Jennifer Bushnell, MEd, MT(ASCP)
The setting makes no difference, whether business or social. Most of us would agree that a person’s name is one of his or her most valued forms of identity. To use someone’s name correctly is a sign of respect and good manners. It feels good when people remember our names.
On the other hand, how does a person feel when their name is mispronounced or needs repeating several times? Some might say they feel slighted or perhaps insulted. Similar feelings may be elicited when professional names are used incorrectly—a problem laboratory professionals have struggled with for decades. To journey forward in defining our identity, we must first understand our past.
“A person’s name is to that person the sweetest and most important sound in any language.”
– Dale Carnegie
Name Number 1: Medical Technologist – MT(ASCP)
One of the first nationally recognized names for laboratory professionals was medical technologist. The American Society of Clinical Pathologists (ASCP) first used this name in 1928. In the early years, the primary goal of the ASCP’s Board of Registry (BOR) was to ensure standardization of the rapidly growing number of laboratory personnel. During this same time-period, ASCP was responsible for developing the first national certification exam for laboratory professionals. After successfully passing the ASCP BOR exam, graduates were permitted to use MT(ASCP) after their names.1
Name Number 2: Clinical Laboratory Scientist – CLS(NCA)
As the number of medical technologists continued to grow, laboratory professionals sought independence from ASCP. In 1933 the American Society of Clinical Laboratory Technicians (ASCLT) was formed but was later renamed the American Society of Medical Technologists (ASMT) to maintain the original name, medical technologist. After working together for several years, critical disagreements began to arise between ASCP and ASMT concerning school accreditations and certification exams, which were still mandated by ASCP.
In 1973, ASCP relinquished its school accreditation duties to an independently operated and governed board, the National Accrediting Agency for Clinical Laboratory Science (NAACLS). A few years later, due to unrelenting differences, ASMT removed its representatives from the ASCP BOR and established the National Certification Agency (NCA) for Medical Laboratory Personnel, which allowed independent certification of laboratory professionals, who were now referred to as clinical laboratory scientists. Any graduate successfully passing the NCA exam would now use CLS(NCA) to signify successful completion from an accredited laboratory program.1
Name Number 3: Medical Laboratory Scientist – MLS(ASCP)
In 2009, after 30 years of certification disagreements, a long-awaited merger between ASCP BOR and NCA CLS finally consolidated the national certification process. This unification produced the ASCP Board of Certification (BOC), consequently dissolving the NCA. Graduates using older credentials, MT(ASCP) and CLS(NCA), were encouraged to demonstrate professional unity by assuming the merger’s updated credentials: MLS(ASCP)CM. Graduates certified prior to January 1, 2004, are allowed to participate in ASCP’s Credential Maintenance Program (CMP). Any person choosing not to participate may continue to use their original MT(ASCP) credential.2 Graduates who chose not to transfer their CLS(NCA) certification to the BOC can no longer use CLS(NCA), nor can a person who fails to complete ASCP’s CMP use MLS(ASCP).2 Any graduate successfully passing the new ASCP BOC exam will now be referred to as medical laboratory scientist, with MLS(ASCP)CM following the graduate’s last name.3
|Chart 1: Names of programs listed as NAACLS accredited MLS Programs, n = 236|
MLS Program Names
NAACLS lists 236 accredited “Medical Laboratory Science (MLS) Programs” on its website. A review of these programs revealed that many continue to identify with the older professional names. In fact, only a little over half (59 percent) of the accredited programs were using the most current name, Medical Laboratory Science. Twenty-six percent were using the NCA name, Clinical Laboratory Science, while 11 percent were using the older ASCP term, Medical Technology. An additional 4 percent chose to use a more creative approach by incorporating a combination of two or more names. (Chart 1)3
The focus of this article has been to examine the history of laboratory professionals earning a bachelor’s degree and the origins of the BOC process. Additional certifications are now available to laboratory professionals, including MT(AMT) and MT(AAB), offered by the American Medical Technologists and American Association of Bioanalysts, respectively. Laboratory professionals with associate degrees, often referred to as medical laboratory technicians (MLT), have had similar credential changes. Readers are encouraged to explore the ASCLS website for additional information pertaining to name changes, credentials, and the history of all laboratory professionals.
With each generation of laboratory professionals, we have proudly shared who and what we are with the public. However, to truly unify and improve the public’s perception of our profession, we should consider the unintended effects of multiple name use.
When a prospective student searches the internet for “medical laboratory science,” what does he or she find? Can we really expect the public to know that medical technology is the same as clinical laboratory science? And, what if someone is looking up the national organization for medical laboratory scientists; will they figure out that ASCLS is what they’re looking for?
From frog-incubated pregnancy tests to molecular genetics, it goes without saying—we have proven ourselves worthy of recognition in the healthcare industry. We are truly a unique group of hard-working professionals with much to offer the world. Those before us have instinctively paved the way for sustained success. If not now, when will we recognize the importance of one unified name?
- Delwiche FA. Mapping the literature of clinical laboratory science. J Med Libr Assoc. 2003;91(3):303–310.
- Single Certification Means Goodbye to Med Techs (MTs) and Clinical Lab Scientists (CLSs)! The Dark Daily, Serving Clinical Labs and Pathology Groups. https://www.darkdaily.com/single-certification-means-good-bye-to-med-techs-mts-and-clinical-lab-scientists-clss/. Accessed November 18, 2019.
- Find a Program, MLS. National Accrediting Agency for Clinical Laboratory Sciences. https://www.naacls.org/Find-a-Program.aspx?program=MLS. Accessed October 28, 2019.
Jennifer Bushnell is an MLS program director at McNeese State University in Lake Charles, Louisiana, with more than 30 years of experience in the field.