this course as full- or part-time students and is designed for current medical laboratory technicians (MLTs) with an associate’s degree. This program also prepares students for graduate studies in clinical professions such as physician assistants or physicians. Students can begin this program in the fall or spring semester and complete their five-month clinical practices at an affiliated medical facility in Kansas, Missouri, and Oklahoma.

Technologist in Molecular Biology (MB) ASCP Certification

To be able to sit for ASCP’s molecular biology (MB) certification exam, applicants must have at least one of the following degrees from a regionally accredited college or university, in addition to valid certification credentials and laboratory experience:

  • A baccalaureate, master’s degree, or doctorate in molecular biology, chemistry, biology, immunology, microbiology, allied health, medical laboratory science or an appropriately related field from a regionally accredited college or university
  • A baccalaureate degree in biological science or chemistry or a baccalaureate degree including a combination of 30 semester hours (45 quarter hours) of biology and/or chemistry
  • Valid ASCP certification as a technologist/scientist or specialist
  • Successful completion of a NAACLS-accredited diagnostic molecular science program within the last five years
  • One year of full-time experience (clinical, veterinary, industry or research) in a molecular biology laboratory in the U.S., Canada or an accredited laboratory within the last five years

Bachelor of science (BS) degree holders who want to further their studies and pursue leadership positions are encouraged to apply to master’s of science programs in medical laboratory science (MLS). The University of Southern Mississippi School of Biological, Environmental, and Earth Sciences offers two NAACLS-accredited master’s degree programs: an online MLS graduate program for those who hold MLS certification and an on-campus MLS graduate program who do not yet hold MLS certification.

Students in the on-campus program must earn certification as part of an exit requirement for the degree program. Graduates from this program had a 100 percent job placement rate within six months of program completion and averaged a 97 percent pass rate on the ASCP national certification exam.

M(ASCP) & MB(ASCP) Certification Exam Preparation

A variety of exam preparation resources are available through the ASCP and online study resources. Below are lists of exam prep materials for M(ASCP) and MB(ASCP) certification exams offered through the ASCP Board of Certification (BOC) as well as other web-based self-study resources.

Microbiology M(ASCP) Certification Exam Preparation

  • ASCP: This PDF content guideline outlines the subtest content, descriptions, and exam percentages for microbiology (M) certification seekers. The five subtest areas include bacteria, fungi and actinomycetes, parasites, mycobacteria, viruses and other organisms, and laboratory operations. The M(ASCP) exam consists of 100 multiple-choice questions in a computer adaptive testing format, which means the level of question difficulty increases in relation to the number of correct answers given.
  • Study.com: Accredited by the Better Business Bureau, this website offers a 17-chapter study guide to prepare for the M(ASCP) technologist in microbiology exam. This course includes short, informative and engaging lessons to review microbiology lab techniques and equipment, bacteria parasites, viruses, and more. A 50-question practice test is available and test-takers receive a detailed report and statistics on their performance as well as specific feedback on areas to focus on for future study. Students can access this course via a web browser or from a mobile device app.
  • Quizlet: An online flashcard resource, Quizlet features open-source sets of vocabulary flashcards created by students and instructors. This free resource helps students learn microbiology vocabulary through rote memorization, writing, spelling, listening, and matching activities.

Molecular Biology MB(ASCP) Certification Exam Preparation

  • ASCP: this PDF organizes the content area, descriptions, and exam percentages for molecular biology (MB) certification seekers. The four subtest areas are molecular science, molecular techniques, laboratory operations, and applications of molecular testing. As with the M(ASCP) exam, the MB(ASCP) exam consists of 100 multiple-choice questions in a computer adaptive testing format with the question difficulty increasing in relation to the number of correct answers given by the test taker.
  • Study.com: This web-based self-study website offers an 18-chapter study guide to prepare for the MB(ASCP) technologist in molecular biology exam. This course includes simple and fun lessons to review biological and chemical concepts in genetics, DNA replication, chromosomes, and nucleic acid and lab techniques. Upon completing this course, students should be able to discuss the chemistry of nucleic acids, explain aspects of microbial genetics, describe biological properties and laws of genes, and demonstrate knowledge of other concepts related to molecular biology. As with the M(ASCP) exam, there is a 50-question practice test available students can take at the beginning of the course which helps them assess which areas they’ve mastered and which areas they require more studying. Students can access this course via a web browser or from a mobile device app.
  • Quizlet: A vocabulary self-study website and app, Quizlet features open-source sets of vocabulary flashcards created by students and instructors. This free resource helps students learn ASCP molecular biology vocabulary through memorization, writing, spelling, listening, and matching activities.

A complete list of procedures for all ASCP examinations is provided by the ASCP BOC.

M & MB ASCP Certification Renewal Requirements

Every three years, M(ASCP) and MB(ASCP) certification holders will receive a renewal notification from the ASCP Credential Maintenance Program of their credentials and must earn 36 hours of credential maintenance program credits to be eligible for recertification.

For both certifications, a minimum of one point must be earned in laboratory, patient safety, or quality control. Additionally, a minimum of two points must be in microbiology for those seeking recertification as a technologist in microbiology (M) and molecular biology for those seeking recertification as a technologist in molecular biology (MB). The remaining points must be earned in areas such as lab specialty, management, education, or other related laboratory areas of interest.

The non-refundable application fee for recertification is $95 every three years with a $15 reduced fee schedule for multiple certification holders.

State Licensure Requirements in Microbiology

The ASCP keeps a list of specific state licensure requirements for microbiology and molecular biology certification. State licensure requirements vary widely for microbiologists, with some states requiring a state-specific licensure exam or a combination of a state-specific licensure exam and an ASCP certification exam.

Additional requirements may exist for previously certified or licensed microbiologists depending on their last date of certification. For example, California has three licensing pathways: 1) a California state license only, 2) ASCP certification and California state licensure, and 3) a licensure pathway for valid ASCP-certified microbiologists.

Applicants are advised to research the licensing requirements unique to the states in which they will seek work.

Rachel Drummond
Rachel Drummond Writer

Rachel Drummond is a freelance writer, educator, and yogini from Oregon. She’s taught English to international university students in the United States and Japan for more than a decade and has a master’s degree in education from the University of Oregon. A dedicated Ashtanga yoga practitioner, Rachel is interested in exploring the nuanced philosophical aspects of contemplative physical practices and how they apply in daily life. She writes about this topic among others on her blog (Instagram: @racheldrummondyoga).