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Detectives In The Laboratory

  • Article by: Nancy Crotti
  • Star Tribune Sales and Marketing
  • March 25, 2009 - 2:14 PM

On the disease end, the demand for clinical laboratory scientists has been on the increase since the 1990s, due to numerous advancements in healthcare delivery, according to Sue Lehman, program director for the Mayo Clinic Clinical Laboratory Sciences Program in Rochester.

It is estimated that 60 to 70 percent of all decisions about a patient's diagnosis, treatment and hospital admission and discharge are influenced by laboratory test results. "The direct care providers rely on the clinical labs for patient diagnosis," Lehman adds.

Strong Science Background

Mayo offers a post-baccalaureate degree in clinical lab science. "We offer a 43-credit laboratory science program curriculum in 10-1/2 months. It's very intense," Lehman says. "These are very difficult degrees to get. Students need to come into these programs with a strong background in science."

Clinical lab scientists may specialize in a particular disease or go into management, research, quality control or education. They may also pursue careers outside of the hospital setting, including positions at pharmaceutical, biotechnology and medical supply companies, Lehman says. The mean salary for clinical laboratory scientists nationwide is in the low $50,000s, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

"This is really an exciting time for a young person to study this field because there are job opportunities all over the nation," Lehman says. "There is always going to be a need for laboratory workers because we're always going to have patients to care for."

No Shortage Of Criminals

And especially in a down economy, we're always going to have crime, according to Jim Liberty, who supervises six forensic biologists who test evidence at the Hennepin County Sheriff's Office Crime Lab.

These scientists identify body fluids using antibodies, then extract each fluid's DNA and compare it to DNA to samples obtained by police using cotton swabs of the inside of suspects' mouths.

Ideal candidates for this job have meticulous attention to detail, use sound deductive reasoning and have good common sense, according to Liberty. The career path in the crime lab is limited but the job outlook is good, he adds. Salaries start between $40,000 and $50,000 and can increase to the mid-$80,000s at the supervisory level.

Many job seekers inquire about these jobs because of television shows and an interest in criminology, Liberty says. But that's not enough. "The regular criminal justice major is usually not going to cut it," he says. "We need people with a strong science background whose interest lies primarily in the science aspect of what we do rather than the criminal justice aspect of what we do."

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