MLS and MLT Career Opportunities

by | Clinical, Uncategorized

Publish Date: April 3, 2024

As a manufacturer of quality controls used in clinical diagnostics, we see firsthand the difficulties that laboratory directors face in maintaining the unwavering accuracy patients deserve. One of the most prominent obstacles involves the pipeline of new professionals entering the field. The field of medical diagnostics faces a two-fold challenge. While technology continues to advance, bringing new instruments and assays into the laboratory, the talent pipeline experiences multiple bottlenecks. Certain areas of testing that were limited to large regional facilities just a few years ago are now commonplace in smaller laboratories. For example, genetic screening involved in cancer treatments, once limited to large laboratories, is now common, increasing the demands on laboratory professionals. The talent pool, however, has not kept pace with the growth in diagnostic technology. In fact, the Association of Diagnostic Laboratory Medicine (ADLM, formerly AACC) recognizes the shortage of trained professionals as a major public health problem. In a letter to the US Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions, ADLM and other health organizations stated that “most medical and public health laboratories suffer from significant personnel shortages, and many are operating at or near crisis-mode.” The letter notes that the COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated existing talent sourcing challenges.1

To learn more about these challenges and potential solutions, we sat down with Professor Louise Millis, MS, MLS(ASCP)CM MLS Program Director at St. Cloud State University (SCSU) in St. Cloud, Minnesota. Professor Millis has experience on multiple sides of this issue, having filled several roles within clinical diagnostics prior to becoming an educator and curriculum director. As an instructor, she frequently sees the staffing challenges from two separate angles: (1) laboratory directors unable to fill open positions and (2) students being hesitant to pursue Medical Lab Scientist (MLS) and Medical Lab Technician (MLT) degrees. Students may hesitate to consider MLS and MLT degrees for several reasons, one being the false notion that these degrees do not offer multiple ladders for advancement beyond entry-level positions.

In speaking with Professor Millis, the same theme emerged in response to both sides of the equation. Laboratory directors must be creative in applying new strategies for attracting the right talent.  Students, likewise, must be creative in their attitudes to education and the opportunities available to them. Moreover, by seeking to learn about each other’s challenges, students and laboratory leaders can both better understand the opportunities available to them. Below we examine Professor Millis’ recommendations for lowering the hurdles for new laboratory professionals to receive the right training and connect with the right opportunities.

Students: Challenges & Opportunities

Clinical laboratory professionals play an indispensable and foundational role to our nation’s healthcare. They are the unsung heroes that utilize their expert problem-solving, analytical, and technical skills to act as detectives on the frontlines of our healthcare system. According to the CDC, about 14 billion laboratory tests are ordered annually. Further, 70% of healthcare decisions are based on the results of clinical laboratory testing.1 & 2 We all have benefited from the dedication and hard work of clinical laboratory professionals.

Despite the foundational role clinical laboratory professionals play in our healthcare system, Professor Millis suggests that the clinical laboratory is the “quiet side of medicine.” She states that, “a lot of people do not know about the clinical laboratory profession even though everyone has experienced and benefited from it.” Professor Millis emphasizes that, “there is no medicine going on without the lab, and therefore no treatment. The doctors must know the patient’s lab values. The doctors make the decisions [but] the data must be accurate. It is really the most important part of medicine when you know that clinical decisions and treatments are really based on that data and ensuring the integrity.”

If you are a forward-thinking problem solver with a passion for science and helping others, obtaining a degree in Medical Laboratory Technology (MLT, two-year degree) or Medical Laboratory Science (MLS, four-year degree) may be right for you. MLS and MLT degrees equip students with problem solving and methodical investigative skills to administer clinical diagnostic tests with consistent accuracy. Laboratory professionals apply these degrees to help patients get the right diagnoses to receive the right treatment regiments. This is an exciting and rapidly growing field; the Bureau of Labor and Statistics projects job growth of 11% from 2020 to 2030 for the clinical laboratory.2 Therefore, there are many opportunities for those holding MLT and MLS degrees.

Career Trajectory for MLS

Clinical laboratory professionals, Professor Millis notes, are like detectives; they work to solve and troubleshoot complex problems. This is a valuable skill that transfers to many industries. In fact, Professor Millis states that “a degree in clinical laboratory medicine can take you in any direction you want to take.” According to Professor Millis, the MLT/MLS degrees confer many transferrable skills that allow graduates to work in diverse roles: “I have found the degree to be such a door opener.”

In her vast experience working with MLT and MLS students, Professor Millis has found that graduates go on to a multitude of careers. Graduates have the option to go on to be traveling laboratorians where they secure jobs in changing locations, often working with travel agencies to choose desirable regions. Professor Millis states that, to do this, “you need to have the confidence to go into any lab and perform on day one.” In addition to the clinical laboratory, Professor Millis has seen students go into industry and take roles in sales and research. Students have also gone on to teach in MLT/MLS programs.

An MLT/MLS education also provides a springboard to further education. Students have entered graduate school, physician’s assistant, and medical school.  “It is a wonderful thing,” she says, when MLT or MLS students with a background in the clinical laboratory further their education within the medical field because they understand the laboratory tests. Professor Millis suggests that MLT and MLS are within a “magic” area of education. She thinks graduates of MLT/MLS programs today have more opportunities than she had, provided they keep a flexible mindset:

I tell students that generally in math you learn a straight line needs three points. To put your ruler up against it and make sure it is straight. If you’re going to cut something, you don’t just put two dots, you put three to make sure it’s straight. But with respect to your education and your career, you only want two so that you can do this wiggling in between because you don’t want to feel that you’re pigeonholed someplace. I think that’s a very good take-home message for students.

Professor Millis’ Career

Professor Millis has had a dynamic career that exemplifies the diverse path the MLS degree offers to a student, having worked in multiple laboratory settings. Beginning her training in a teaching hospital, Professor Millis worked with a diverse patient population. She has spent countless hours in the clinical laboratory.

Early in her career, Professor Millis took a risk on a technical service job at an industrial enzyme company. In her role, Professor Millis developed assays to troubleshoot customer problems. She was hired into this position because of her MLS training; the HR hiring team knew she had troubleshooting experience and training in the clinical laboratory. After this role, Professor Millis went back to the clinical laboratory as a generalist covering other areas of the laboratory in addition to microbiology.

Eventually, Professor Millis went back to school for a master’s degree in Microbiology. After attaining her MS, she took a job running a fermentation facility in the Biotechnology field for a company making human growth hormone and insulin. Professor Millis states, “I was hired because they knew I could troubleshoot my way out of a problem because of my MLS training. I had never ever done anything like this before. But I had a background that supported the ability to leverage what I knew and figure out how to get the information I needed to proceed to the next step.” Eventually, Professor Millis stepped away from this role to focus on her children.

When she decided to go back into the workforce, she took a position in Education at Lakeland College in Wisconsin focused on clinical and industrial microbiology. Again, Professor Millis stresses that she was given this opportunity because of her MLS background. In this role, Professor Millis was part of a team of educators that began teaching online science courses and was on the forefront of online education. Eventually, Professor Millis relocated to Minnesota and started working at North Hennepin Community College (NHCC) in the Biology department. Shortly after starting at NHCC she was asked by both NHCC and SCSU to develop what would become the 2+2 MLS completion program.

She maintains that for every job, her MLS has been the foundation: “My background started in the clinical laboratory and then I mostly focused on clinical microbiology, but as I moved through my jobs, I kept that with me, but I also expanded it into other areas. But that is definitely the thread of my experience, and my MLS degree has 100% been the cornerstone of every single job I have ever gotten.” The MLS degree has great potential for students to “really take you in any direction you want it to take.” The MLS degree, she says, signifies critical areas of aptitude for employers. “I’ve had several jobs that had called for advanced degrees. But I got hired because I was an MLS. The people in the hiring area and lab knew I was trained in quality control. I knew how to work through a problem step by step. It is not like you can call somebody all the time. You must do this work yourself.”

Giving Back to the Profession

Professor Millis believes in the profession. When asked to create the 2+2 MLS completion program she jumped at the opportunity. Here was a degree path that would advance the opportunities of students. Both SCSU and NHCC were ahead of their time with this work. This program offers a version of the MLS major that is often more flexible for a non-traditional student. Professor Millis states that this program is highly supported from healthcare facilities within the state of Minnesota and offers students competitive tuition rates to continue their training.

Professor Millis’ message to scientifically-minded students

If you are passionate about science and problem solving, Professor Millis suggests considering a role in the clinical laboratory. The profession offers diverse career options and opportunities for educational advancement. Because clinical testing has an immeasurable impact on patient health, MLT and MLS degrees can launch very rewarding careers. Clinical laboratory professionals are in high demand and at the forefront of technology and medicine. This is an exciting and rewarding profession. Professor Millis has had a dynamic and exceptional career that exemplifies the value of an MLS degree and the transferrable skills it confers.

How current laboratory professionals can help

Supporting education initiatives that open more paths to MLT and MLS degrees is an impactful way to help laboratories overcome talent shortages. If you know scientifically-inclined students looking for career paths, encourage them to explore MLS or MLT degrees.


Louise MillisAbout Louise Millis

Louise Millis MS, MLS (ASCP)cm is a Professor of Biology and Director of the MLS and HT Program at St. Cloud State University (MN). Prior to transitioning into education, Professor Millis worked in several laboratory settings, leveraging her clinical diagnostic skills within multiple industries.



1. “Laboratory Organizations Urge Congress to Address Workforce Shortages.” Association for Diagnostics and Laboratory Medicine.

2. “Occupational Outlook Handbook.” Bureau of Labor Statistics.

3 “FDA and CMS Statement: Americans Deserve Accurate and Reliable Diagnostic Tests, Wherever They Are Made.” Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services.



Written by Microbiologics

Microbiologics is the foremost biological products and services provider, focused on protecting the health and safety of people around the world. For over 50 years, they have been partnering with healthcare and life science laboratories, manufacturers and suppliers across the globe to co-create and provide biological control materials, assay services and consulting for microbiology, molecular diagnostics and virology. Headquartered in Saint Cloud, Minnesota, the company has additional facilities in California, Kentucky and Michigan. Microbiologics has advanced industry standards for biological controls by adopting the most rigorous testing and quality standards including ISO 13485, ISO/IEC 17025, and ISO 17034. The company has an extensive distribution network spanning over 150 countries. For more information, visit

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