Medical laboratory technicians and technologists collect blood, urine, tissue and other specimens from patients. Sometimes referred to as medical lab techs, they then use advanced medical equipment to analyze these specimens and obtain further information about a patient's health. They may also create discuss the results with physicians or patient care teams. Technologists and technicians may share similar duties at times, but technologists are able to perform more complicated tests and often oversee the work of technicians, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (bls.gov/ooh, 2012).
As of May 2012, the majority of medical and clinical lab techs worked in hospital settings, while many others worked in diagnostic laboratories and physicians' offices (bls.gov/oes, 2013). Medical lab techs work in well-lit, comfortable and clean areas. However, they might work with chemicals that create fumes or other hazards. They are often on their feet and use a variety of protective measures to ensure their personal safety when working with specimens. Most work full-time. Those who work in 24-hour facilities, such as hospitals, might work a variety of shifts (bls.gov/ooh, 2012).
How to Become a Medical Lab Tech
Those who want to become a medical lab technician must typically earn an associate degree or a postsecondary certificate for entry-level positions while technologists usually need a bachelor's degree. Following these steps may be helpful when seeking medical lab tech careers:
- Earn a high school diploma or GED, with an emphasis on courses such as biology, chemistry and mathematics.
- Complete an associate or bachelor's degree program designed for medical lab techs, or enroll in a program that awards a postsecondary certificate.
- Earn certification from a professional association, either as a generalist or in a specialized area like cytotechnology. Some states require certification in order to become licensed. Even in states that do not require it, many employers favor applicants who are certified.
- Complete necessary medical lab tech training and meet other qualifications, then obtain a state license if required.
- Apply for entry-level medical lab tech jobs.
- Keep up with continuing education requirements, medical lab tech training and any other requirements to keep license or certification current.
These steps are based on information provided by the BLS, and can be recommended. However, completing them does not guarantee employment.
Post-Education Requirements: Certifications and/or State Licensing
It's important to note the difference between earning a postsecondary certificate and being certified by a professional organization. Those who earn their degree or certificate and become a medical lab tech might choose to pursue certifications that provide deeper and more specialized training. Here are a few major credentialing agencies:
- American Association of Bioanalysts (AAB): The AAB offers three membership levels and several professional certifications, including that of Medical Technologist, (MT), Medical Laboratory Technician (MLT), Physician Office Laboratory Technician (POLT), and Phlebotomy Technician (PBT).
- American Society for Clinical Pathology (ASCP): The oldest and largest certification agency for laboratory professionals, ASCP offers four technician certifications, nine technologist certifications, and six specialist certifications to those who have met certain requirements in the medical laboratory field.
- American Medical Technologists (AMT): Founded in 1939, AMT offers certifications for a variety of allied health careers, including medical lab technician, medical lab technologist, certified lab consultant and phlebotomist.
Some states require certification as part of their licensing process, while others don't require licensure or registration at all. A state's department of health or board of occupational licensing can provide more information. To keep their certification and state license current, medical lab techs often must take continuing professional education (CPE) courses or training at regular intervals throughout their career.
Medical Lab Tech Specialties
There are various niches within the medical lab tech field in which professionals can choose to specialize according to the BLS (bls.gov/ooh, 2012).
Specialties for medical lab technicians include:
- Histotechnicians: Properly prepare tissue specimens to be examined by a pathologist.
- Phlebotomists: Specialize in collecting blood samples.
Specialties for medical lab technologists include:
- Blood Bank Technologists and Immunohematology Technologists: Collect and analyze donated blood, preparing it for a safe transfusion.
- Cytotechnologists: Look for abnormalities in cells that could be a precursor to cancer or other diseases.
Technologists can also specialize in immunology, microbiology, clinical chemistry and molecular biology.
Medical Lab Tech Job Growth and Average Salary
As the population ages, more screening and diagnostic testing will be required to spot and treat health problems such as cancer and diabetes. Therefore, medical lab tech jobs as a whole are expected to grow by 13 percent from 2010 to 2020, according to the BLS (bls.gov/ooh, 2012). The median national salary for medical and clinical lab technicians was $37,240 per year in May 2012. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $24,790 while the highest 10 percent earned more than $57,710. Medical and clinical lab technologists earned substantially more, on average, with median national annual pay of $57,580. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $39,580 while the top 10 percent earned more than $78,900 (bls.gov/oes, 2013).
List of Related Careers
With additional education, training and/or experience, those who complete medical lab tech training might pursue a variety of positions outside traditional medical lab tech jobs. According to the BLS (bls.gov/ooh, 2012), similar professions include:
- Chemical Technician: Work with chemists and chemical engineers in researching, developing and producing chemical products. An associate degree or two years of postsecondary training is typically required.
- Veterinary Technician: Perform medical or diagnostic procedures on animals to determine illness, injury and appropriate treatment. Vet techs must earn an associate degree, and in most cases, pass a national exam and gain state licensure.
- Biological Technician: Aid biological and medical scientists in conducting experiments. Requires a bachelor's degree in biology or similar subject and extensive lab training in school.
Links to Sources and Associations
The following sources and association can be helpful to those who want to work as a medical lab tech: