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8/22/2013 6:00 PM

Canadian Society for Medical Laboratory Science calls for regulation and certification of lab technologists and assistants

Often, medical laboratory assistants (MLAs)have learned on-the-job and, in the absence of regulation or certification, the employer sets the standards.  “While there are many checks, balances, logic and systems in place to catch errors before the test results go out the door, the lab assistant may not understand the importance of the details, and lack a significant body of knowledge or skill set,” says Christine Nielsen, CEO, Canadian Society for Medical Laboratory Science. “When your only training has been on the job, you can’t possibly cover all of the scenarios.  More and more we are seeing lab assistants come from post-secondary programs; many are now becoming accredited.  We hope to see this become the standard practice, but without regulation, employers can hire whoever they see fit. “

Canadian medical laboratories process over 440 million samples per year.  The Canadian Society for Medical Laboratory Science (CSMLS), a Canadian Patient Safety Institute voting member since 2005, is calling for regulation and certification of medical laboratory assistants to ensure safe and ethical laboratory testing for all Canadians.

The CSMLS currently certifies medical laboratory technologists across the country and regulation is in place for technologists in 10 of 12 provinces. The CSMLS advocates for the regulation of medical laboratory technologists and assistants, in all jurisdictions, to further protect the public from harmful events.

As a national organization, the CSMLS can ensure high quality standards for laboratory assistants and has a system in place to provide a national perspective on exam content for certification. The CSMLS has developed a competency profile for laboratory assistants and offers a national certification program in English and French that is delivered three times a year. Continuing education is also available free, and on a fee-for-service basis. The CSMLS has liability insurance available to its members.

“MLAs are often the front line of the diagnostic process,” says Nielsen.  “The work they do will affect all of the diagnostic testing and analysis that will happen further down the chain.  Their impact, therefore, can hugely affect patient care, either positively or negatively.  That is why regulation is so important to patient safety.”

While testing errors can lead to harmful events, currently there is no requirement to track or report harmful events or near misses in a laboratory setting. Nielsen says that although there are requirements in place for the positive identification of the patient, labelling of tests is an ongoing problem. 

“Patients assume that when someone shows up in a lab coat, that they are qualified, and in the vast majority of cases they are,” says Nielsen. “However, mistakes can be made.  If you are ever concerned about a result, talk to your doctor and consider being retested.”

The CSMLS has mapped the competencies for medical laboratory technologists and assistants to the Canadian Patient Safety Institute Safety Competencies framework.  For more information on the safety competencies, visit  To learn more about the Canadian Society for Medical Laboratory Science, visit