Advancement Paths for Bench-Level Clinical Microbiologists

July 18, 2017

Bench-level clinical microbiologists serve an important role in a clinical microbiology lab. They are often the first people to identify disease-causing pathogens, which helps medical staff with the treatment of patients. While some enjoy the everyday testing and processing of samples, others may be interested in moving to a more managerial position. In a clinical microbiology lab, personnel management and technical management are typically the next steps in a clinical microbiologist's career.   

Personnel Management in Clinical Microbiology

In personnel management positions, you are responsible for managing the laboratory's budget, proficiency, quality assurance program, performance assessments and possibly interviewing potential staff, if you are at a smaller institution. A master's degree in business or healthcare administration in addition to your bachelor's degree in the biological sciences, chemistry or clinical laboratory sciences will make you more competitive for a personnel management position.

Technical Management in Clinical Microbiology

In technical management positions, you are responsible for providing immediate technical guidance or troubleshooting lab procedures. Since most procedures are becoming computerized and automated, the interface between technology and the lab is a pressing issue and adds to the responsibilities of a technical manager. In addition to a bachelor's degree in the biological sciences, chemistry or clinical laboratory sciences, a master's degree in a closely-related science will make you competitive for a technical management position.


Some positions in clinical microbiology require certification, while candidates with adequate experience are well-suited to fill management positions. There are 12 states and 1 U.S. territory that requires licensure for all clinical laboratorians. The American Society for Clinical Pathology (ASCP) has web-based resources that contain information for all states requiring additional licensure. There are diploma-specific certificates that can be acquired through professional organizations and a variety of programs that result in an advanced certification. To learn more about which organizations offer certificate programs, check ASM's Career Advancement for Bench-Level Scientists in Clinical Microbiology Laboratory Guide.

Laboratory Community Involvement

Another way of building your experiences, skills and network is to join laboratory professional organizations at the local/regional/national level.  ASM has several local/regional affiliated branch meetings to present your research and online portals like the DivC listserv to bring members together to share resources and problem-solve informally.

Which One is For Me?

When deciding on whether to move into personnel or technical management, ask yourself these questions:

  1. Do you prefer managing and interacting with people?
  2. Do you like hiring people and identifying their valuable assets?
  3. Do you enjoy identifying labor inefficiencies to increase productivity?
  4. Are you good at creating and maintaining a budget?
  5. Do you like to do proficiency and performance assessments?
  6. Do you like troubleshooting processes and equipment?
  7. Are you good with technology?
  8. Do you enjoy being a technical resource to others?
  9. Do you enjoy training and teaching junior technologists and other medical staff?

If you answered yes and/or had positive reactions to the first 5 questions, you are suited for personnel management. Alternatively, if you answered yes to the latter 4 questions, being a technical manager is a good fit for you.

To learn more download ASM's Career Advancement for Bench-Level Scientists in Clinical Microbiology Laboratory Guide:

Download Guide

Author: ASM Clinical Microbiology Mentoring Subcommittee

ASM Clinical Microbiology Mentoring Subcommittee
We provide career and networking advice to those looking to advance in clinical and public health microbiology.