What Is a Medical Laboratory Technician?

Written by Coursera • Updated on Dec 21, 2021

A medical laboratory technician, also called a clinical laboratory technician, conducts tests on bodily fluid and tissue samples in a lab setting.

[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 an essential role in the effective diagnosis and treatment of patients. In this role, you collect samples and perform tests to support the work of other medical professionals as they detect disease and treat patients.

The general term “laboratory technician” also refers to those who perform diagnostic, technical, or mechanical tests in any laboratory setting. Some other types of lab technicians include:

  • Cytogenetic technicians analyze normal and abnormal genetic structures in cells.

  • Pathologist assistants process a variety of blood, tissue, and other bodily specimens in a lab and might perform autopsies.

  • Nuclear medicine technicians prepare radioactive drugs and administer them to patients for imaging or treatment. 

  • Engineering lab technicians solve problems involving manufacturing, construction, and other engineering topics.  

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

What does a medical laboratory technician do?

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, bodily fluid, tissue, 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

Types of jobs in a medical laboratory include: 

  • 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.

  • Phlebotomists draw blood and make people more comfortable with the process.

Why pursue a career as a laboratory technician?

A career as a laboratory technician can be quite rewarding and meaningful work. It can also be an exciting challenge for anyone who enjoys solving problems. Clinical laboratory technicians are trained to act as investigators, finding clues and uncovering answers to 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 such a way. Laboratory work is very hands-on, and there’s a lot of variety in daily tasks. 

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

The salary for lab technicians is another perk. The US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that clinical laboratory technicians make an average of $54,180 per year in the US [1]. The BLS also reports the field of clinical laboratory technologists is a fast-growing field, projected to grow 11 percent from 2020 to 2030. 

Lab technicians who do well in their position and gain additional educational opportunities may have the option for advancement into either supervisory roles or other medical lab positions. 

How to become a laboratory technician?

You will typically need an associate degree program from a clinical laboratory setting or a bachelor’s degree in laboratory sciences or a related field to become a laboratory technician. Prior work experience isn’t always necessary for entry-level roles. Some states may require additional certifications or licensure.

Check with your state’s board of licensing or the American Society for Clinical Laboratory Science to find out if you need licensure to work as a lab tech in your area. 

Get started with Coursera

Explore whether a career in health care might be a good fit for you by taking a beginner-friendly course, like Introduction to Healthcare from Stanford University or the Science of Health Care Delivery from Arizona State University.

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Article sources

1. US Bureau of Labor Statistics. "Clinical Laboratory Technologists and Technicians, https://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/clinical-laboratory-technologists-and-technicians.htm." Accessed December 21, 2021.

Written by Coursera • Updated on Dec 21, 2021

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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