Clinical laboratory science, or medical technology, attracts people who like science and enjoy problem solving. Laboratory professionals perform tests on blood, body fluids, tissues and cells that give physicians and other providers the information they need to diagnose and treat disease.
About 80 percent of laboratorians work in clinical settings including hospitals, clinics and reference laboratories, according to Rick Panning, vice president of laboratory services at Allina Hospitals and Clinics (www.allina.com).
Reference laboratories do specialized testing which hospitals and clinics are unable to perform internally, such as molecular testing, drug testing and testing for infectious diseases. Some reference laboratories also do employee drug testing.
Panning, who is past president of the American Society for Clinical Laboratory Science (www.ascls.org), notes that reference labs seldom require employees to work nights or weekends - unlike hospital labs, which must be staffed around the clock.
State public health departments also employ laboratorians. Some work in the clinical lab testing patient specimens to find patterns of illness. This year, for example, laboratorians at the Minnesota Department of Health (http://www.health.state.mn.us/divs/phl/index.html) helped trace the source of a salmonella outbreak to consumption of raw jalapeno peppers grown in Mexico.
Other laboratorians work in the environmental lab, testing for contaminants in samples of water, sludge, sediment, air, soil, wildlife, vegetation and hazardous waste.
Yet others work in newborn screening. In Minnesota, for instance, all newborns are screened for more than 50 treatable, life-threatening, congenital or heritable conditions.
Business and industry
Laboratorians may move from direct testing into laboratory information systems. LIS professionals work in hospitals, clinics and reference labs where they write computer programs, do tech support or train employees on the system.
Companies that sell information systems and lab equipment hire LIS specialists and experienced laboratorians to work in research and development, sales or customer training.
Lab professionals are also employed in forensic or crime labs, at blood centers such as American Red Cross or as infection control specialists in hospitals and clinics. Some also move into the management side of laboratory work.
Laboratorians with four-year or advanced degrees are also needed to teach in clinical laboratory programs.
Nancy Giguere is a freelance writer from St. Paul who has written about healthcare since 1995.