Clinical Microbiologist Careers

Explore the career requirements for clinical microbiologists. Get the facts about job options, education requirements, duties and salary potential to determine if this is the right career for you. Schools offering Biology degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What is a Clinical Microbiologist?

Clinical microbiologists are clinical laboratory technologists or technicians who specialize in microbiology. They analyze and identify microorganisms, such as bacteria, viruses, fungi and parasites. The results of their experiments may be used by doctors to diagnose patients and develop treatment plans, pharmaceutical companies looking to develop novel drugs or academic researchers who are studying disease origins or treatment efficacy. While both technologists and technicians conduct microbiology experiments, it is important to note that technologists are responsible for training and overseeing the activities of technicians. The following chart provides an overview of a career in clinical microbiology.

Clinical Laboratory Technician Clinical Laboratory Technologist
Degree Required Associate's Degree or postsecondary certificate Bachelor's Degree
Education Field of Study Clinical laboratory science Life sciences (microbiology, biology) or medical laboratory science
Licensure Some states require certification or licensure Some states require certification or licensure
Key Responsibilities Conduct microbiology tests; record data; operate laboratory equipment Perform microbiology tests; record data; operate laboratory equipment; train and supervise technicians
Job Growth (2014-2024) 18%* 14%*
Average Salary (May 2015) $41,420* $61,860*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

What Education is Required for a Career as a Clinical Microbiologist?

To become a clinical laboratory technician, you need an associate's degree in clinical or medical laboratory science. These programs include a combination of scientific lecture courses, including classes in microbiology and general education requirements. In addition, they include hands-on clinical training. Aspiring technicians who want to specialize in microbiology may be able to choose a clinical experience that focuses on microbiology lab work.

To become a clinical laboratory technologist, you need to earn a bachelor's degree in medical laboratory science or one of the life sciences, such as biology or microbiology. A bachelor's degree program in microbiology will offer you the opportunity to study general physics, organic chemistry, molecular biology, general microbiology and calculus. However, it is important to note that after you earn your degree, you may to complete a post-baccalaureate certificate program that offers more specific laboratory training before you can get a job. Alternatively, you could get a Bachelor of Science in Medical Laboratory Sciences, which includes both basic science classes and professional career training options like public speaking, research design and lab management.

What Job Duties Will I Have?

Both technicians and technologists spend most of their time running laboratory experiments on microorganisms. These often include diagnostic tests to determine the identity of a bacterial, viral, fungal or parasitic agent that is causing a particular disease. They may also run tests on the effectiveness of particular drugs for treating infections caused by microorganisms. If they are conducting the test for a physician, they may record the data in a patient's electronic health record. They may also prepare reports for physicians or scientists.

It should be noted that technicians usually run simpler tests, while technologists are responsible for the more complex experiments. As a technologist, it would also be your job to supervise the work of technicians, such as delegating tasks and making sure that their results are accurate. In addition, when new technicians are hired, you would train them in common laboratory techniques and the usage of the lab's equipment.

Part of your job will involve using microscopes to analyze microorganisms found in food, water and human tissue samples. You'll observe how bacteria develops and how it can affect human and animal health. Another aspect of your job might be supervising the work of laboratory technicians and other scientists. Additionally, you may maintain bacteria cultures under controlled conditions and observe their effects on living and dead organic tissues.

What Salary Could I Expect to Earn?

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the average annual salary for clinical laboratory technicians was $41,420 in 2015. The majority were employed by general medical and surgical hospitals, where the average wage was slightly higher, at $42,020. For clinical laboratory technologists, the average annual wage was $61,860. Like technicians, most were employed by hospitals, where the average annual salary was $62,820.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

Instead of working as a technician in a microbiology lab, you could consider focusing your work on a different area of the field. For example, as a histotechnician, your job would involve cutting and staining biological tissue specimens in order to prepare them for analysis by pathologists studying disease processes. Like microbiology technicians, these workers need an associate's degree in medical laboratory science. Technologists can also choose a different subtopic in which to specialize, such as cytotechnology. Cytotechnologists use microscope equipment to analyze human or animal cells in order to search for abnormalities that can lead to diseases like cancer. The minimum educational requirement for this job is a bachelor's degree.

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