Would it surprise you to hear that about two-thirds of clinical decisions are based on laboratory test information? Yes, medical technologist are a critical high demand staff position in healthcare facilities. Today's post will explore this behind-the-scenes job and its critical role in the fight against hospital acquired infections.
Medical technologists might be better known as "medical lab scientists," those individuals who work in a lab as opposed to directly with patients. These healthcare workers test and analyze samples from patients, supporting the diagnostic work of pathologists and physicians from almost any department. When doctors or nurses collect tissue, blood, or fluid sample, they send it to the lab, where the lab technologists and the technicians he or she supervises run the tests to generate the data required to help determine the patient treatment plan.
Medical technologists have a broad set of skills, from running tests to calibrating equipment. Specialization, however, is quite common, especially at larger healthcare facilities. Some technologists may work exclusively in immunology or microbiology, examining pathogens that cause disease through culturing and testing resistance. Others may focus on microscopic examination: histology (tissue), cytopathology (cells), or hematology (blood). Some will be experts in genetics, either through PCR or other genomic testing.
A bachelor's degree in an appropriate life science or chemistry program is required, in addition to an internship. Most medical technologists will also secure accreditation by the National Accrediting Agency for Clinical Laboratory Sciences (NAA-CLS), or other more specialized certifications as needed. However, the pressing need for medical technologists is also in part due to the limited number of schools offering the degree as well as the growing trend to hire only individuals with accreditation already or only from an NAA-CLS accredited school, thereby limiting the applicant pool. Individuals without these degrees or certifications are then only eligible for the less-paid medical technician position, which can be just as demanding but for a lower salary.
The need for medical technologists is so pressing thanks to the increased demand for lab work to help with not only pathology, but also for infection control and prevention. Proactive lab tests to prevent spread of hospital acquired infections (HAIs) mean increased demand on a facility's lab. Ultimately, we want more lab tests that give us more information and help us make better medical decisions. In order to make this happen, however, it is a good time to look at the career pipeline and look for opportunities to remove obstacles to education and employment in this critical field.
Editor's Note: This post was originally published in August 2019 and has been updated for freshness, accuracy and comprehensiveness.