A Career Full of Options
Laboratory professionals who have gained experience at the bench and produce superior-quality work can be promoted to the supervisory level. As a supervisor of one or several laboratory departments, the individual is responsible for making sure the laboratory work assignments are completed. Arranging work schedules and managing personnel are important aspects of this job. The supervisor usually reports to the laboratory manager.
The Laboratory Manager
A technologist with both solid leadership ability and supervisory experience can become a laboratory manager. The laboratory manager is responsible for the day-to-day planning, coordination, and overall supervision of all laboratory operations. Many laboratory managers have advanced business degrees; some go on to earn certification as a Diplomat in Laboratory Management (DLM), a highly specialized credential that demonstrates advanced knowledge, focused experience, and a continuing commitment to providing an effective, efficient, high-quality laboratory environment. The person chosen to be laboratory manager must have the right combination of people skills, business knowledge, and technical experience to coordinate the work of other laboratory personnel. The laboratory manager’s day is varied and challenging. He or she hires employees, prepares budgets, organizes work schedules, and meets with sales representatives to select laboratory supplies and equipment, and oversees marketing for the laboratory. The laboratory manager works with the pathologist to make sure that the quality of work done in the laboratory meets the highest standards.
For anyone working in a medical laboratory, education is a career-long activity. Some teachers work with those just entering the field, teaching basic laboratory skills. Others are specialists who offer continuing education in selected topics. These teachers help working technicians and technologists to keep their existing skills sharp, as well as to learn advanced new techniques and procedures to improve their ability to serve patients.
Laboratory technologists and technicians use their investigative skills in medical research to explore new frontiers in medicine or to develop new products. In a medical center’s research laboratory, the laboratory professional tests new ideas about the origin of diseases, develops new laboratory methods, and evaluates the effectiveness of new types of clinical treatment. To do this, he or she operates computers and precision instruments—many of which are designed specially for each project. As a researcher, the laboratory professional could be part of a team that discovers an unknown disease or a cure for a fatal disease, or expands the scientific knowledge of a known disease. In research and development departments of manufacturing companies, laboratory professionals help develop commercial diagnostic products, such as over-the-counter testing kits for pregnancy, cholesterol levels, diabetes, HIV/AIDS, kidney problems, and other diseases.
The Molecular Pathology Technologist
Medicine’s most exciting new frontier is at the molecular level, where the fast-growing field of molecular pathology is breaking ground in our understanding of human health. Research has discovered that many disease states, including cancer, have their origins at the molecular or genetic level. Technologists in molecular pathology (MP) are helping to diagnose and even predict such diseases in the laboratory, often before any other symptoms present themselves. In addition, molecular examination can help to identify and isolate disease causing microorganisms by their genetic material, enabling more effective design of new drugs and treatments. As we learn more about the human genome, the role of the technologist in molecular pathology will only grow in importance.
The Forensic Scientist
Forensic science is one of the most intriguing—and today, one of the most popular arenas of laboratory medicine. While the current images in movies and television may not accurately reflect the real day-to-day routine of the forensic scientist, it is still true that forensic investigation can offer a rewarding career that calls on the full array of skills acquired and developed in clinical laboratory science programs. Studies in chemistry, histology, hematology, immunology, microbiology, cytology and toxicology may all be involved in the investigation of a case, depending on the type of evidence detected at and recovered from a scene. Forensic science makes a contribution that is vital to our criminal and civil justice system…and a daily challenge to the laboratory specialist.