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Medical Lab Technician Training and Schools

Are you interested in working in the healthcare field? Do you want a career that enables you to help others? Learn what a medical lab technician does and the lab technician trainings you need to join the field.

Medical laboratory technicians, also known as medical lab technologists or clinical lab technicians or technologists, examine and analyze body fluids and cells using sophisticated laboratory equipment such as microscopes and cell counters. They perform drug tests, match blood for transfusions, and look for bacteria or parasites. After testing and examining a specimen, they analyze the results and relay them to physicians.

Medical Lab Technician Careers

Medical laboratory technologists usually perform more complex tasks than technicians, and have a higher level of education. However, a position as a medical lab technician requires less training. Some medical lab technicians specialize in a certain area, like phlebotomy. A phlebotomist is a lab technician who collects blood samples for analysis.

A medical lab technician might work at an independent laboratory, or one in a hospital. In larger facilities, lab staff must cover day, evening and night shifts, and may work weekends and/or holidays. In smaller facilities, they may rotate shifts, or be on call at night or on weekends for emergencies.

Laboratories tend to be clean, well-lighted work environments.  Although fumes from chemical solutions and infectious specimens will be present, clinical lab staff use protective gear such as masks, gloves and goggles, and follow procedures for infection control and sterilization that keep risks at a minimum. In addition, personnel tend to spend a lot of time on their feet.

Launching a Lab Technician Career - Education and Training

Lab technicians and technologists play an important role in the health field. Although it is possible to qualify for some positions with a combination of education and on-the-job training, a degree or certificate in the field will prove advantageous when searching for work.

Educational requirements

To become a lab technician you’ll need an associate degree from a community or junior college or a certificate from a hospital, a vocational or technical school, or the Armed Forces. Medical lab technologists, on the other hand, typically need a bachelor’s degree in medical technology or in one of the life sciences.

The National Accrediting Agency for Clinical Laboratory Sciences (NAACLS) recognizes and accredits 469 programs throughout the country training medical and clinical laboratory technicians and technologists. Programs typically last one to two years and include coursework in mathematics, chemistry, microbiology, pathology and immunology. The NAACLS also approves 57 phlebotomist programs.

Many employers require that their clinical lab technicians and technologists hold certification. The American Society for Clinical Pathology (ASCP) as well as the American Medical Technologist (AMT) offer national certification testing, and bestow the title of Certified Medical Laboratory Technician (MLT). In addition, some states require laboratory personnel to be licensed or registered – requirements vary.

Employment Opportunities for Lab Technicians

The Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that future job opportunities for lab technicians will be excellent, with 14 percent growth between 2008 and 2018. Population growth and the development of new types of tests is expected to drive an increase in laboratory tests, and thus the need for lab technicians.

Hospitals, which employed more than half of lab technicians in 2008, are expected to continue to be the major employer of clinical laboratory workers. However, employment is expected also to grow rapidly in medical and diagnostic laboratories, offices of physicians, and all other ambulatory healthcare services.

Lab Technician Salaries and Advancement Potential

The average annual salary for medical lab technicians was $38,190 in 2010, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Medical lab technologists earned an average of $56,870.

Professional certification and a graduate degree in medical technology, one of the biological sciences, chemistry, management, or education usually speeds advancement, as does experience. Technicians can become technologists, and technologists can move on to supervisory positions such as chief medical laboratory technologist or laboratory manager in a hospital. Federal regulations require directors of moderately complex laboratories to have at least a bachelor's degree, although a master’s degree may be favored by employers, combined with the appropriate amount of training and experience. A doctorate usually is needed to become a laboratory director.

Additional Resources for Individuals Enrolling in a Medical Technician Program
American Society for Clinical Laboratory Science
The National Accrediting Agency for Clinical Laboratory Science

Campus and Online Medical Technician Schools

 
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