What’s in a Name Change? Why Texas State University’s Program is Moving from CLS to MLS

By Jordan Rosenfeld - April 16, 2024


In the summer of 2022, The American Society for Clinical Pathology (ASCP) published its Blueprint for Action, the result of an in-depth medical laboratory workforce study conducted by the University of Washington Center for Health Workforce Studies and ASCP to raise awareness of laboratory professionals and reverse the shortages in these professions. ASCP asked Dr. Rodney E. Rohde PhD, MS, SM (ASCP)CM, SVCM, MBCM, FACSc, Global Fellow, Regents’ Professor, Texas State University System, University Distinguished Chair and Professor, in the College of Health Professions, Medical Laboratory Science (MLS) Program, about chairing a subcommittee on visibility. This prompted Dr. Rohde to think about how critical a name can be, particularly for the laboratory sciences.

“Having taught thousands of students over a 30-year career in public health and medical laboratory academia, as well as my role as an associate adjunct faculty for Austin Community College, it’s very common when I talk to students that they are either totally unaware of our college major and profession, or they’re confused about it,” he says.

This underscored for Dr. Rohde that it was time to encourage his own institution, Texas State University, to shift from calling its program Clinical Laboratory Sciences (CLS) to Medical Laboratory Sciences (MLS).

“Students get told in middle school or high school about medical school, nursing, pharmacy, and STEM professions— which are great career paths—but there are these hidden majors in healthcare that no one ever talks about because they’re so niche, like cytology, radiation therapy, and medical laboratory science,” Dr. Rohde explains.

Even with a background in public health as well as microbiology and virology, he had not heard of an MLS degree until much later in his career. This matters, Dr. Rohde says, because students wanting to enter this profession may already be well into another degree when they finally hear of it.

“I don’t think students know that there is a difference between a biology degree and a chemistry degree or public health or microbiology. They think they can work in a hospital or anywhere with these degrees,” he says. Doc R, as many call him, says it’s important to stress the name of the college major as well. Students need to hear and see the ‘medical laboratory science’ major in print, by word of mouth via advisors, and in digital usage online (website, social media and professionally).

How to get started

ASCP’s Blueprint for Action provided Dr. Rohde with an easy path to prepare a proposal for his own University. The Blueprint identifies three main aims that Dr. Rohde has taken to heart in his journey to shift Texas State from CLS to MLS:

  • Aim 1: Increase the visibility of clinical and medical laboratory occupations
  • Aim 2: Expand and improve workforce recruitment and retention
  • Aim 3: Continually increase the diversity and inclusion of the clinical and medical laboratory workforce

Dr. Rohde has kept a diary of his journey that has helped him talk about the process, which he does whenever he can. The journey followed four steps:

Step 1: Collect data and information

Dr. Rohde’s research revealed that in 2019, 61 percent of bachelor’s programs in the country were identified as MLS, with 28 percent as CLS and 10 percent as medical technologist, and a smattering of others. By 2022, MLSidentified programs had jumped by 6 percent, and today he believes MLS programs are closer to 70 percent. As of 2022, there were approximately 245 existing bachelor’s programs for MLS.

“For about the last decade, there has been this effort to consolidate our name. It’s a little confusing to have these different terms,” Dr. Rohde says.

In a proposal he prepared to convince Texas State University of the necessity of the name shift, he outlined just how important this profession is:

“Medical laboratory professionals conduct approximately 13+ billion laboratory medicine tests annually which provide up to two-thirds of all medical decisions made by physicians and other healthcare professionals from cradle to grave. Simply put, the lives of all Americans are in the hands of our professionals.”

He added that the Blueprint for Action also found, “The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated and amplified an ongoing national crisis of workforce shortages across all states and territories. Considering this issue, the medical laboratory community has partnered across most all professional organizations, hospital programs, and university programs to find immediate and long-term solutions.”

Step 2: Develop support for the change

Once he had done his research, this step required meeting with faculty, alumni, students, and administrators to explain the necessity of the change and to outline the steps, Dr. Rohde explains.

At Texas State, students “were pumped about it. The faculty were obviously in favor of it. Our alumni were also happy with it.”

In the latter part of the summer of 2022, Dr. Rohde took the first institutional steps of notifying the College of Health Professions' Dean, as well as the leadership at Texas State University of their intention to make the shift, and then moved to the Provost level.

“The Dean and other leadership wanted a proposal that would answer why the change was necessary. And they wanted data: how many programs have made the change in the U.S. and where they were located,” he explains.

Step 3: Implement the approved change

Dr. Rohde says that the shift at large to move from CLS to MLS hasn’t been “a wholesale buy in,” but over the past 10 to 15 years it has gained more popularity. “We’re still battling, and though most of the people I’m working with are champions of this effort, it’s not going to happen overnight.”

Though his own university is on board, he is still writing articles, speaking, doing podcasts, and talking to student organizations whenever he can on the subject to spread the word and importance of aligning terminology.

It’s important to him that people use the right terminology. “Don’t say lab tech. What’s a tech? There are a million different careers—you could be talking about engineering, the automotive industry, or other careers. Part of our work is to get professionals and alumni to adopt the term ‘medical laboratory professional’ and use these terms more purposefully so that it gets accepted.”

Step 4: Initiate and follow institutional procedures

Once Dr. Rohde felt like he had consensus at Texas State from the college administration as well, they began the somewhat laborious process of changing things, like their curriculum prefixes, which were all CLS, to MLS. Once the change is fully approved at the state level, they will also have to change assets such as signage, their website, social media copy, brochures, and so on.

As of January 2024, after meeting with the University Curriculum Committee, the change from CLS to MLS was approved, and MLS courses will be offered starting in fall of 2024. Dr. Rohde notes it is not a hard process, just one that may take some time.

For other programs considering doing the same thing, he offers, “It’s not been difficult, it just takes time, effort, and attention to detail. But there are many people like me who have done this in the last few years that are absolutely here to help.”

Jordan Rosenfeld

Contributing Writer