Medical Lab Scientists' Role in COVID-19 Testing

With the onslaught of COVID-19, medical testing professionals have come to face a highly demanding workload of rapid-fire testing to provide positive or negative results. Behind every COVID-19 test is a Medical Laboratory Scientist (MLS) determining whether the virus is present or absent. As the demand for testing has increased, these medical professionals have risen to meet it.

What Is a Medical Lab Scientist?

A Medical Laboratory Scientist has expertise in laboratory testing. The role entails putting biological specimens such as blood, urine, or tissues through a process to obtain a test result. This test result aids in a physician’s diagnosis and treatment plan. Medical Laboratory Scientists spend much of their time in a medical laboratory performing testing and analysis.

These medical professionals are pivotal to the development of an accurate diagnosis. Testing provides a foundation of reliable information to both doctors and patients. It provides a window into an individual’s overall physical well-being. An MLS can test anything from vitamin levels to detecting diseases (sometimes using complex antibody testing for the latter).

Job Overview of an MLS

An MLS spends much of the day performing laboratory testing such as COVID-19 testing. This work includes maintaining laboratory equipment and reporting results. To communicate results adequately, an MLS must be proficient with computer systems. In addition, strong motor skills are required to perform delicate testing procedures using medical technology.

Frequently, there is a supervisory aspect to the MLS role. Medical Laboratory Scientists provide guidance and oversight to Medical Laboratory Technician While the two roles have similarities, an MLT often has a two-year degree. In comparison, an MLS holds a bachelor’s degree.

What Is the Impact of COVID-19 on MLS Careers?

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought the need for laboratory testing and laboratory testing professionals the forefront of public awareness. The need for testing has increased sharply without a corresponding increase in available medical laboratory professionals. Laboratory testing is crucial to providing life-saving medical knowledge. Accordingly, so are Medical Laboratory Scientists.

COVID-19 has revealed the essential role of Laboratory Scientists and their service to others. It has also shed light on a potential vulnerability. Access to quick and accurate testing, such as COVID-19 testing, is necessary for personal and national safety. MLS careers are in demand, especially as routine testing continues alongside COVID-19 testing.

Even outside of a pandemic, MLS roles are necessary to support health by providing accurate information. As long as testing is an integral part of health and wellness, there will be a need for Medical Laboratory Scientists.

MLS Workforce Shortages

According to the American Society for Clinical Laboratory Science (ASCLS), those working in the clinical laboratory professions are experiencing a workforce shortage. The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects a 7% growth rate for these occupations between 2019 and 2029. 1 However, this information is reflective of data prior to COVID-19.

Additionally, ASCLS charts a workforce shortage for the following reasons:2

  1. An increase in testing due to COVID-19 and a growing elderly population
  2. Increasing vacancy rates in MLS and MLT roles without sufficient recruitments
  3. Changes in technology that affect MLS and MLT roles

As the shortage continues, the need for trained Medical Laboratory Scientists continues to grow. If you are motivated to participate in the medical industry in a field that is in demand, consider a role as an MLS.

How to Become a Medical Laboratory Scientist

To become a Medical Laboratory Scientist, you must first earn a suitable bachelor’s degree. MLS degree programs, such as a Bachelor of Health Science in Medical Laboratory Science, are designed to equip you for work in a real lab. They accomplish this through both online and in-person laboratory courses. Bellarmine University’s accelerated hybrid format provides a blend of convenience and quality for those looking to become an MLS.

After earning a bachelor’s degree in MLS, the next step is obtaining certification. Certification is a requirement for nearly all employers. Even when it is not, it serves as a resume booster and a symbol of quality. It can be achieved through organizations such as the American Society for Clinical Pathology Board of Certification.3 If you’re looking to increase your competitive edge in the job market, certification is an asset. While certification is generally mandated, licensure is also required in some states. As you work toward your degree, make sure you are aware of your state’s requirements for licensure and certification.

If this in-demand role appeals to you, consider Bellarmine University’s Bachelor of Health Science in Medical Laboratory Science. Discover how you can apply your interest in the laboratory to a real-world job and support the fight against COVID-19. Learn more about MLS career possibilities and whether this accelerated hybrid Medical Laboratory Science program is for you.


Retrieved from:

1U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Clinical Laboratory Technologists and Technicians in April 2021.

2ACLAS, Laboratory Workforce, Addressing the Clinical Laboratory Workforce Shortage in April 2021.

3ASCP Board of Certification, Going Places? An ASCP BOC Certification Can Help. In April 2021.