By Camellia St. John

Ever wonder who actually tests your blood when you go to a clinic, hospital or doctor’s office? Or who examines and studies and analyzes tissue samples for disease? More likely than not, it will be a clinical laboratory scientist.

When I became a clinical laboratory scientist, my family didn’t understand what I did for a living. To them, hospitals were the realm of doctors and nurses. In the hospital, you will probably never see us and yet my colleagues and I are very busy on the patient’s behalf.

We are the people who run tests on blood and other body fluids, tissues and products. We use standards and controls to ensure that the results the doctor gets are as correct as possible.

Many times we use sophisticated instruments to obtain the results on hundreds of samples, but those instruments don’t work all by themselves. They must be monitored, adjusted, repaired and cleaned. We identify blood cells, microbes, rates of clotting and cholesterol levels among other things. What I do for a living is in high demand and forecasts indicate a shortage in this critical area.

UTMB recently introduced three new master’s degree programs in Clinical Lab Sciences. These programs are for current clinical lab scientists with bachelor’s degrees or for someone with a bachelor’s degree in sciences such as biology or chemistry interested in moving into the clinical lab sciences field.

Clinical laboratory science is one of the highest-growth occupation areas in the country with one of the highest shortages of certified professionals, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. The department projects that about 10,700 new clinical laboratory professionals are needed every year through 2018; but less than half of that goal is being met.

Entry-level salaries for certified clinical laboratory science professionals with bachelor’s degrees start in the mid $40,000s. Clinical laboratory scientists who complete a master’s degree program enhance their earning capacity significantly.

UTMB has had a clinical laboratory science bachelor’s degree program since 1935. Students enter our undergraduate program as juniors and spend two years learning the basic entry-level information and techniques. With a bachelor’s, they can enter the profession.

They are qualified to begin doing basic lab testing. But there is much more to clinical laboratory science, including keeping up with and transmitting patient results by computer, specializing in one specific area of the lab, such as the blood bank and making sure that instruments provide valid results.

Advanced clinical lab scientists determine if there are other substances in a specimen or how each specimen has been handled because foreign substances and improper handling can lead to inaccurate readings. You can learn some of this while on a job but much requires advanced education.

UTMB’s new clinical laboratory science master’s degree programs include a master’s in science for non-CLS students, a master’s in science for individuals who already hold a bachelor’s degree in clinical lab science and a master’s in science in transfusion medicine.

For information, visit the website or call 409-772-3030. There are still some slots open for the fall 2012 semester.

Camellia St. John is an associate professor in UTMB’s Department of Clinical Laboratory Science in the School of Health Professions. She began working in the UTMB labs 47 years ago. Besides her certification as a specialist in blood banking, she holds master’s degrees in transfusion medicine and education.

Camellia St. John is an associate professor in the UTMB's  Department of Clinical Laboratory Science in the School of Health Professions.

Originally published in the Galveston Daily News.