Certification, Licensure and Why They are Important

Updated: Jun 9, 2019

If you are on your path to becoming a medical lab scientist, then you need to understand the importance of certification and licensure. Both are crucial to our job security and integrity.

To become a MLS what do I need to do?

If you are planning on becoming a medical lab scientist, then you should be aware of the goal in your training. To gain employment after graduation you need to be certified as an MLS. You may also need to be licensed. Certification is required for ALL medical lab scientists.

Licensure is only required in 11 states (California, Hawaii, Florida, New York, North Dakota, Tennessee, Louisiana, Nevada, West Virginia, Montana, Georgia + Puerto Rico also has licensure)

What is the difference between the two?

Certification is recognition of competence through a non-government agency – like the ASCP (American Society for Clinical Pathology).

Licensure is a legal permit given by a constituted authority. In this case, it is the state’s. Licensing is done by the government to protect the public from potential harm. (6)

What is the deal with certification?

For medical lab scientist’s, certification is given through the ASCP (American Society for Clinical Pathology). The ASCP was established in 1928 and is the oldest and largest certification agency for laboratory professionals. (3)

Previously there were multiple major certifying agencies in America for medical lab scientists: AAB (American Association of Bioanalysts), AMT (American Medical Technologists), ASCP (American Society for Clinical Pathology) and NCA (National Credentialing Agency for Laboratory Personnel). The NCA and ASCP have since joined together (merge finalized: October 23rd, 2009) to create the MLS certification ASCP (BOC) (7). The NCA is now dissolved.

The other agencies no longer give certification for medical lab scientists but still offer certification for medical technicians and other specialized positions. (A full list of certifications offered can be found on their websites)

AAB: https://www.aab.org/aab/Certification.asp

AMT: https://www.americanmedtech.org/Get-Certified

Why were there so many certifying agencies?

Before the unification of ASCP and NCA there were many different credentialing agencies. Each with differing requirements, examinations, and titles. Differing opinions over the credentialing process and examination requirements resulted in the creation of multiple certifying agencies. (8)

It was a confusing time for the medical laboratory profession. Employers had a difficult time determining what they all meant and potential lab techs had to choose which they thought would serve them the best. (8)

Now things are simpler. The ASCP and NCA teamed up and are now the ASCP (BOC) – The American Society for Clinical Pathology, Board of Certification. The designation for those who pass the board exam they give is: medical lab scientist (ASCP). [The letters after your name will be – MLS(ASCP) ]. (7)

Old titles you might still encounter…

Medical Technologist; MT(ASCP) – old terminology used before the merge of ASCP and NCA.

  • Medical technologist “med tech”= medical lab scientist.

Clinical Laboratory Scientist; CLS(NCA) – NCA terminology, used before ASCP and NCA merged.

  • Clinical lab scientist = medical lab scientist.

The terms, medical technologist and clinical lab scientist, although outdated, are still used to refer to medical lab scientists today. They are sometimes even used in job postings and titles. I know. It’s confusing!

Importance of Licensure

Currently, only 11 states in America require licensure for medical laboratory scientists. This is a problem because licensure is an important tool to maintain an acceptable level of quality in medical labs and ensure state protection of our profession.

Maintain quality of medical labs

  • A growing shortage of medical lab professionals leads to lax hiring. (1)

  • Meaning labs can hire people without certification or proper qualifications.

  • Licensure allows states to check professional’s qualifications and authenticate their certification.

  • Federal CLIA regulations are not enough. They only require a high school diploma to work in a clinical lab. (4)

  • State licensure can and should have stricter requirements to ensure the quality of clinical labs.

State protection of the profession

  • Licensure bills can be written so that funds are generated for medical lab education.(1)

  • State protection through licensure can help maintain proper funding for educational programs. These programs are necessary for trained professionals to enter the workforce.

  • “Licensure allows states to fund access to continuing education or give assistance to struggling education programs” (1)

Certification is not enough

The problem is with the labs. Without licensure, they can hire people who aren’t certified or who have lesser qualifications for a cheaper salary.

Lab science should be a regulated industry like so many others that people rely on for a level of quality. All doctors, nurses, real estate agents, barbers, and accountants are licensed to practice their craft (5). Don’t you want the people interpreting your medical test data to be licensed as well?

Licensure vs Certification

Licensing is a state requirement. In states requiring licensure, it would be illegal to work as an MLS without a license (just as it is illegal to drive without one). Most states with licensure accept the ASCP certification as the only qualification for licensure. Other states, like California, have their own requirements.

At this point, only 11 states require licensure to work in a clinical laboratory.(6)

Certification is a job requirement. It is a designation earned by a person to assure employers of their qualification to perform a job or task.

MLS(ASCP) is the certification you receive from the American Society for Clinical Pathology.


1. “Almost Anyone Can Perform Your Medical Laboratory Tests – Wait, What?” n.d. Accessed November 28, 2018. https://www.elsevier.com/connect/almost-anyone-can-perform-your-medical-laboratory-tests-wait-what.

2. “Ascp-Boc-Us-Procedures-Book-Final-Web.Pdf.” n.d. Accessed November 28, 2018. https://www.ascp.org/content/docs/default-source/boc-pdfs/exam-content-outlines/ascp-boc-us-procedures-book-final-web.pdf?sfvrsn=22.

3. “Board of Certification.” n.d. Accessed December 24, 2018. https://www.ascp.org/content/board-of-certification.

4. Congress, 100th. 1988. Clinical Laboratory Improvement Amendments of 1988. Electronic Code of Federal Regulations. Vol. 102 STAT. 2903. https://www.ecfr.gov/cgi-bin/text-idx?SID=1248e3189da5e5f936e55315402bc38b&node=pt42.5.493&rgn=div5.

5. “Healthcare Providers Guide – California Department of Consumer Affairs.” n.d. Accessed November 28, 2018. https://www.dca.ca.gov/publications/healthcare_providers.shtml#professionals.

6. “Licensure.” n.d. Accessed November 28, 2018. http://www.ascls.org/advocacy-issues/licensure.

7. “Single Certification Means Good-Bye to Med Techs (MTs) and Clinical Lab Scientists (CLSs)! | Dark Daily.” n.d. Accessed December 24, 2018. https://www.darkdaily.com/single-certification-means-good-bye-to-med-techs-mts-and-clinical-lab-scientists-clss/.

8. “The Science of Credentialing Scientists.” n.d. Clinical Lab Products. Accessed December 24, 2018. http://www.clpmag.com/2006/07/the-science-of-credentialing-scientists/.

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