Clinical Laboratory Scientists: Healthcare's Detectives

Clinical Laboratory Scientists: Healthcare's Detectives

If you graduate from a college/university program in clinical laboratory science (CLS) or a closely related field such as medical technology or clinical pathology, chances are good you'll end up working in a medical lab as a health detective of sorts.

But these days, the options go beyond hospitals and clinics. The term medical lab may be very broadly defined, and your detective duties could include not only diagnosing diseases but also researching new drugs and treatments.

Still, "the majority of new CLS graduates -- with their four-year degrees and their professional credentials -- will enter the profession working for a hospital-based laboratory with the title of clinical laboratory scientist or medical technologist," says Cara Calvo, director of the clinical laboratory science program at Ohio Northern University.

The pattern for Stetson University's CLS graduates has been the same. "The recent grads we've had…have all gone into medically oriented laboratories," such as those found in hospitals, private companies and within physician groups, says David Stock, a biology professor and coordinator of the school's molecular biology program.

Generalize or Specialize?

Calvo says most CLS graduates become generalists, performing analyses in all areas of the lab -- the blood bank, for example, or in hematology, clinical chemistry or clinical microbiology. However, some clinical laboratory scientists specialize in a particular type of diagnostic work. For instance, cytotechnologists examine cells under a microscope for abnormalities that may be signs of cancer. Histotechnologists carefully prepare and study tissue samples to look for various signs of disease. And molecular biology technologists perform complex genetic tests on cell samples.

But this diversity isn't confined to specialties. As Calvo points out, work settings vary widely, too. Indeed, she says, a 2001 study by the American Society for Clinical Pathology (ASCP) "found that the other areas where you may find new CLS grads include national commercial medical laboratories, blood centers, US public health and military health facility labs, research and industrial labs, forensic labs and environmental/food-testing labs."

So if you're interested in clinical laboratory science on a general level, be sure to explore possibilities with not only hospital- and clinic-based clinical research departments, but also with pharmaceutical companies, private research firms, testing companies and other such organizations.

Learn more by talking with someone in the industry, suggests Tracey Edwards, a clinical research associate for Kendle International, which provides clinical research and development services to the biopharmaceutical industry. "You can often locate professionals who are willing to assist you with your career by researching networking groups," says Edwards, who manages research sites and assists with document collection, patient recruitment, and source documentation and verification.

Learn more about healthcare careers.