What Is a Medical Laboratory Technician? And How to Become One

Written by Coursera • Updated on

Learn what a medical laboratory technician is and consider whether this career is right for you.

[Featured image] Two lab technicians in white coats and gloves work in a medical lab. One is typing on a computer and the other is looking at a specimen under a microscope.

Medical laboratory technicians play a vital role in the effective diagnosis and treatment of patients. You are expected to collect samples and perform tests to support doctors and other medical professionals as they detect diseases and treat patients. 

Jobs in health care, including medical laboratory technicians, are expected to increase 13 percent from 2021 to 2031 [1]. That means there are plenty of opportunities to pursue a career in health care, especially one that allows you to work hands-on in a laboratory supporting cutting-edge research.

Let’s take a closer look at what medical lab technicians do and how you can get started in this career.

Medical laboratory technician responsibilities

Laboratory technicians have a wide range of responsibilities that might vary depending on their particular laboratory setting. These day-to-day tasks may include: 

  • Collecting samples of blood and other substances  

  • Performing lab tests on samples and analyzing results

  • Ensuring quality control of samples

  • Adhering to a laboratory’s standards and policies 

  • Preparing samples and processing them as needed 

  • Operating lab equipment, such as microscopes and cell counters

  • Logging test data into patients’ medical records

Why pursue a career as a laboratory technician?

A career as a laboratory technician can be rewarding and meaningful because you get to help physicians and surgeons determine a patient's diagnosis. It can be an exciting challenge for anyone who enjoys solving problems. Clinical laboratory technicians are trained to act as investigators, finding clues and uncovering answers that can help patients receive better diagnoses and treatment. 

Medical laboratory technicians work behind the scenes on important research for advancements in the medical field to help others. Few other careers let you work within the medical community in this way. Laboratory work is very hands-on, so no day is ever boring.

It’s possible to get an entry-level role as a laboratory technician without a four-year degree, making it an appealing option for those looking to quickly and affordably enter the workforce.

Plus, the US Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that clinical laboratory technicians make an average of $57,800 per year [2]. The field of clinical laboratory technologists is fast-growing and is projected to grow 7 percent from 2021 to 2031 [2]. 

Read more: Is Health Care a Good Career Path? Outlook, Jobs, and More

How to become a laboratory technician

If a career as a medical laboratory technician sounds right for you, here's how to get started.

1. Enroll in a degree program.

To become a medical laboratory technician, you'll need either an associate or bachelor's degree in clinical laboratory science. This type of degree includes courses in chemistry, biology, math, and statistics, and will prepare you for an entry-level job.

2. Earn your degree.

In this degree program, you'll take science and math courses, but you'll also get familiar with tests and samples and how they are used to treat patients. You'll learn hematology and microbiology, too. Throughout the two- or four-year program, you'll understand what type of lab work interests you as a potential specialization.

You might want to consider choosing a school that offers job-placement assistance and career counseling for students. Some programs emphasize clinical work experience to enhance your skill set so that you can get hired quickly.

3. Get certified.

In addition to your degree, some states may require certifications or licenses. Check your state's board of licensing or the American Society for Clinical Laboratory Science to see if you need a certificate. Even if your state does not require one, some employers only hire certified lab technicians.

It is wise to pass the exam while your studies are fresh in your mind. Earning a certification can set you up for success in your future career endeavors.

Related jobs in a medical laboratory

Laboratory technicians might work with some of these specific job roles within the medical lab. They may also interest you as you decide whether a career as a lab technician is right for you.

  • Clinical pathologists study the causes and nature of diseases.  

  • Histotechnicians prepare tissue samples for microscopic examination.

  • Cytotechnologists study cells and cell anomalies by analyzing cellular patterns under a microscope and identifying diseases.

  • Phlebotomists draw blood and help people feel comfortable with the process.

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Article sources

1

US Bureau of Labor Statistics. “Healthcare Occupations, https://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/home.htm.” Accessed October 4, 2022.

Written by Coursera • Updated on

This content has been made available for informational purposes only. Learners are advised to conduct additional research to ensure that courses and other credentials pursued meet their personal, professional, and financial goals.

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