Learn About Being a Laboratory Scientist

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published December 10, 2019

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

What does a laboratory scientist do?

A laboratory scientist performs tests on samples from patients to assess the presence or absence of diseases. They play a crucial role in the diagnosis process in hospitals, allowing doctors to identify what is causing a patient’s symptoms for more accurate diagnosis and more effective treatment. Laboratory scientist responsibilities include:

  • Locating and identifying infectious microorganisms in samples

  • Identifying abnormalities in patients’ blood that can affect the ability to clot correctly

  • Testing blood samples for concentrations of drugs provided during treatments

  • Interpreting test results and relaying information to the clinical staff to assist in diagnosis and treatment

  • Breaking down sample fluids from patients and identifying components

Average salary

Laboratory scientists are usually full-time employees paid hourly and may be subject to working late nights, weekends and holidays. For the most up-to-date salary information from Indeed, click on the salary link.

  • Common salary in the U.S.: $32.87 per hour

  • Some salaries range from $7.25 to $85.85 per year.

Laboratory scientist requirements

When applying for a laboratory scientist position, ensure that you meet all the requirements to succeed in the position, including:

Education

To get hired as a laboratory scientist, an applicant must have earned a minimum of a bachelor’s degree in medical laboratory science from an accredited university. During studies, a diverse range of science and math courses will be required and help to provide the scientist with the skills they will need once employed and working in a clinical lab. Necessary courses include organic chemistry, principles of lab management, microbiology, hematology and immunology.

Training

These professionals receive extensive practical training in a laboratory setting during their education to gain first-hand experience performing lab duties. Some on-the-job training may occur under the guidance of a senior scientist.

Certifications

A laboratory scientist may pursue additional certification options to bolster their qualifications and deepen their knowledge in the field. Certification is available through multiple professional organizations:

Clinical Laboratory Scientist (CLS)

The CLS certification is available to laboratory scientists with a minimum of one year of clinical experience following their baccalaureate studies, or one year of work experience in the military. The certification requires a laboratory scientist to pass a written examination. A scientist may attempt the test twice before being forced to wait one year. Additional attempts may only occur no closer together than once every two years. Each organization’s certification examinations are accepted from different dates. The following organizations offer CLS certification:
American Society for Clinical Pathology
American Association of Bioanalysts
American Society for Clinical Pathology International
American Medical Technologists

Additional licenses are available in laboratory specialties in some states. A specialty license can demonstrate enhanced knowledge in a specific field, including:

  • Chemistry

  • Cytogenetics

  • Genetic molecular biology

  • Hematology

  • Histocompatibility

  • Immunohematology

  • Microbiology

  • Toxicology

Skills

A laboratory scientist needs a variety of hard and soft skills to excel in a professional setting, including:

Attention to detail

When working in a laboratory setting, precision is essential for getting accurate results. This becomes even more important when running tests on patients, as the effects of mistakes are magnified. Strong attention to detail allows a laboratory scientist to minimize the risk of mistakes during experiments and tests.

Curiosity

The desire to ask questions and learn new things is fundamental to success as a laboratory scientist. An inquisitive nature not only allows a laboratory scientist to perform well in the lab but also to continue learning and improving through study outside of the lab as well.

Problem solving

Each patient who is brought into a hospital for treatment presents the medical staff with a problem in search of a solution. Problem-solving skills allow a laboratory scientist to devise a plan of action for their portion of the diagnostic process and follow that plan to provide as much useful information to the staff treating the patient as possible.

Investigative skills

A laboratory scientist is responsible for identifying potential causes of a patient’s symptoms by investigating possible causes and performing tests to either confirm or rule out options and allow doctors to narrow the focus of the patient’s treatment.

Time management

In a medical lab setting, there are often more tests than there are time or resources to run them. Effectively using time to get the most important tests run for all patients is a vital skill for a laboratory scientist to possess.

Teamwork

A laboratory scientist must be able to work effectively with others to excel in the position. In addition to collaborating with other scientists in the lab, they must also work with doctors and nurses to assist in treatment.

Analytical skills

A laboratory scientist needs to have strong analytical skills to properly assess what they observe during tests and to make accurate conclusions from the results of tests. Analytical skills can also be useful in determining what tests to perform when time is at a premium and a broad range of tests is not an option.

Equipment maintenance

A laboratory scientist will work with a variety of pieces of medical and scientific equipment daily. The scientist must know how to fix and maintain small problems as well as how to properly utilize the equipment to reduce the risk of damages during use.

Laboratory scientist work environment

A laboratory scientist spends the majority of their working hours in a clinical laboratory. They can work for a variety of healthcare institutions, from a small clinic to a major hospital. During an average day, a laboratory scientist will use many different pieces of scientific equipment to perform tests and identify abnormalities in specimens.

How to become a laboratory scientist

You can follow these steps to become a laboratory scientist:

1. Earn a degree.

Laboratory science is a specialized field, and a bachelor’s degree or higher in medical laboratory science or a related field of study is necessary. During studies, you should maximize your lab time and take advantage of any opportunities to perform extracurricular work that can enhance your resume after graduation.

2. Gather recommendations.

Another excellent way to bolster a resume when you have no prior work experience in the field is to utilize recommendations from professors whose labs you worked in during college. While a custom letter for an opening is exceptional, it is acceptable to have each individual write you one letter that you can use for all applications.

3. Update your resume.

Include your highest level of education as well as your skills, achievements and all related work experience. Use keywords from open job descriptions to tailor a cover letter for each job you apply to.

4. Pursue additional certification.

A Clinical Laboratory Scientist (CLS) certification is a distinguishing mark on a resume that you can begin testing for after a year of professional experience. Receiving your CLS can help you negotiate salary at your next annual review, or bolster your resume when applying for promotions or a higher position in another lab.

Laboratory scientist job description example

Tannersville Medical is in search of a clinical laboratory scientist to begin work in our lab immediately. The laboratory scientist will be expected to perform tests on samples provided by patients and analyze the results to assist doctors in the diagnostic process. The ideal candidate will have strong attention to detail and the ability to use their time efficiently and wisely. Prior experience is preferred but not required.

Related careers

  • Lab assistant

  • Lab technician

  • Medical technologist

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