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In centuries past, people longed for a fountain of youth that could help them lead longer, happier lives. Today, we look to medical professionals, including medical and laboratory scientists, instead.

According to the University of North Carolina School of Medicine, these professionals provide the laboratory services necessary to research, diagnose and treat disease. They might run the tests that detect the abnormal cells that cause leukemia, for instance, or identify DNA markers for certain genetic diseases.

Mistakes in these environments can be costly, if not life-threatening, so it is essential that laboratory science professionals are properly trained. This is where laboratory degree programs come in.

Laboratory Science

Laboratory degrees in a nutshell

Some schools offer clinical laboratory science health programs, others offer medical laboratory science programs. Varying names aside, these laboratory degree programs teach students how to collect and examine specimens for the medical tests that help physicians properly diagnose and treat various diseases. Students may also learn how to manage clinical labs in hospital, research labors, blood banks and other facilities.

Laboratory degree program may vary, but tend to offer similar classes. The following are just a few of those classes, as reported by The College Board and The University of Delaware's Department of Medical Laboratory Sciences:

  • Introduction to Medical, Clinical Laboratory Science
  • Forensic Science
  • Clinical Chemistry
  • Immunology
  • Microbiology
  • Infectious Diseases
  • Genetics
  • Hematology

The scope and depth of laboratory degree programs depend on the credential offered. Laboratory science certificates and associate degrees are less thorough than graduate- or postgraduate-level laboratory degrees.

How much training students depends very much on their ultimate career goals, so it pays to do their research. Students can learn more about their options by contacting admissions counselors or career advisers at schools that offer laboratory degree programs.

Careers for laboratory science graduates

There are several careers available for those with medical or clinical laboratory science degrees, though responsibilities and educational requirements can vary tremendously. The following are a few of those careers along with training and employment data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics:

  • Medical and Clinical Laboratory Technologies and Technicians: Medical and clinical lab technicians and technologists, sometimes called medical laboratory scientists, collect samples of body fluids, tissue and other substances for medical testing. The BLS notes that medical laboratory technicians perform more routine medical tests; medical laboratory technologists handle more complicated procedures. While medical or clinical laboratory science technicians can often get by with associate degrees or postsecondary certificates, technologists must typically hold bachelor's degrees.

    The BLS projects that demand for technologists will grow by 14 percent between 2012 and 2022, and for lab technicians by 30 percent.

  • Biological Technicians: Biological technicians help medical scientists conduct clinical and laboratory science experiments. According to the BLS, these professionals must usually earn bachelor's-level laboratory degrees and log several hours of hands-on lab experience before entering the field.

    The BLS projects that demand for biological technicians will grow by 10 percent between 2012 and 2022. Experienced candidates should enjoy better prospects.

  • Medical Scientists: Medical scientists perform higher level research intended to improve human health, placing them among the most advanced medical or clinical laboratory science professionals. Medical scientists must typically earn Ph.Ds in a related discipline from an accredited institution, and may even hold both Ph.Da and medical degrees, or M.Ds, according to the BLS. Some schools offer dual degree programs that allow students to earn both credentials at the same time.

    The BLS expects demand for medical scientists to grow by 13 percent between 2012 and 2022, thanks, in part, to expanding research related to illnesses like cancer, AIDS and Alzheimer's disease. Employment is closely tied to federal funding, which can fluctuate.

The careers above are only a sampling of those potentially waiting for graduates of laboratory degree programs. With the right training they could also become epidemiologists, microbiologists or biochemists.

Potential students can learn more about these and related fields by visiting organizations like the American Society for Clinical Laboratory Science or the BLS online, or by contacting schools that offer laboratory degrees directly.

"Department of Medical Laboratory Sciences Course Offerings," Department of Laboratory Scienes, College of Health Sciences, University of Delaware, http://www.udel.edu/mls/courses.html
"What is Clinical Laboratory Science?" Department of Allied Health Sciences, University of North Carolina School of Medicine, http://www.med.unc.edu/ahs/clinical/about/glance
"Major: Clinical Laboratory Science," The College Board, https://bigfuture.collegeboard.org/majors/health-professions-related-clinical-sciences-clinical-laboratory-science-clinical-laboratory-science
"Medical and Clinical Laboratory Technologists and Technicians," Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, January 8, 2014, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/medical-and-clinical-laboratory-technologists-and-technicians.htm
"Biological Technicians," Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, January 8, 2014, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/life-physical-and-social-science/biological-technicians.htm
"Medical Scientists," Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, January 8, 2014, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/life-physical-and-social-science/medical-scientists.htm

Pursue your Laboratory Science major today…

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