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 titles refer to the same career. While individuals employed in either of these occupations can work in the same settings and have similar responsibilities, the positions are distinguished mainly by levels of education and management responsibilities.

First, medical lab technicians (MLT) positions require a two-year degree. MLT programs offer courses leading to an associate’s degree in medical laboratory technology. Upon completing the program and earning certification, MLTs are ready for entry-level work in laboratories in the private and public sectors.

By comparison, medical lab scientists (MLS), also known as medical technologists (MT) or clinical lab scientists (CLS), have more education and more job responsibilities. A four-year degree and previous work experience in a laboratory are standard requirements to become an entry-level MLS. The medical lab scientist (MLS) designation is used extensively in academia and often includes specialized clinical serology and microbiology knowledge.

Different certification exams are used for the MLT and MLS occupations to distinguish the differences in skill sets. For example, one certifying agency, the American Society for Clinical Pathology (ASCP), features various certifying exams for medical laboratory occupations with specialization areas. While an associate degree or another type of postsecondary education is typically needed for the technician exam, a four-year degree is generally required to be eligible to sit for technology/scientist certification exams. The difference in advanced education may be why MLSs are often given oversight and responsibility for the MLTs in laboratory settings.

Read on to learn more about in-demand careers in medical laboratory science.

Auburn University of Montgomery
University of West Florida
Grand Canyon University

MLT vs. MLS – Side-by-Side Comparison

The pathways to pursuing training as a medical lab technician (MLT) versus a medical lab scientist (MLS) are detailed below for those interested in a medical laboratory-based career. In addition, the following table outlines similarities and differences between the occupations, including the potential outcome in terms of pay, job demand, certifications available, and job responsibilities for each occupation.

In addition to the factors mentioned above, there are other essential considerations in choosing a career. These include how much time is required to complete an educational program, personal career goals, and immediate earning potential.

It’s important to note that the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) classifies these two occupations together and refers to these two positions as clinical laboratory technologists and technicians. For most positions, the word ‘technician’ refers to positions for people with two-year degrees, while ‘technologists’ describes positions requiring a four-year degree. We have also included career outlook and salary data on ‘medical scientists’—a more advanced professional category—as a basis of comparison under the MLS column.

Below are detailed comparisons between the medical lab technician (MLT) and medical lab scientist (MLS) careers.



  Medical Laboratory Technician (MLT) Medical Laboratory Scientist (MLS)
Number practicing in the U.S.

329,200 as of May 2022, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Please note that this data is for ‘clinical laboratory technicians and technologists.’

119,200 as of May 2022, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Please note that this data is for ‘medical scientists.’


According to the BLS, as of May 2022, the mean annual wage was $59,130.

On a more granular level, PayScale (2023) reports the average annual salary for medical laboratory technicians is $48,704. based on 1,337 self-reported profiles.

The mean wage for medical lab technologists, as of May 2022, was $110,670 (BLS).

According to PayScale (2023), medical laboratory scientists earn an average of $60,707 annually based on 2,044 salary profiles.

Expected job growth

7 percent from 2021 to 2031, which is faster than the average for all occupations (5 percent), according to the BLS (2022).

17 percent from 2021 to 2031, much faster than the average (BLS 2022).

Number of new positions expected to be available by 2031



Degree requirements

MLTs must have a postsecondary certificate or an associate degree, reports the BLS.

According to the BLS (May 2022), a doctoral or professional degree is typically needed to become a ‘medical scientist,’ although ‘medical lab scientists’ generally have at least a bachelor’s degree.

Degrees available

MLT programs are typically called ‘medical lab technician’ degrees and often are available in two-year formats through an associate degree. Medical lab technologist’ degrees, by contrast, typically comprise four years.

Some postsecondary certificate programs are also available, but the National Accrediting Agency may not accredit all programs for clinical lab techs.

Be sure to check before enrolling, as accreditation can be crucial to certification.

Accredited programs at community colleges offer several online two-year MLT degree programs.

Graduates from these programs are prepared for entry-level MLT positions.

Many MLS programs are called ‘medical laboratory scientist’ degrees and are four-year, bachelor’s level programs.

Be sure to clarify with the school what type of certification exams are accessible with a two-year and a four-year degree.

Post-baccalaureate certificates are available for bachelor’s degree holders to become certified medical laboratory scientists and access leadership roles or specialized laboratory experience.

Many online four-year MLS degree programs are available through reputable colleges and universities.

Program details

Students take courses in blood banking, clinical chemistry, hematology, and microbiology.

Students may also learn about equipment and technology, safety standards, and diagnostic testing.

Many schools have laboratories for students to practice skills and become skilled in lab work.

Some programs build from the ground up; others accept MLT students interested in completing a four-year degree.

Nevertheless, a bachelor’s program covers many of the same courses as an associate degree but includes additional anatomy, biochemistry, chemistry, immunology, and math courses.

In-person laboratory experiences are often required in the senior year of a bachelor’s program. Usually, these experiences are done under the mentorship of an MLS in a lab setting.

School accreditation

The National Accrediting Agency for Clinical Laboratory Scientists (NAACLS) accredits medical laboratory technician programs.

The National Accrediting Agency for Clinical Laboratory Scientists (NAACLS) also accredits medical laboratory scientist programs.

Number of programs

There are 240 NAACLS-accredited MLT programs in the US as of June 2023.

Similarly, NAACLS accredits 249 MLS programs as of June 2023.

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 is earned 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 specialized medical lab technician certifications available through the ASCP include:

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

The ASCP, AMT, and AAB offer general MLT certification.

There are many routes to eligibility for certification depending on education and work experience.

An MLS 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
  • Cytogenetics
  • Cytotechnology
  • Hematology
  • Histotechnologist
  • Medical biology
  • Microbiology
  • Medical lab scientist

The ASCP and the AMT offer general MLS certification.

There are several pathways to eligibility for certification, including graduating from an accredited four-year program or equivalent professional experience.


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 the following:

  • 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 for MLTs here.

Similarly, students can find links for state licensing requirements for MLSs here.

Re-certification and re-licensing

Recertification and relicensing requirements vary by state, so applicants should contact their state’s certification board or state licensing agency for the most up-to-date information.

MLTs certified through the ASCP must take specific steps to maintain their certification every three years.

Because recertification and relicensing can vary per state, applicants should contact the initial certification board or state licensing agency for more details.

MLS who hold certification through the ASCP must keep track of continuing education through the credential maintenance program (CMP) and renew every three years to maintain 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 newly hired MLTs and MLSs
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

Medical lab technologists use many of the same tools as technicians and may also 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.

Employers often prefer certification when hiring, and having it can help an applicant gain a competitive advantage.

Medical lab scientists can advance to managerial or training positions and specialize in many areas, including clinical chemistry, immunology, or histotechnology.

There are also several master’s degrees available in clinical laboratory science or medical laboratory science. These programs are available to MLSs interested in learning unique specializations in a particular field of medical laboratory science.

Rachel Drummond, MEd
Rachel Drummond, MEd Writer

Rachel Drummond has contributed insightful articles to since 2019, where she offers valuable advice and guidance for those pursuing careers in the healthcare field, combining her passion for education with her understanding of the critical role that healthcare professionals play in promoting physical and mental well-being.

Rachel is a writer, educator, and coach from Oregon. She has a master’s degree in education (MEd) and has over 15 years of experience teaching English, public speaking, and mindfulness to international audiences in the United States, Japan, and Spain. She writes about the mind-body benefits of contemplative movement practices like yoga on her blog, inviting people to prioritize their unique version of well-being and empowering everyone to live healthier and more balanced lives.