“So you work in a hospital – are you a nurse?”

I can’t count how many times acquaintances have asked this question of me.

It is a common inquiry, given the fact that nurses make up the majority of professionals in a hospital setting, and they are the staff patients see for the majority of their time spent in the hospital.

While nursing is a noble profession, it never held any appeal to me as a career option. As a student, I was interested in science, and I liked solving puzzles and mysteries. When a student is interested in science, academic advisors frequently guide students towards nursing or physician careers.

However, there was one major difference for me –

Although I wanted a profession in which I helped others, I was not interested in the daily patient interaction that is an integral part of being a nurse or practitioner. Luckily for me, I had an informed college advisor who guided me to Clinical Laboratory Science (CLS).

This is a profession not well known or understood even by others in the healthcare field, while at the same time is a vital part of a patient’s healthcare team.

Medical Laboratory Scientists, or MLS, work in the CLS field. They are the professionals who are responsible for performing laboratory tests that are a part of your annual physical, such as a glucose or cholesterol levels. MLS are also responsible for more complex testing, such as screening blood for safe transfusion and identifying antibiotic-resistant bacteria like MRSA (methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus) and determining which antibiotic is required to save a life. We are also responsible for identifying abnormal white blood cells in initial screening tests, which alert the doctor to possible leukemia. These are but a few examples of the hundreds of lab tests we, as a profession, perform every day.

Statistics show that 70% of medical decisions are based on laboratory results.

There are many clinical symptoms that a patient can exhibit upon a physical exam, that without laboratory testing, the clinician cannot make a definitive diagnosis. In addition to providing accurate results, we are also responsible for providing timely results. Consider the patient who presents to the emergency department with shortness of breath and chest pain. Blood tests that can aid in diagnosing a heart attack are drawn and performed in minutes, allowing for faster treatment of the patient and minimizing damage to heart tissue and preventing death.

According to the American Society for Clinical Pathology (ASCP) 2014 vacancy survey, the average vacancy for lab testing personnel is greater than 10%. The Bureau of Labor Statistics rates CLS job outlook as 13%, which is greater than average. What these statistics tell us is that there are currently not enough MLS to perform laboratory tests so vital to a person’s health status. This shortage is expected to increase with health care reform and baby boomer retirements. What the statistics also show is that job prospects are good – MLS can go virtually anywhere in the country (or world!) and be gainfully employed.

Are you wondering how you can become a MLS, or know someone who might be interested in becoming a MLS?

I recommend you visit the following site:  https://www.ascp.org/content/.

Also, see the following 12-minute video to learn about the impact MLS can make http://www.ascls.org/a-life-saved-video.

Here is what some recent CLS Program graduates have to say about choosing MLS as a career:

“I chose the CLS Program because I am interested in medical science and enjoy working in a laboratory environment. The program is preparing me to work in a high demand career field.”

“I’ve always wanted to be in the medical field and I knew I didn’t want the day to day patient contact. I love the problem solving that occurs in the lab and I enjoy all of the testing that goes on. You get to do something different every day and nothing is ever the same. The laboratory is definitely my home.”

“I enjoy the hands-on work during the shift, along with being able to leave work at work when I go home for the day. The high job availability is also very promising.”

If you would like to learn more about your own or a loved one’s laboratory tests, please visit the website: www.labtestsonline.org.

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