Medical Laboratory Science Schools

It may be reassuring to know that trained medical laboratory technologists, often called clinical laboratory scientists (CLS) or medical laboratory scientists (MLS), are behind some of the more complex procedures being carried out on patient specimens in a laboratory. In fact, because most of those entering the MLS field need to have a bachelor’s degree and broad knowledge about biology, chemistry, and microbiology, these professionals may even be able to specialize in a number of areas, reports the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). A few of the specialties available include: immunology (carry out specimen tests on the human immune system and its reaction to foreign bodies), immunohematology (collect, classify and prepare blood for use in transfusions), and molecular biology (carry out protein and nucleic acid tests on samples of cells).

Of course, there are many other specialty fields that an MLS can enter, including cytotechnology, microbiology and clinical chemistry. Compared to clinical laboratory technicians, who usually have an associate degree, medical laboratory scientists are qualified and certified to carry out more complex procedures. When employed in a small lab, the MLS may do a variety of tests, but when working in a larger lab they may be able to specialize. Read on to learn more about the educational requirements for the MLS and what types of certifications may be available to help them discover the best possible job outcomes.

MLS fast facts
Projected Jobs Created19,800
Projected Job Growth12%
Low Salary$29,640
Average Salary (Median)$51,770
High Salary$79,530
Entry-Level EDU Bachelor's Degree
Sourced from BLS, June 2018

Degree & Certification Programs

A bachelor’s degree is typically needed to start off in an MLS career, according to the BLS, and this usually means an investment in a four-year full-time education. That said, students in some programs may be able to complete a degree part-time or even to accelerate their speed of learning for an earlier graduation date. Below are a few MLS programs that prospective lab scientists may want to consider:

  • Arizona State University – The bachelor’s of applied science (BAS) degree available at Phoenix-based Arizona State University leads to an education in medical laboratory science. The program features both on-campus options and a selection of courses in an online format. The program includes clinical rotations through which students gain practical experience including lab work in hematology, immunology, and many other fields, and use of current technology and automation similar to what would be found in a lab setting. The professional part of the program can be completed in as little as 16 months.

  • Ohio State University – Located in Columbus, Ohio State University offers a bachelor’s degree in MLS that includes four full semesters of specific MLS courses. A 10-week internship is included as part of the program to help students prepare to seek certification through the American Society of Clinical Pathology (ASCP). Indeed, the school reports, that as of 2018, 93 percent of students who sought ASCP MLS certification successfully passed the exam and received certification over the past four years. Students who have a bachelor’s degree in another field also can complete coursework for a second degree at the school or pursue a certificate of study to further their skills in this area.

  • University of North Dakota – Offering a degree in MLS since 1949, the University of North Dakota in Grand Forks allows students to either pursue a 2+2 route, comprised of pre-professional and professional education, a 4+1 route for those who already have a bachelor’s degree in another field, or a medical laboratory technician (MLT) to MLS route, which also offers online learning options. In fact, the MLT to MLS program can be completed totally online while working at a medical facility. A total of 126 credits are needed to graduate from the MS 2+2 program, which would be for students just starting college, with the professional portion in MLS beginning during the fall of the junior year and including a summer semester of 13 credits between the junior and senior years. 

  • University of Washington – Based in Seattle, the University of Washington offers an MLS program through the university’s department of laboratory medicine that features pre-professional and professional portions. Subjects including bacteriology, biochemistry, clinical hematology, mycology, virology and others are featured in the professional part of instruction and students also complete their final year (three quarters) in the lab at the university. Students also have the opportunity to learn about more complex laboratory procedures by completing an internship.

  • University of Vermont – A bachelor’s degree in medical laboratory science is offered through the University of Vermont, located in Burlington. In fact, two concentration areas are available: clinical laboratory science and public health. In the spring semester of the senior year, students start intensive laboratory experiences and begin to work one-on-one with a staff technologist. The school has affiliations with several labs in the Northeast part of the country, including in Vermont, New York and Connecticut.

  • Weber State University – Based in Ogden, Utah, Weber State University provides a bachelor or science degree in medical technology (MT), as well as an associate degree to pursue a career as a medical laboratory technician (MLT). The bachelor’s degree offers two tracks. The first is for students who are intending to use their MT degree to work in a medical lab while the second is intended for those who plan to go on to graduate-level education, including veterinarian, physician assistant or medical school. An online MT program also is available.

Hybrid & Online programs

University of Cincinnati
Online BS in Medical Laboratory Science (MLS)
The George Washington University (Health Sciences)
Online MSHS - Medical Lab Science (MLS)
MSHS - Laboratory Medicine
Online BSHS - Medical Lab Science
*sponsored

Students looking for online programming as part of their MLS education typically will find two options: a hybrid bachelor’s degree program with some campus visit required or a track for employed MLTs to complete a bachelor’s degree and further their careers.

In the first track, students may be able to take online courses for general education requirements or electives while traveling to campus for MLS courses. The second track can be appropriate for those who have earned an associate’s degree and are already employed as medical laboratory technicians, but who want to complete a four-year degree. The two years needed to finish this degree may necessitate that students complete clinical, internship and/or practicum experiences, but many schools may allow these to be done in the area in which the student is located.

A few of the available bachelor’s degree completion programs include:

  • Georgia Southern University – With campuses in Statesboro, Savannah, and Hinesville, Georgia Southern University offers an MLT-to-MLS degree that can be completed by taking 48 credits in the field, 15 of which must be done in clinical practicums. Another three credits are to be taken in laboratory management and education, which provides students insight into the financials, leadership, management, and personnel administration that is required at a lab. To be accepted into the program, students already must be employed at an approved clinical site.  The degree can be finished in as little as 16 months with some graduates going on to be employed at the Centers for Disease Control, Georgia Bureau of Investigation and the American Red Cross.

  • University of Cincinnati – Medical laboratory technicians (MLTs) already working in the field who want to complete two more years of education for a bachelor’s degree in MLS can turn to the University of Cincinnati for an online education. Each term in the program, students are assigned to a specific cohort of students who are led by an instructor and with whom they interact through chat sessions, message boards, and other formats. An MLS coordinator will help students to find a clinical laboratory to use as their clinical training site for site-based portions of the program.

  • University of New Mexico – Many of the courses for the University of New Mexico’s MLS program are offered online through the school of medicine with required on-campus lab training. Students can complete their MLS bachelor’s degree in just one-and-half-years of full-time study or three years of part-time study. Admission dates are August and January of each year. Students complete their practical experiences at sites affiliated with the school in the state, such as Quest Diagnostics, TriCore Reference Laboratories, the Veterans Administration Medical Center, or a participating hospital.  

  • University of Tennessee – Students at the University of Tennessee can complete a bachelor’s degree in MLS by taking 36 credits in medical laboratory science with the program offered via this university’s health science center. The school has a number of affiliate sites in Tennessee, including Baptist Memphis Hospital and the Veterans Affair Medical Center, through which students can complete the clinical and practical hours of their program. Graduates can expect to gain clinical hours at more than one hospital in the state. Students need to be licensed to seek employment in the state and this program will make them eligible to seek the MLS credential offered through the ASCP.

It is important to know that to even be accepted into an online MLT-to-MLS program, students often need to have graduated from a program accredited through the National Accrediting Agency for Clinical Laboratory Sciences (NAACLS). (More information is provided on this below.) Other requirements also may be needed for acceptance, including a specific minimum GPA or even letters of recommendation. Finally, there are more schools, in addition to those listed above, that offer completion programs.

Core & Elective Courses

There are more than 220 MLS programs accredited through the NAACLS, which means that students should have plenty of opportunities in the U.S. to be accepted into a program that has gone through rigorous outside review by this agency. Often, in MLS degree programs, there are pre-professional and professional components that need to be completed. The pre-professional phase may include classes in biology, chemistry and statistics as well as general education requirements that could range from English to the social sciences or arts.

Students need to successfully complete their pre-professional courses, including obtaining a specific GPA, to be able to move on to the professional part of the program. The latter part will more strictly focus on the MLS courses, and should last the latter two years of the degree. Some of the classes offered within an MLS degree program could include:

  • Blood banking
  • Clinical parasitology
  • Hematology & hemostasis
  • Introduction to clinical chemistry
  • Introduction to clinical microbiology
  • Advanced clinical microbiology
  • Laboratory operations math

Students may also need to complete clinical rotations, which are typically done after all of a student's MLS coursework has been finished. Lab hours are usually done on campus, and if the program is offered online, (as may be an option in some MLS completion programs), students may need to report to the campus lab or to an approved lab elsewhere to be able to complete this portion of their education.

Accreditation

The National Accrediting Agency for Clinical Laboratory Sciences (NAACLS) oversees accreditation of MLS programs, in addition to programs in other related fields, such as cytogenetic technology (CT), histotechnician (HT), diagnostic molecular scientist (DMS) and more. Students may choose to attend an NAACLS accredited program as a form of assurance that they will receive a quality education from qualified instructors. The NAACLS, a nonprofit, independently accredits schools using a process that begins with the submission of a self-study, which is then reviewed by the NAACLS and then sent back to the school for response and follow-up. From there, a site visit by NAACLS is scheduled.

Accreditation, when granted, can be given on a probationary basis, two year basis or even for five years, depending on the number of non-compliance issues found. Perhaps, more important, is that the NAACLS offers a search page on its website, allowing students to look for accredited programs by program name, institution name or state.

In addition to programmatic accreditation through NAACLS, students should be sure to verify a school's institutional accreditation. Offered through US Department of Education-approved accrediting bodies such as the Higher Learning Commission (HLC) or the Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE), this accreditation applies to the school as a whole. The institutional accrediting process is similar to programmatic accreditation, but must be more broad to cover all programs.

Career Outlook

Demand for the MLS occupation is expected to grow by 12 percent from 2016 to 2026, reports the BLS (2017). Numerous factors are expected to contribute to this growth, including an aging Baby Boomer population in need of more services, such as lab work that can be helpful in identifying conditions such as Type 2 Diabetes or cancer.

Another factor is that more people are gaining access to healthcare insurance, under a provision of federal law, enabling them to seek our more healthcare services and even lab work as a potential result. Because of this anticipated job growth, some 19,800 new positions for those in MLS are expected to become available from 2016 to 2026 (BLS 2017). It is important to note that this outlook data is applicable to all medical and clinical laboratory technologists and therefore may differ somewhat from the specific outlook for medical laboratory scientists.

Career Facts MLS
Related CareersSurgical Technologist, Radiation Therapist, Endoscopy Technician, Diagnostic Medical Sonographer, Nuclear Medicine Technologist
Common Job TitlesAnesthesia Technician, Anesthesia Technologist, Anaesthetic Technician
Technology & EquipmentAnesthetic Machine, IV Therapy Administration Equipment, Anesthetic Monitoring Equipment (EKG, EEG, Blood Pressure), Endotracheal Tube, Laryngeal Mask
Sourced from BLS, June 2018

Licensing & Certification

Upon graduation from a bachelor's level program, students may want to seek certification of their skills through an organization, such as the American Society for Clinical Pathology (ASCP). The fee for its MLS certification exam is $240 (as of July 2018) and a bachelor's degree from an accredited MLS program or from a program that includes biology, chemistry and math courses in the past five years is required. There are also three other routes that can make applicants eligible for examination. When a student's eligibility documentation has been approved by the ASCP board of certification (BOC), they can schedule their exam through a Pearson Professional Center. If students pass the exam, they will receive their certification within three to five weeks of notification of their exam scores, and the certification will be good for three years.

Why seek certification through the ASCP BOC? As the site reports, it allows professionals to demonstrate their competence in carrying out a variety of responsibilities in the profession. Certification also can result in better job opportunities, higher pay and even garnered respect from work associates. The ASCP BOC reports that its certifications (including in many fields in addition to MLS), are sought by seven times as many lab professionals as compared with lab certification offered through different credentialing organizations.

In addition to certification, state licensure is required in some areas. According to the American Society for Clinical Laboratory Science (ASCLS), state licensure is required in 11 states: California, Hawaii, Florida, New York, North Dakota, Tennessee, Louisiana, Nevada, West Virginia, Montana, Georgia as well as Puerto Rico. The licensing process is different in each state but typically requires proof of certification, education, and fingerprinting. Any aspiring MLS who plans to work in a state requiring licensure should be sure to research that specific state's requirements prior to enrolling in an MLS program to ensure they are able to meet all standards upon graduation.