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 these could 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 a 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. In fact, the BLS reports that 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 Created22,700
Projected Job Growth14%
Low Salary$40,640
Average Salary (Median)$59,430
High Salary$82,180
Entry-Level EDUBachelor's Degree
Sourced from BLS, January 2015

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. A few of these MLS programs include, but are not limited to, those at:

Arizona State University: The bachelor’s of applied science degree available through this Phoenix-based school leads to an education in medical laboratory science that even features some courses in an online format. The program includes clinical rotations through which students gain practical experiences, 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—the portion mainly focused on MLS—can be completed in as little as 16 months, and many of the courses are offered in part with Phoenix College.

Ohio State University: This Columbus-based school offers a bachelor’s degree in MLS that includes four full semesters of specific MLS courses. A 10-week internship also is included as part of the program to help students prepare to seek certification through the American Society of Clinical Pathology (ASCP). (See more details on this certification further below). In fact, the school reports, that as of 2013, 18 of 19 students who sought ASCP MLS certification successfully passed the exam and received certification. 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 instead.

University of North Dakota: Offering a degree in MLS since 1949, this Grand Forks-based school 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: This school, based in Seattle, offers an MLS program through the university’s school of 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 can learn about more complex laboratory procedures by completing an internship.

University of Vermont: A bachelor’s degree in medical laboratory science is offered through this university, located in Burlington, Vermont. In fact, two concentration areas are available, including 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, this school provides a bachelor’s level 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 actually 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)
*sponsored

Students looking for online programming as part of their MLS education typically will find two options. The first is a full bachelor’s degree that features some online courses as part of the program. These online courses could be available for some of the general education requirements, elective offerings or even as specific parts for the professional MLS program. A second option is the completion of a bachelor’s degree for individuals who are already employed as medical laboratory technicians, but who want to complete a four-year degree and only have two years to go since they already have an associate 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 those offered by:

Armstrong Online: Part of the University System of Georgia, this institution offers an MLT-to-MLS degree that can be completed by taking just 48 more 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 this school 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 are offered online through the university’s school of medicine.  In such cases, there is a campus lab training requirement also. Students can complete their bachelor’s degree in MLS 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 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. In fact, they 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 should make them eligible to seek the MLS credential offered through the ASCP (see more below).

It is important to know that to even be accepted into an online MLT-to-MLS program, students often need to have graduated from an 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 MSL 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 while as general education requirements that could range from English to the social sciences or arts.

The student often needs 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.

Career Outlook

Demand for the MLS occupation is expected to grow by 14 percent from 2012 to 2022, reports the BLS. 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 having 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 70,600 new positions for those in MLS are expected to become available from 2012 to 2022. Jobs for medical laboratory technicians (MLTs) also are expected to grow significantly during this time, but these workers generally receive less pay.

Career FactsMLS
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, January 2015

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 August 2015) 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, 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. In fact, the BOC reports that is certification (including in many fields in addition to MLS), is sought by seven times as many lab professionals as compared with lab certification offered through different credentialing organizations.