What Is a Medical Technologist (and How Do I Become One)?

Written by Coursera Staff • Updated on

Medical technologists test fluid and tissue samples to help physicians properly diagnose and treat their patients. Read more about this healthcare career, including tips on how to get started.

[Featured image] A medical technologist touches a monitor in a hospital setting.

Medical technologists are similar to behind-the-scenes medical detectives. They're highly trained, highly skilled scientists who perform tests to help physicians diagnose and treat diseases—an important role in the health services world. 

Let’s take a closer look at what medical technologists do, their educational requirements, and the skills they need to help you decide if this is a field you’d like to pursue. 

What do medical technologists do?

At a lab or doctor’s office, medical technologists are behind-the-scenes testing and analyzing body fluids (like blood and urine) and tissue samples. These laboratory test results aid in the diagnosis and treatment of patients. 

Medical technologists, also called medical laboratory scientists, clinical laboratory technologists, or technicians, often work in hospitals, diagnostic laboratories, physicians’ offices, outpatient care centers, or school campuses. If you work in a small laboratory or clinic, you might perform a variety of tests. In a larger setting, it’s more common to specialize. Some specialization options include:

  • Blood bank or immunohematology technologists collect, classify and prepare blood for transfusions.

  • Immunology technologists analyze samples involving the human immune system and its responses to foreign bodies.

  • Chemistry technologists prepare specimens and analyze the chemical and hormonal contents of body fluids.

  • Cytotechnologists examine body cells under a microscope for abnormalities (such as cancer).

  • Microbiology technologists examine and identify bacteria and other microorganisms.

Medical technologist salary

According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the median annual salary for clinical laboratory technologists in the US in 2021 was $57,800 [1]. This may vary based on the type of facility you work in, where you’re located, and how much experience you have. The BLS predicts that jobs will grow by 11 percent between 2020 and 2030, which is faster than average [1]. 

How to become a medical technologist

Several paths can lead you to a career as a medical technologist. If you’re interested in a career in this field, there are some steps you can take to get started.

1. Earn your degree.

Medical technologists typically hold a bachelor’s degree in medical technology, related life science field, or another scientific field. Some schools offer science degrees with an option to specialize in medical technology. Typical courses you can expect to take include general chemistry, organic chemistry, hematology and immunology, biology, and statistics.

2. Complete a medical technologist program.

You may need to complete a medical technology program that's accredited by the National Accrediting Agency for Clinical Laboratory Science (NAA-CLS). These programs are designed to augment the knowledge you already have with job-specific knowledge and skills, including diagnostic testing, molecular diagnostics, clinical chemistry, and immunohematology.

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3. Research licensing requirements.

Multiple states require medical technologists to get a license before they can work in a laboratory setting. The requirements vary from state to state but typically include paying an annual or bi-annual fee, completing professional competency requirements, and engaging in continuing education. Check with your state’s department of health to determine if you need to apply for a license.  

4. Get certified.

Getting certified is a requirement for licensure in some states. It may also give you a competitive edge while searching for a job because it provides concrete evidence of your professional capabilities. You can seek certification through the American Society for Clinical Pathology for a variety of specializations. Alternatively, you could become a certified medical technologist through American Medical Technologists.

Get started with Coursera

Explore whether a career in health care may be a good fit for you by taking Career 911: Your Future Job in Medicine and Healthcare from Northwestern. Dig deeper into the topics you may work with as a medical technologist through courses like Introduction to the Biology of Cancer from Johns Hopkins University or Fundamentals of Immunology Specialization from Rice.

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#tab-1." Accessed April 22, 2022.

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