Medical Lab Technician (MLT) vs Medical Lab Scientist (MLS)

Many people are confused by the terms ‘medical lab technician’ and ‘medical lab scientist’, and often think these refer to the same thing. While individuals employed in either of these occupations can work in the same settings and have similar responsibilities, there are also many inherent differences. For instance, the medical lab scientist (MLS), previously known as the medical technologist (MT) or the clinical lab scientist (CLS) (and still called these in some settings), has more education and more job responsibilities. In fact, a four-year degree and work in a laboratory while still is school is usually required to become an MLS. Because science from clinical serology to microbiology is a significant part of their training, the medical lab scientist (MLS) designation is now used by many of those in academia.

Also, different certification exams are used for the MLT and MLS occupations, a recognition of the differences in skill set. One certifying agency, the American Society for Clinical Pathology (ASCP), features various certifying exams for both occupational levels with specialization areas available in each. While an associate degree or other type of postsecondary education is typically needed for the technician exam, the four-year degree degree is generally needed to be eligible to sit for any of the technology/scientist certification exams. This advanced education may be the reason why the MLS is given oversight and responsibility of the MLT in a laboratory setting.

MLT vs. MLS – Side-by-Side Comparison

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If you are interested in working in a lab, it may not be clear whether to pursue training for a medical lab technician versus medical lab scientist occupation. Below, we look at many of the similarities and differences in the occupations, including the potential outcome in terms of pay, job demand, certifications available and even job responsibilities. However, many other considerations also are important in making a career choice, including how much time you initially want to spend in school, your personal career goals, and how important it is to immediately start garnering an income. Take a look below for further comparisons between the medical technician vs medical lab scientist (e.g. medical technologist) careers.

 

 

Medical Laboratory Technician Medical Laboratory Scientist
Number practicing in the U.S. 161,500 as of 2012, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). 164,300 as of 2012, according to the BLS.
Pay Their mean annual wage, as of May 2014, was $40,750 according to the BLS. The mean wages for medical lab technologists, as of 2014, were $60,560, the BLS shows.
Expected job growth 33 percent from 2012 to 2022, much faster than average for all occupations, according to the BLS. 14 percent from 2012 to 2022, about as fast as average.
Number of new positions expected to be available by 2022 47,900 22,700
Degree requirements Technicians need to have a postsecondary certificate or an associate degree, reports the BLS. A bachelor’s degree is typically needed to become an MLS.
Degrees available These programs are typically called ‘Medical Lab Technician’ degrees, and often are available in two-year formats through an associate degree. Some postsecondary certificate programs are also available, but not all programs may be accredited by the National Accrediting Agency for Clinical Laboratory Scientists. Be sure to check before enrolling, as accreditation can be important to certification.
 
Some of these degrees also can be found online.
 
Many programs are referred to as ‘medical laboratory technologist’ or ‘medical laboratory scientist’ degrees, and are four-year, bachelor’s level programs. However, some ‘medical laboratory technologist’ programs are just two years, so be sure to clarify with the school what type of certification exams these two-year degrees would make you eligible for.
 
Post-baccalaureate certificates also can be found through some schools.
 
Also, there are some online MLS programs.
Program details Students take courses in areas such as blood banking, clinical chemistry, hematology, and microbiology. Students may also learn about equipment and technology, safety standards and diagnostic testing.
 
Many schools have labs in which students can practice and become skilled in lab work.
Some programs build from the ground-up while others accept MLT students who are interested in completing a four-year degree. Nevertheless, a bachelor’s program covers many of the same courses as an associate degree, but includes courses like anatomy, biochemistry, chemistry, immunology and math. Laboratory experiences are often required in the senior year of a bachelor’s level program. Often, these experiences are done under the mentorship of an MLS in a real-life lab setting.
School accreditation Accreditation is through the National Accrediting Agency for Clinical Laboratory Scientists (NAACLS).
 
Accreditation also is done through the National Accrediting Agency for Clinical Laboratory Scientists (NAACLS).
Number of programs The NAACLS reports that 246 accredited MLT programs are available across the U.S., as of October 2015. Similarly, the NAACLS reports the availability of 227 accredited programs at the MLS level, as of October 2015.
Locating accredited schools Click here to search for NAACLS accredited MLT schools.
 
Click here to search for NAACLS accredited MLS programs.
 
Certifying exams MLTs take an exam to seek general MLT certification or certification in an area of specialty. Certification can be sought through organizations such as the American Society for Clinical Pathology (ASCP), American Medical Technologists (AMT), or the American Association of Bioanalysts (AAB).
 
Some of the technician certifications available through the ASCP include:

  • Phlebotomy technician
  • Histotechnician
  • Medical lab technician
  • Donor phlebotomy technicians

 
The AMT and AAB both offer general MLT certification.
 

MLSs also can seek certification through the American Society for Clinical Pathology (ASCP) or the American Medical Technologists (AMT).
 
Some of the certifications available at the technologist level include:

  • Blood bank
  • Chemistry
  • Cytogenics
  • Cytotechology
  • Hematology
  • Histotechnologist
  • Medical biology
  • Microbiology
  • Medical lab scientist

 
Graduating from an accrediting program is often part of eligibility requirements.

Licensing/Certification State licensing requirements vary, but passing a certification exam may be part of the licensing process. Not all states require licensing. Not all states require licensing to become an MLS, but in states that do some of these requirements can include:

  • Completion of a bachelor’s degree
  • Graduation from an accredited school
  • Passing a certification exam
Licensing Agency Students can find links to state licensure agencies here. Similarly, students can find links for state licensing requirements here.
Re-certification and re-licensing Recertification and relicensing can vary per state, so the certification board or state licensing agency should be contacted for more information. Those who received certification through the ASCP are required to take specific steps to maintain their certification every three years.
 
Because recertification and relicensing can vary per state, the initial certification board or state licensing agency should be contacted for more details. Those who obtained certification through the ASCP need to take the necessary credential maintenance program (CMP) steps every three years to keep their certification active.
 
Responsibilities on the job Some of the things a technician might do on the job include:

  • Analyze bodily fluids, such as tissues samples, blood and urine
  • Examine blood samples for use in transfusions to look at blood type and compatibility
  • Calibrate and sterilize medical lab equipment
  • Enter information about a patient’s results into their medical history
On the job, medical lab scientists might:

  • Analyze findings and verify lab results
  • Examine biological samples for chemical content
  • Provide information about results to others in the medical profession, including physicians and researchers
  • Oversee medical lab technicians
  • Train others

 

Tools and equipment that they use MLTs can use a variety of tools on the job, including:

  • Automated platelet analyzers
  • Chemistry analyzers
  • Coagulation analyzers
  • Phlebotomy trays
  • Medical software
Technologists use many of the same tools as technicians, but also might use:

  • Laboratory diluters
  • Photometers
  • Urinalysis analyzers
  • Vacuum blood collection tubes

 

Opportunities for specialization/advancement MLTs can advance to a medical lab scientist career with more training and education. Areas of specialization at the MLT level can include: phlebotomy, histotechnician, and donor phlebotomy.
 
Certification is often preferred by employers when hiring and can be an advantage.
Medical lab scientists can advance to managerial or training positions, and can specialize in a broad number of areas, including clinical chemistry, immunology or histotechnology.
 
There are also a number of master’s degrees available in clinical laboratory science or medical laboratory science if MLSs are interested in further education.