Medical technologist: experience, specialties and training

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A medical technologist is a highly trained healthcare professional who examines and analyzes blood, other body fluids, and tissue samples. Medical technologists are responsible for the operation and maintenance of the equipment used to analyze samples and for the correct and timely execution of the tests.

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The training of medical technologists is broader than that of the medical laboratory technicians they usually work with. Although medical technologists do not typically interact directly with patients, their work is vital to proper patient diagnosis, treatment, and care.

Also know as

  • Scientific-clinical laboratory assistant
  • Medical Scientist
  • Medical laboratory technologist

Concentration

Medical technologists work in all areas of the laboratory, including immunology, microbiology, genetics, histology, hematology, chemistry, toxicology, and blood banking.

The role of a medical technologist may be determined by the branch of pathology in which their laboratory specializes, but is otherwise limited only to the tools that are provided to them. However, this is purely diagnostic.

Clinical pathology

In clinical pathology, the technologist will conduct laboratory studies of body fluids and monitor them. Tests are done to identify markers of infectious and non-infectious diseases. The samples that are usually analyzed by a medical technician are:

Anatomical pathology

Anatomical pathology involves the examination of tissue removed from the body during a biopsy or surgery. While some diagnostic tests can be performed by a technician, others require the expertise of a pathologist .

The types of tests that a technologist can perform or assist include:

  • General examination: examination of tissues with the naked eye.
  • Histology: examination of tissue under a microscope.
  • Cytopathology: examination of single cells under a microscope.
  • Electron microscope
  • Cytogenetics: visualization of chromosomes by various methods.

The combination of branches of clinical and anatomical pathology is often referred to as general pathology .

Procedural experience

Medical technologists are responsible for preparing tissue samples, slides, and cultures for examination by a pathologist, optimizing the diagnostic process, and expediting laboratory results.

In larger facilities, technologists will perform more complex tasks, such as molecular, genetic or genomic testing. They will also step in when faced with diagnostic problems, including unusual or conflicting laboratory findings.

The training that medical technologists receive gives them the understanding they need to know which methodologies, tools and test agents are best suited for each case.

Medical technologists often work under the direction of a pathologist, but may be tasked with running the laboratory itself. Among their responsibilities, medical technologists will supervise the work of laboratory technicians in addition to performing their own duties.

Although the pathologist is ultimately responsible for the laboratory and its staff, it is often the medical technologist who ensures the normal, safe, and proper operation of the laboratory. This includes setting up, calibrating and sterilizing laboratory equipment and analyzing and verifying the accuracy of laboratory reports.

Most medical technologists work behind the scenes and have no direct contact with patients. The medical professionals who are often tasked with obtaining samples are phlebotomists and laboratory technicians. The rest of the samples are delivered by doctors and surgeons directly to the laboratory.

Specializations

Some medical technologists will work in a limited field of practice. For example, some labs may only specialize in genetics or cytopathology. Others may have specific roles and functions in a hospital or institution.

Transfusion medicine

A technologist working in the field of blood transfusion medicine ensures that there is a sufficient and safe amount of blood in the blood bank. Other tasks may include blood group determination and blood tests to detect infectious diseases such as HIV and viral hepatitis .

Forensic pathology

Forensic pathology involves the study of clinical and anatomical findings after a sudden and unexpected death. While a forensic pathologist is often responsible for obtaining human and non-human samples (such as fibers from clothing), the medical technician performs many of the tests necessary to determine cause of death.

Specific organ pathology

There are sections of pathology focused on specific organs or physiological systems. Working in these limited specialties generally requires additional training to better understand the diseases that affect these systems and how to accurately diagnose them.

Examples include:

  • Cardiovascular disease (heart and circulatory system)
  • Endocrine pathology (hormone-producing glands)
  • Gastrointestinal pathology (digestive tract)
  • Pathology of the genitourinary system (genitalia and urinary tract)
  • Gynecological pathology (female reproductive system)
  • Neuropathology (brain and nervous system)
  • Oral and maxillofacial pathology (mouth, jaw and related structures)
  • Orthopedic pathology (bones, joints and related structures)
  • Pulmonary pathology (lungs)
  • Kidney (kidney) pathology

Training and Certification

A medical technologist career requires at least a bachelor's degree, preferably in a relevant scientific field such as biology, microbiology, or biochemistry.

Students who majored or earned a degree in another science program and who are interested in becoming medical technologists can take this path by taking courses in hospitals during their final year of college, if offered.

In addition to this, students must undertake an internship in a pathology laboratory.

Completion of the National Clinical Laboratory Research Accreditation Agency (NAA-CLS) accredited medical technologist program is also required.

For optimal success, medical technologists must be certified after meeting all of their educational and training requirements. The American Society of Clinical Pathologists (ASCP) offers a national certification exam that should ideally be renewed every three years. This certifies that the technologist is knowledgeable in the field and allows him to add the initials MLS (ASCP) after his name (MLS stands for scientist in a medical laboratory).

Some states require licenses for all medical laboratory personnel, while others do not. As requirements may vary from state to state, contact your local state council or the Department of Health for more details.

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