In Canada, 3 year diploma college programs are offered with 7 semesters, two being an unpaid internship. The student graduates before taking their standards examination (example: CSMLS) to be qualified as a Medical Laboratory Technician or MLT. Many MLT's go on to receive their Bachelor of Science after their diploma. There are a select number of university programs that affiliate with a college MLT program allowing the student to graduate with both their degree and diploma.
Medical technologists who are certified by and remain in good standing with the American Society for Clinical Pathology (ASCP) are entitled to use the credential "MT" after their names, as well as "MT" for those certified by the American Association of Bioanalysts (AAB) If credentialed by the National Credentialing Agency for Laboratory Personnel , the credential "CLS" (Clinical Laboratory Scientist) may be used. Another certifying agency for medical technologists is the American Medical Technologists located in Rosemont,Illinois. AMT has states societies which publish newsletters, and hold continuing education credit seminars during the year with a national meeting in the summer.
In the United States, the Clinical Laboratory Improvement Amendments (CLIA '88) define the level of qualification required to perform tests of various complexity. A medical technologist holds the highest such qualification, and is in general qualified to perform the most complex clinical testing including HLA testing (tissue-typing) and blood type reference testing.
In addition to the national certification, 11 states also require a state license (i.e. California, Hawaii, Florida, North Dakota, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Louisiana, Nevada, West Virginia, Montana, Georgia.) California, Florida, and New York develop and administer their own examinations. Puerto Rico also has licensure. Most states (except California) require documentation of certification from a certification agency (see infra). You may also be expected to submit fingerprinting, documentation of certification, education, training, and competency. Some states require documentation and completion of a specified number of continuing education contact hours prior to issuing or renewing a license. California does not recognize any certification or any other state license. Check with the state you wish to locate to regarding reciprocity; some will recognize another state's license if it is equal or more stringent.
A medical technologist analyzes human fluid samples using techniques available to the clinical laboratory, such as manual white blood cell differentials, bone marrow counts, analysis via microscopy and advanced analytical equipment. Medical technologists assist doctors and nurses in choosing the correct lab tests and collection methods; labeling and handling specimens; and interpreting the resulting analysis.
The technologist must recognize abnormalities and know how to correct them. They monitor, screen, and troubleshoot analytical devices including calibration, quality control, "on the fly" or run-by-run assessment, statistical control of observed data, and recording normal operations. To maintain the integrity of the laboratory process, the medical technologist recognizes factors that could introduce error and rejects contaminated or sub-standard specimens.
Common tests performed by medical technologists are complete blood count (CBC), comprehensive metabolic panel (CMP), electrolyte panel, liver function tests (LFT), renal function tests (RFT), thyroid function test (TFT), urinalysis, coagulation profile, lipid profile, blood type, semen analysis (for fertility and post vasectomy studies), serological studies and routine cultures.
A medical technologist's role is to provide accurate laboratory results in a timely manner. The results are used to confirm a diagnosis or to monitor treatment. Safeguards ensure accuracy. Safeguards include experimental controls, calibration of laboratory instruments, delta checks (significant changes within a normal series of results. Formerly known as the 'previous patient’s check), and periodic surveys from the College of American Pathologists (CAP). Laboratory results are 80% of a doctor's diagnosis.
The informal abbreviations of job titles may be a source of confusion. There are many "techs" in a hospital environment, including pharmacy techs, x-ray techs, and (formerly) respiratory techs, (now called Therapists). Medical technologists are called "med techs." This shorthand term is occasionally used by other healthcare employees, including medical technologists. Where doubt exists, addressing an MT or MLT as a technologist demonstrates respect.
Formally, there is a distinction between a technician and a technologist. Technicians generally have no more than a two-year associates degree, and may have less training. A medical laboratory technician (MLT) has an associates degree and can be certified or registered by one or more nationally-recognized professional organizations, however, they may not be certified to perform tests of high complexity. A medical technologist (MT) has a baccalaureate degree, and can be certified or registered by one or more nationally-recognized professional organizations.
Regardless of formal definitions, a medical technologist is usually called a med tech and a medical laboratory technician is called an MLT.
Currently, the United States is experiencing a labor shortage for medical technologists as well as virtually all other healthcare positions. Student enrollment in MT programs is steadily declining. Many universities cut budgets for Clinical Lab Science programs, or closed them altogether.
The primary reason for this decline is the vast disparity in salary, as compared to other healthcare workers. A typical medical technologist's salary is only 50 percent to 70 percent that of a registered nurse (RN), depending on geographical location. For instance, in Washington, D.C., the median MT salary is $37,378 compared to $67,695 for a Registered Nurse, assuming equivalent levels of experience. The 2005 data for the US Bureau of Labor Statistics lists the median annual income for a medical technologist in California as $64,540. That is the highest average in the nation. The main reason for this is lack of public view for the profession, another being a clinical laboratory is a cost center for a hospital. Saving money for hospitals must begin where the patients can not directly see the effect.
This is a concern of most laboratory professionals in today's healthcare system.