Laboratory science professionals play a vital role in the diagnosis, treatment, management, and prevention of disease. These professionals act as healthcare detectives behind the scenes, using both state-of-the-art biomedical instrumentation and manual methods to provide laboratory results to clinicians. Many medical decisions are based on laboratory results generated by laboratory professionals.
Medical (clinical) laboratory professionals work in disciplines such as clinical chemistry, hematology, immunology, immunohematology (blood bank), microbiology, and molecular diagnostics. Medical laboratory professionals generate laboratory test results and can provide consultation as needed to healthcare practitioners, aiding in detecting cancer, stroke, diabetes, infectious disease, birth defects, heart attacks, and more.
Why We Matter
Laboratory science professionals are key members of today's healthcare team and are vital in contributing to quality patient care. Physicians, nurses, and other healthcare professionals rely on critical laboratory data used in treating patients. Testing of blood, body fluids, and tissues requires accurate interpretation of these laboratory results, a function that laboratorians can assist in, thus providing a more complete picture of a patient’s health. This process includes:
Although clinical laboratory testing dates back to ancient times when diabetes was diagnosed by tasting urine, or in the 17th century when scientists looked for bacteria under early microscopes, the profession of clinical laboratory science (medical technology) was not recognized until the early part of the 20th century.
The First Laboratories
Shortly before World War I, the first clinical laboratory scientists began working in clinical laboratories. During the war, and in the years that followed, a critical shortage of trained laboratory personnel developed. Pathologists began to hire young women, training them on the job to perform simple laboratory tests to address this shortage. However, there were no established training standards, and few institutions offered a systematic method for instruction.
Education & Definition
One of the first programs in laboratory science was offered at the University of Minnesota in 1924, offering courses in medical technology for clinical and laboratory technicians. Around this time, the first definition of a clinical laboratory was coined: A clinical (pathological) laboratory is an institution organized for the practical application of one or more of the fundamental sciences by the use of specialized apparatus, equipment, and methods for the purpose of ascertaining the presence, progress, and source of disease.
The Movement Towards Quality
The 20th century marked the beginning of a quality movement in hospitals and laboratories, and many hospitals reorganized their laboratories so that they were headed by biochemists. Professional organizations emerged to help ensure the skills and knowledge of laboratory professionals, and to strive for professional recognition. In 1928, the first medical technologist certification administered by the ASCP Board of Registry had 350 applicants, 80% of whom were women.
By the end of the first half of the 20th century, laboratory medicine had earned professional legitimacy through contributions to diagnosing disease and discovering drugs to treat formerly life-threatening illnesses. Professional societies emerged to develop professional identity and to provide educational support.