by Karen Karni, PhD.

The history of American Society for Clinical Laboratory Science (ASCLS) — previously the American Society for Medical Technology (ASMT) — reflects our professional association’s many contributions to the profession and practitioners in clinical laboratory science.

Focus on Credibility and Qualifications

Organized in 1933 and incorporated in 1936, the Society faced many of the same growth challenges encountered by other health professionals. Its first efforts were in credibility; that is, being known as a society holding the highest standards. Thus, in early years, members were required to be certified by the Board of Registry of the American Society of Clinical Pathologists (ASCP). For ASMT, the 1930s saw the inception of a journal, the establishment of a Constitution and Bylaws, the emergence of state charters, and educating the public about the profession.

In the 1940s, new issues evolved regarding professional independence, obtaining commissions (officer’s status) with the Armed Services, representation in credentialing involving the Board of Registry of ASCP (certification) and the accreditation of education programs by the Board of Schools. Membership grew, largely because of the Society’s advocacy of properly educated and credentialed personnel. Though earlier national meetings were held in conjunction with physician groups, by 1947 ASMT held its first independent convention. Laboratory personnel were in short supply, and educational programs grew.

The 1950s were marked again by attempts to achieve professional status with the Civil Service and the Armed Forces, together with attempts to upgrade educational/certification qualifications. The advancement of scholarship in the field, e.g., via the first paper on quality control, and the formation of the ASMT Education and Research Fund to advance research efforts were major contributions.

Growth in the Profession and the Society

The 1960s were years of considerable controversy, primarily involving the ASCP Board of Schools and Board of Registry functions, which many believed impinged on the professional roles of ASMT members and others in the profession. Qualifications for the clinical laboratory scientist (medical technologist) now included a baccalaureate degree (1962) and a new category of laboratory technician emerged. ASMT joined the International Association of Medical Laboratory Technologists and for over four decades has been looked to by other nations as the standard-holder in laboratory science associations.

In the 1970s ASMT grew considerably in numbers (more than 30,000 in 1976). Professional Acknowlegment for Continuing Education (P.A.C.E.®) for validating and documenting continuing education was introduced, and The National Accrediting Agency for Clinical Laboratory Science (NAACLS) was formed as an independent accreditation agency of education programs (i.e. university-based programs, hospital-based programs) in the clinical laboratory science and related health care professions. Together with Central Michigan University, ASMT provided graduate programs for laboratorians to earn master’s degrees in administration or education. The ASMT launched its Future Directions Plan, and Statements of Competence. Our representatives testified many times before congressional committees. ASMT initiated the formation of the National Certification Agency (NCA) to advance “certification for the profession, by the profession.” It also provided many opportunities and venues for continuing education, including self-assessment exams, monographs, and regional programs.

Political Influence and Professional Development

The 1980s saw more involvement in national politics and an unfulfilled attempt to unify two laboratory organizations, ASMT and AMT. The Clinical Laboratory Educators Conference (CLEC) was initiated, as well as the Legislative Symposium, the only ones of their kind, sponsored by a laboratory organization. ASMT also moved its offices from Houston, Texas, to Washington, D.C., to become more involved in influencing legislation to advance the profession.

The 1990s saw ASMT become ASCLS and join forces with the American Association for Clinical Chemistry (AACC) in presenting one of the largest annual meetings of laboratorians in the country. It provided input to the National Labor Relations Board, which in 1995 recognized medical technologists among its “professional employees.”

Seven Decades of Contribution

Through the past seven decades, this professional organization has contributed much to the profession: in advocacy, standards setting, education (professional and continuing), personal and professional development, and much more. The American Society for Clinical Laboratory Science (ASCLS) continues today as the pre-eminent laboratory organization representing laboratory personnel and advancing their interests — individually and collectively.

History of Society Names

  • 1933: American Society of Clinical Laboratory Technicians (ASCLT)
  • 1936: American Society of Medical Technologists (ASMT)
  • 1973: American Society for Medical Technology (ASMT)
  • 1993 to present: American Society for Clinical Laboratory Science (ASCLS)

History of Society Headquarters Cities

  • 1935: Ann Arbor, Mich. (association incorporated in Michigan)
  • 1949: Bellaire, Texas (near Houston)
  • 1986 Bethesda, Md./Washington, D.C.

History of Journal Names

  • 1935: The Bulletin of the American Society of Clinical Laboratory Technicians
  • 1936: The American Journal of Medical Technology of the American Society of Medical Technologists (49 volumes)
  • 1984: Journal of Medical Technology (a joint publication of American Medical Technologists and the American Society for Medical Technology).
  • 1988 to present Clinical Laboratory Science

More Information

An unbiased and carefully researched history of the profession including many of the contributions made by ASCLS was published in Clinical Laboratory Science. Written by Virginia Kotlarz, the nine-part series appears in the following issues.

  • CLS: 11:1, pp. 5-7, 1998
  • CLS: 11:2, pp. 97-100, 1998
  • CLS: 11:3, pp. 161-166, 1998
  • CLS: 11:4, pp. 209-213, 1998
  • CLS: 11:5, pp. 275-279, 1998
  • CLS: 11:6, pp. 339-345, 1998
  • CLS: 12:2, pp. 91-97, 1999
  • CLS: 12:4, pp. 213-219, 1999
  • CLS: 12:6, pp. 336-341, 1999

Kotlarz has chronicled issues faced by the profession and its practitioners, directions taken and accomplished by the Society and its members.