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Medical Lab Scientist:Job Responsibilities, Degree Requirements, Career Outlook

It takes approximately 10 years of study in laboratories, to reach a point where a treatment might be tested for its safety and effectiveness on humans. (Ken Getz, Informed Consent). Billions are spent on research and development of new drugs. The pharmaceutical industry increased R&D expenditures over the two decades leading up to 2001, to a hefty $30.5 billion (Applied Clinical Trials). This multibillion dollar industry is always in need of new researchers and fresh minds to deal with the ever increasing number of medical issues.

University of Southern California

The George Washington University

Medical Lab Scientist Tasks/Responsibilities

As a Medical Lab Scientist, you will be responsible for a whole set of behind the scenes medical activities that help doctors diagnose and treat patients. Here’s an example of a few of your tasks:

·         Plan and conduct studies to investigate diseases

·         Conduct research to develop instruments, methods and medicines for the scientific audience and general public

·         Study human and animal physiological processes

·         Evaluate effects of drugs, gases, pesticides and microorganisms at various levels

·         Prepare and analyze organ, tissue and cell samples to identify toxicity and bacteria

·         Standardize drug doses and the process of manufacturing drugs

·         Investigate causes, progress, life cycle and mode of transmission of diseases

·         Analyzing medical information and evaluating results to choose the best solution

In addition to these set of activities, you will also be expected to know the use of certain tools and technology including bench top centrifuges, chromatography tubing, laboratory flasks and spectrophotometers etc. These tools and technology vary with time though, so make sure you keep your knowledge updated accordingly.

Becoming a Medical Laboratory Scientist - Degree Requirements

If you have no prior affiliation with the field of medicine, you will need to make a gradual entry into the discipline by first earning a bachelor’s degree in biology or a related field. Life sciences, chemistry, physics and math will be your core courses, while classes in writing and communications will prepare you in executing proposals and publishing research reports.

After graduating from college, you will have two options.

·         Get a Ph.D. in genetics, pathology or bioinformatics; A timeline of around 6 years

·         Enroll in a joint MD-Ph.D. program at a medical school; A timeline of around seven to eight years

Additional requirements might be necessary if you are to administer drugs or draw blood etc. For this, you must also be a licensed physician with a Medical Degree (MD) from an accredited medical school. 

Medical Laboratory Scientists are certified by the National Medical Laboratory Science Council or the American Society for Clinical Pathology (ASCP) and are entitled to use the credential ‘MLS’ after their names. National Credentialing Agency for Laboratory Personnel (NCA), American Medical Technologists (AMT) and American Association of Bioanalysts (AAB) are all agencies offering certifications to medical lab scientists. The US Clinical Laboratory Improvement Amendments (CLIA ’88) define the testing requirements and the levels of complexity for being a qualified professional in this field.

Job Outlook for Medical Lab Scientists

Employment of Medical Scientists is expected to grow by 36% through 2020, which is why it is considered by the Bureau of Labor Statistics to be one of the 10 fastest growing careers that require a graduate degree.

The Median wage figure for 2013, as provided by O*Net Online is $79,840, which is an increase from the 2012’s $76,980. (BLS)

Medical Scientists typically work in offices or laboratories. In addition to data analysis, they are sometimes required to work with potentially harmful biological specimen. Below is a list of industries that employ medical scientists:

Research and development in physical, life and engineering sciences


Colleges, universities, professional schools; State


General medical and surgical hospitals; Private


Pharmaceutical and medicine manufacturing


Offices of physicians


Medicine is one field that will always need talented minds. There will always be new discoveries that will require research. Therefore, being a Medical Lab Scientist, you will need to remain updated on the latest developments in the field of medicine and related studies.

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