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Online Master’s in Medical Laboratory Science (MLS) Degree Programs

Medical laboratory science is a field of professional healthcare practice that encompasses the administration and analysis of various types of diagnostic medical tests, including blood and urine analyses and other clinical procedures that can provide physicians and other clinical staff with crucial information regarding patient health, preventative care, and treatment of disease and illness. Working in the field of medical laboratory science, or MLS, requires knowledge of various diagnostic testing procedures, familiarity with technical aspects of the equipment used to conduct laboratory tests, and a foundational understanding of the biological and biochemical science that underpins the practice of medical laboratory science.

Medical laboratories are typically organized hierarchically based on clinical staff members’ level of training, experience, education, and professional certification. There are entry-level medical laboratory assistants (MLAs), mid-level medical laboratory technicians (MLTs), and medical laboratory scientists (MLSs), who occupy senior positions under the direction of board-certified physicians and/or Ph.D. scientists. Most MLSs hold a bachelor’s degree, which is a requirement for the most common type of MLS certification, the American Society for Clinical Pathology (ASCP) MLS credential, and for MLS licensure in the states that require laboratory staff to be licensed. MLSs who are interested in advancing into teaching, research, and supervisory positions can receive advanced training in laboratory science, technology, and management in master’s degree programs with a graduate curriculum in medical and clinical laboratory science.

What is a Master’s in Medical Laboratory Science (MLS) Degree?

A Master’s in MLS is a graduate degree program designed to provide MLSs with the skills and knowledge necessary to oversee clinical laboratory operations, coordinate medical laboratory staff, instruct junior staff members, maintain quality-control measures, conduct medical laboratory research, and provide members of a medical team with reliable analyses of complex laboratory tests. Most candidates for a Master’s in MLS program are experienced clinicians who have worked for one or more years as an MLS or medical technologist (MT). As a result, these programs typically focus more on didactic coursework than hands-on clinical training.

Students in an MLS master’s program study research methodologies, data analysis and reporting procedures, patient diagnostic protocols, emerging laboratory technologies, clinical laboratory management and leadership strategies, clinical pedagogy and instructional design, and other advanced topics in medical science. Many programs also include an applied capstone project or master’s thesis in which students use what they have learned in the program to conduct a scientific investigation of an issue in MLS.

Online Master’s in Medical Laboratory Science Programs

Online programs utilize distance-learning technologies to provide the same training and instruction as a campus-based master’s program to students who cannot or would prefer not to commute to a campus for classes. Students in an online Master’s in MLS programs can access lectures and other course materials through a learning management system (LMS), which typically support online discussion forums and other instructional activities. Most online Master’s in MLS programs provide all of their coursework through the school’s LMS, although some programs require students to attend a limited number of on-campus sessions.

In addition to online coursework and any required campus-based sessions, online Master’s in MLS programs may also include clinical internships and/or practicums that must be completed in-person at a site approved by the program. Some programs have several designated sites at which clinical hours may be completed, while others may allow students who are employed in a medical laboratory to complete their clinical hours at their place of employment. Potential applicants to online Master’s in MLS programs should examine curricula carefully to determine whether or not a program requires an internship or practicum and if so, are there any restrictions on where clinical hours may be completed.

How Identifies and Classifies Online Master’s in MLS Programs

Online Master’s in MLS programs that are featured on this site are classified based on several important criteria. Programs must be offered by regionally accredited, non-profit colleges and universities, and some may have additional programmatic accreditation from the National Accrediting Agency for Clinical Laboratory Sciences (NAACLS). Programs must offer all or most of their coursework and instruction online. Currently, programs that require more than two campus visits per year are not included on the site.

In addition, researches program curriculum and classifies online Master’s in MLS programs based on the coursework they provide. While most master’s programs in the field are Master of Science (M.S.) programs, there is variation in how these programs are designated by different schools. Common names for Master’s in MLS programs include:

  • M.S. in Medical Laboratory Science
  • M.S. in Clinical Laboratory Science
  • M.S. in Health Science (MSHS) in Clinical or Medical Laboratory Science
  • M.S. in Clinical Laboratory Management
  • M.S. in Biomedical Laboratory Operations or Management

What Students Learn in an Online Master’s in MLS Degree Program

There are typically three components to an online Master’s in MLS program curriculum: medical science courses; management/leadership courses; and research methodology courses. Programs that are designed to accommodate students who do not hold an MLS certification or license may also require a clinical practicum, and most programs incorporate a mentored research project (i.e., capstone or thesis). The core master’s-level curriculum in MLS typically includes courses in the molecular and genetic basis of illness and infectious disease, environmental health and epidemiology, biostatistical research methods and data analysis, emerging medical laboratory technologies, and standards for the responsible and ethical practice of clinical laboratory science and research.

In addition, students in these programs learn about healthcare management, decision-making strategies, and laboratory management protocols. Many online Master’s in MLS programs require students to choose several elective courses, which may focus on advanced topics in clinical science (hematology, immunology, microbiology, molecular diagnostics, toxicology, and transfusion practice), organizational leadership (healthcare regulations, policy, and legal and financial issues), and/or instructional design and teaching for clinical and medical laboratory scientists.

Online Master’s in Medical Laboratory Science Courses

The table below offers a representative selection of courses that may be part of an online Master’s in MLS program curriculum. While specific requirements vary by program, the courses listed below are drawn from actual online Master’s in MLS programs.

Course TitleCourse Description
Topics in Healthcare LeadershipTheories of leadership, change management, and systems development and their application in healthcare organizations and clinical laboratories.
The Healthcare EnterpriseAn overview of the administrative aspects of running hospitals, medical centers, and other healthcare and patient-treatment facilities, including financial concerns, staffing structures, quality-control procedures, and other managerial issues.
Quality & Safety Assurance in MLSThe planning and application of appropriate quality-control measures in clinical diagnostics, and the development of benchmarks for setting safety standards in medical laboratories.
Data Analysis & InterpretationThe application of statistical methodologies to data analyses in healthcare and medical science, with an additional focus on effective communication and the presentation of data related to test results.
Evidence-Based Literature ReviewA review of relevant literature and research findings in the field of clinical and medical laboratory science.
Health Computer Information SystemsThe fundamentals of health information systems and technologies, and the role of these systems and technologies in healthcare operations, with an emphasis on the use of computer information systems.
Biostatistics for Clinical & Translational ResearchThe use of biostatistical data in clinical and translational research with an emphasis on experimental design, hypothesis formulation, and analytical methods.
Epidemiology for Clinical & Translational ResearchThe use of epidemiological data in clinical and translational research, with an emphasis on population health and man-made and environmental health hazards.
Molecular PathologyAn investigation of the molecular and genetic mechanisms for disease, and the use of cell-based genetic testing for disease and illness.
Infectious DiseaseAn examination of the major types of infectious disease, with an emphasis on bacterial agents and non-bacterial agents such as parasites, fungi, and viruses.
Education & Assessment in Medical Laboratory ScienceTheories of learning and instructional design applied to teaching and training in the field of medical laboratory science.

Admissions to Online Master’s in MLS Programs

Admissions policies and criteria vary by school and by program. Potential applicants to online Master’s in MLS programs should examine program admissions requirements carefully prior to submitting an application in order to determine their eligibility. In general, applicants to a master’s program are required to hold a bachelor’s degree from an accredited college or university. Some online Master’s in MLS programs require students to have an undergraduate degree in the health sciences and/or bachelor’s-level coursework in biology, chemistry, and other sciences. There are also master’s programs in the field that require applicants to have one or more years of clinical experience in a medical laboratory, and there are programs that only accept applicants who are certified MLSs or the equivalent.

In addition to college transcripts and documentation of national MLS/MT certification for programs that require applicants to be certified, online Master’s in MLS programs commonly ask applicants to submit a personal goals statement, two or more letters of recommendation, and/or a professional résumé. Some programs require applicants to have a cumulative undergraduate grade point average (GPA) of 3.0 or higher, and there are programs that still require submission of standardized tests scores (e.g., GRE scores). Finally, some programs conduct short video-conference interviews with candidates as part of the application process.

Online Master’s in Medical Laboratory Science Program Formats

There are several significant variations in online master’s program formats that potential applicants may want to consider prior to submitting applications. These variations may help determine the relative convenience and flexibility of an online program. For example, some online Master’s in MLS programs do not require students to attend on-campus instructional sessions, while others require one or two on-campus sessions per year. Some programs utilize synchronous instruction, which requires students to be logged on to the program’s LMS at specific times for weekly class meetings and lectures, while others utilize asynchronous instruction, a mode of online instruction that does not incorporate scheduled class meetings.

Finally, students who have work and other commitments outside of school may want to explore the various part-time and full-time enrollment options offered by online Master’s in MLS programs. These factors are discussed in greater detail in the sections below.

Campus Visits: Some online Master’s in MLS programs offer all of their coursework online, while others hold required on-campus sessions. These sessions, sometimes referred to as intensives or residencies, may be held over a weekend or for a week to ten days. They may incorporate networking sessions, seminars, workshops, and other activities that give students the opportunity to meet classmates and interact with instructors. Campus visits can be a valuable component of an online master’s program. However, these visits require travel and students may incur expenses in addition to a program’s tuition and fees in order to attend these sessions.

Synchronous vs. Asynchronous Instruction: Synchronous instruction is similar to a live classroom learning experience in that it takes place in real-time and requires students to be present at scheduled times for classes and other instructional activities. Asynchronous instruction does not have a real-time component and allows students to log on to a program’s LMS to view lectures and complete coursework at their convenience, 24-7. For students who would prefer the structure imposed by having scheduled class meetings, synchronous instruction may be the better fit. Students who feel they are self-disciplined and self-motivated enough to keep up with coursework in the absence of scheduled class meetings, may prefer the flexibility of asynchronous instruction.

Full-Time vs. Part-Time Enrollment: Online master’s programs are generally designed to be completed in roughly two academic years, or four semesters of full-time enrollment. This generally equates to taking two or three courses per semester. Online Master’s in MLS programs may also offer part-time enrollment options for students who would prefer to take fewer courses per semester. Some programs are only offered full-time or part-time, while other programs have a flexible format that allows students to choose between part-time and full-time course loads. Students who opt for part-time enrollment should be aware that it typically takes two to three or more years to graduate from a part-time online Master’s in MLS program.