Clinical Laboratory Scientist vs. Public Health Microbiologist

From my experience working at the State of CA, Laboratory Field Services (LFS), I realize the general public would benefit from some clarification between Clinical Laboratory Scientists (CLS) and Public Health Microbiologists (PHM). I have clarified this and much more over the years and realize the infinite websites and government explanations are not easy to understand. There are also basic steps that are misunderstood. Generally, the path is education and paperwork, hands-on trainee period and paperwork, exam and paperwork, certification/license (you get paperwork), possibly renewal plus…paperwork. Much of the paperwork has gone online so it isn’t as bureaucratic as it sounds.

I’ll briefly cover the following: License vs. Certificate?, How to Apply?, Where Can I work? Feel free to contact me with additional questions. This by no means covers everything and I will not cover the trainee portion or detailed application information.

License vs. Certificate? Clinical Laboratory Scientists are required to have a State License to test clinical (patient) samples in CA. There is much more detail to what tests would be considered clinical. I’d have to get into CA codes and Federal CLIA but not for this blog. CLS is a license issued by the State of California, LFS. It must be renewed and has fees and continuing education requirements. It is not the same as national certification issued by an agency such as ASCP Board of Certification. However, LFS does use the national certification agencies to administer the State license…The agencies agree to hold a “tailored” exam for CA CLS applicants. Otherwise, you take the certification exam from the agency that is acceptable for other states (with some exceptions of States that have their own licensure/certification requirements). So in summary, CA has state specific laws that require a State License to test clinical samples in CA (or that originate from CA but again another topic). Public Health Microbiologist are required to be certified in CA to work in a Public Health Laboratory as a Microbiologist. See my blog Understanding California Public Health Microbiologist Certification. Everything is handled in CA and there is no renewal or continuing education requirements. It never expires. The certificate does not apply to other states although other states may look highly upon the achievement.

How to Apply? You have to navigate the CDPH-LFS website. I was a subject matter expert when we rolled out the online system and I know there is good IT support if you get stumped. Taking the LFS reception phone route will take a while.

Where Can I work? CLS work in clinical labs such as hospitals or doctor’s offices. PHM work in one of the CA Public Health Laboratories or at the State PHL. There is some VERY LITTLE known information that is embedded in CA law. This is the statement I formulated some years back:

California certified Public Health Microbiologists (PHM) are authorized to perform clinical laboratory tests and examinations in licensed or registered clinical laboratories per California Business and Professions Code (BPC) 1206.5 (a)(4), (b)(4), and (c)(4).  This law became effective on January 1, 1996.  You may read the full text of the law by accessing ,  clicking on California law and then on BPC.  Clinical laboratory law begins with Chapter Three, Section 1200.

In summary,  a PHM may perform waived and moderately complex clinical laboratory tests and examinations in any specialty or subspecialty when determined to be competent by the laboratory director.  A PHM may perform high complexity tests and examinations only in the specialty of microbiology (bacteriology, mycobacteriology, mycology, parasitology, virology)  and the specialty of diagnostic immunology (syphilis serology and general serology).  The PHM may perform molecular or genetic procedures within these specialties.

A PHM may not serve as clinical consultant,  technical consultant of moderate complexity testing or technical or general supervisor unless the PHM is also licensed under  Chapter Three.  See Title 17, California Code of Regulations  Article 2.3, Sections 1036  through 1036.2.

There are thousands of CLS and PHM and we have a serious shortage in Public Health Laboratories. Why? Partly, because funding dictates hiring so all of those PHMs that don’t get a job in a PH lab move on. If a PHM continued working at least in a clinical lab until Public Health had openings they would stay competent…Just one of my thoughts of many…This will definitely be another blog post. The state of public health (coined from years ago; 1998ish? I read an article about the declining state of PH….it hasn’t been resolved).



Author: kademby

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