What Are Medical Lab Technologists and Technicians?
Medical lab technologists and technicians collect and analyze samples from patients, including blood, urine and tissue according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Medical lab technicians usually work under the supervision of medical lab technologists. Both perform collection and tests. However, technologists can perform more advanced testing. They then log the data and report it to the appropriate other medical personnel, including nurses or physicians. For more information, see our medical lab tech career page.
Medical Lab Technology Program Information
Universities, colleges, trade schools and hospitals offer medical lab technology programs. Some medical lab technology schools offer hybrid programs, which combine on-site laboratory instruction with online classes. Those who enroll in medical lab technology programs can expect to learn about chemistry, biology, microbiology, statistics and mathematics, among other related topics. Students are also expected to practice and perfect clinical laboratory skills pertaining to the work, such as drawing blood, labeling specimens, and operating diagnostic equipment (bls.gov/ooh, 2012).
Medical Lab Technology Program Types
The following programs are available to those who want to work as a medical lab technologist or technician:
- Certificate: Those who already hold a degree and some experience in a healthcare field, such as nursing, might choose to enter the certificate program to become a medical lab technician. Certificate programs typically require one year of full-time study to complete, and are often offered in hospitals, where students receive a blend of classroom instruction and hands-on training (bls.gov/ooh, 2012).
- Associate Degree: Those who want to work as medical lab technicians can earn their associate degree through community colleges or vocational schools. The program focuses on both theory and laboratory practice, and includes several science courses and clinical requirements (bls.gov/ooh, 2012). An associate degree can usually be earned in two years of full-time study. Credits earned during this program can sometimes be transferred towards to the completion of a bachelor's degree.
- Bachelor's Degree: A bachelor's degree typically takes four years of full-time study to earn, and is the minimum level of education needed to become a medical technologist. In some cases, the final year of the bachelor's degree program is dedicated to hospital-based learning, where students apply their knowledge and skills by working directly with patients, nurses and physicians (bls.gov/ooh, 2012).
In some states, certification or licensing is required for medical lab technology professionals. In states where licensing or certification is not required, some employers might prefer applicants who have earned professional credentials, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (bls.gov/ooh, 2012). General certification is available, as are specialty certifications in particular areas of the field, such as phlebotomy or medical biology. Those who earn a license or certification often must pursue continuing education to keep their credentials current.
Medical Lab Technology Course Descriptions
While certificate, associate and bachelor's medical lab technology programs have different scopes of study, they often feature similar core curriculums. The following medical lab technology courses are examples of those commonly found in these programs:
- Basic Chemistry: Covers the basics of chemistry, including acids and bases, chemical bonding, and solutions as they relate to healthcare.
- Human Anatomy and Physiology: Teaches the structure and function of the body on the cellular, tissue and organ system levels.
- Safety Issues in Healthcare: Study of potential chemical or physical hazards, patient safety, environmental care standards and accurate documentation.
- Hematology: Study of blood cells and diseases and instruction in blood-test procedures/analysis.
- Clinical Immunology: Study of the immune system, including antigens, antibodies, immunizations, immune disorders and the relation of immunology to tissue transplants.
- Specimen Collection: Proper collection of tissue and fluids for laboratory analysis, including safety and transportation issues.
Medical Lab Technology Specialties
Some medical lab technology schools or hospitals offer specialized programs that can help teach students a particular skill set. Specialty areas of study include, but are not limited to:
- Phlebotomy: Learn proper techniques for drawing blood samples from patients.
- Histotechnology: Learn how to identify abnormal tissue samples and prepare tissue samples for further study.
- Cytotechnology: Learn to detect cancerous and other unhealthy cells at the microscopic level.
Related Career Options
With additional education and/or experience, graduates of medical lab technology programs may be in a good position to pursue other healthcare and laboratory science careers. Potential career paths include:
- Biological Technicians: Aid medical scientists and biologists in conducting experiments and laboratory tests. Usually require a bachelor's degree.
- Chemists: Study substances, including their reactions, structures and compositions, in order to develop new processes or materials. Require at least a bachelor's degree.
- Chemical Technicians: Work closely with chemists and chemical engineers to research, develop and produce new products and processes. Require an associate degree or several years of postsecondary training.
Links to Sources and Associations
Visit the following websites to find out more about medical lab technology programs, careers and organizations: