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Question: What Are the Differences Between a Medical Technologist (MT) and a Medical Laboratory Scientist (MLS)? (MT vs MLS)

Answer: Medical Technologist (MT) and Medical Laboratory Scientist (MLS) are two designations for similar types of clinical laboratory professionals who possess the training and credentials to hold largely equivalent positions in various types of medical laboratories. The MT certifications offered by the American Association of Bioanalysts (AAB) and American Medical Technologists (AMT) association and the MLS certification offered by the American Society for Clinical Pathology (ASCP) require similar levels of education, training, and professional experience, and all three certifications qualify individuals for clinical laboratory work that involves performing and analyzing diagnostic tests on biological specimens.

Medical technology refers to a broad range of medical devices, including equipment designed to perform various types of diagnostic medical tests on blood, urine, and other biological specimens in medical laboratories. Medical laboratory science, which may also be referred to as clinical laboratory science, is the field of clinical practice in which medical technologies are deployed to conduct primarily diagnostic testing procedures that are integral to the identification and treatment of illness and disease and to the facilitation of preventative and/or palliative care measures. For example, the instruments used to conduct blood or hematology testing, including microscopes, centrifuges, spectrophotometers, and colorimeters, are medical technologies; the practice of properly handling blood samples, calibrating hematology laboratory equipment, and performing testing procedures in order to identify pathogens and/or indicators of illness or disease is medical laboratory science.

Medical Technologist (MTs) vs. Medical Laboratory Scientists (MLSs)

Medical Technologist (MT) and Medical Laboratory Scientist (MLS) are two professional designations for clinicians who are trained to properly operate medical laboratory equipment and conduct various types of clinical laboratory tests. Professional MTs and MLSs, who may also be referred to as Clinical Laboratory Scientists (CLSs), typically hold a bachelor’s degree and have completed an academic training program accredited by the National Accrediting Agency for Clinical Laboratory Sciences (NAACLS), either as part of an MLS/MT bachelor’s degree program or through a post-baccalaureate MLS/MT certification program.

In addition to earning a bachelor’s degree, MTs and MLSs generally complete a minimum of one year of full-time clinical experience as part of their training. Some MTs and MLSs engage in clinical training as part of their academic program, while others may choose to do so while working as Medical Laboratory Technicians (MLTs). It is important to note that the MT and MLT designations, though similar in appearance, differ greatly: MTs and MLSs have a higher level of training and professional responsibility than MLTs, who typically hold an associate degree rather than a bachelor’s degree and may have fewer clinical training hours.

In addition to academic and clinical training, MTs and MLSs are generally required to hold professional certifications. There are currently three professional organizations that offer largely equivalent certifications to qualified MTs and MLSs, provided they meet specific academic and clinical training requirements and are able to pass a certification exam. The American Association of Bioanalysts (AAB) and American Medical Technologists (AMT) association each offer an MT certification. The American Society for Clinical Pathology (ASCP) has an MLS certification. All three organizations also provide certifications for MLTs and for technologists and technicians in various medical laboratory specializations, such as andrology, embryology, histology, and phlebotomy.

Finally, there are currently 11 states that require licensure for medical laboratory personnel, including MTs and MLSs. The licensing process and requirements vary by state. Medical laboratory professionals who plan to practice in California, Hawaii, Florida, New York, North Dakota, Tennessee, Louisiana, Nevada, West Virginia, Montana, or Georgia should contact the licensing board in that state regarding licensing requirements. Puerto Rico also has licensure requirements for medical laboratory personnel.

MT versus MLS: A Side-By-Side Comparison

The table below offers a general overview of the similarities between MTs and MLSs. The primary difference between the two designations is semantic and relates to professional certification.

Professional DesignationMedical Technologist (MT)Medical Laboratory Scientist (MLS)
Certification OrganizationsAmerican Association of Bioanalysts (AAB),
American Medical Technologists (AMT) association
American Society for Clinical Pathology (ASCP)
Education LevelBachelor’s Degree, although AAB will certify qualified candidates who hold an associate degree in medical technology or the equivalentBachelor’s Degree
Clinical ExperienceMinimum of one yearMinimum of one year

For further information on MT/MLS certifications and the various ways to become an MT/MLS, refer to our FAQs on How to Become a Clinical Laboratory Scientist and What is CLS Certification and Is Certification a Requirement for Clinical Laboratory Scientists (CLSs)? For additional information on the differences between MLTs and MLSs, see our FAQ on What Are the Differences Between an MLT and an MLS?

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