Where would I find job opportunities?
Assistants, technicians, technologists, specialists, physicians, and doctoral scientists can work in hospital or clinical laboratories, in research, in manufacturing (industry), in pharmaceutical companies, in commercial reference laboratories, in academic laboratories, and in special places such as research foundations for specific diseases like cystic fibrosis, diabetes, or muscular dystrophy. Opportunities also exist in government regulatory agencies—for example, OSHA, the CDC, and the FDA.
A plus: work options are flexible. Many labs are open 24 hours and need people to cover all shifts, part-time or full-time. This is good news for people trying to balance work, family, and other commitments.
How do you prepare for this career?
Begin in high school by taking science and math courses. Skill in using computers is a plus. To open the widest doors, consider an academic degree (B.S., M.S., M.D., or Ph.D.) and advanced training.
Your academic preparation will include courses in chemistry, mathematics, statistics, and the life sciences such as anatomy and physiology. You can supplement academic studies by getting experience. Take advantage of summer fellowships, internships, or practicum programs to get the experience you need. Your community hospital or nearby college or university laboratory may have internship programs in place or might consider one just for you.
I've been thinking of going to medical school, but now clinical chemistry also sounds appealing. How do I keep my options open?
Take courses in science, math, and statistics. Add a few business courses in the event you manage a laboratory or run your own practice. Supplement your academic studies by getting practical experience through internships.
What if I like the work I could do in clinical chemistry but I don't necessarily want to go through all the schooling? Can I still work in this field?
You can still work in other capacities. See the chart, "How Far Do You Want to Go? ".
Health care issues are always in the news, no one knows how they will be resolved, and everyone's worried. How do I know this career will still be there for me when I graduate?
Sick or healthy, people will always need medical information quickly, easily, cheaply. A new growth area, for example, is the use of "kits" in the home or at the hospital bedside, such as those for pregnancy detection or glucose (diabetes) monitoring. Clinical chemists may educate consumers or consult with physician offices on what the results mean and what the patient (whether ill or healthy) should do next.
Other growth areas will appear. For example, the number of consumer groups who have special needs is increasing. These groups will continue to require new and different tests beyond what we provide today. New concerns (such as environmental toxins and the spread of new diseases) will heighten the demand for additional testing. We will always need solutions; we will always need new methods for faster, more accurate, more precise, and more sensitive testing that is also less expensive.
What about safety? Am I going to catch a life-threatening disease, like AIDS or hepatitis?
All laboratories practice what are called "universal precautions." These are standards for safety designed to safeguard the health and lives of laboratory workers. Following these procedures—for example, using latex gloves to perform laboratory tests, wipe blood spills, and perform pipetting—protects you from potentially life-threatening diseases.
This sounds like a great career. But I want to know more about other positions in healthcare before I decide. Where can I get information on other health-related careers?
You can "custom design" your path in the clinical chemistry field by deciding what levels of education, training, and salary meet your needs (see chart, "Career Guidance – Education and Training for Clinical Chemistry Career ").
You can also contact other healthcare organizations for information, such as the American Society for Microbiology, the American Society for Clinical Laboratory Science, or the American Society for Clinical Pathologists. Visit your library and find the Encyclopedia of Associations , which lists organizations by subject (agriculture, education, science and technology, etc.). Contact these organizations for information on health careers.
The many roles of a clinical chemist:
Problem Solver and Consultant
- solves technical problems and human resource issues
- gets test results faster
- enforces standards that make the work environment safe for employees
- follows procedures without taking shortcuts
- explains tests results to physicians or responds to their complaints
- instructs students, residents, and medical staff
- keeps up-to-date on current trends and information
- prepares budgets
- purchases new equipment or reagents
- plans sales growth
- evaluates market strategies
- evaluates new technologies to improve quality and reduce processing time and labor
- invents new tests
- applies previous knowledge to new situations
- sells test kits and instrumentation to laboratories
- identifies customer needs and develops products to meet those needs
- changes and grows as the environment evolves
- wants to contribute to the world through patient healthcare
- asks how does this work, can it work better, can it also do something else?
- likes to consider all possibilities
knows the world is wider than the laboratory