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

Written by Coursera Staff • 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 effectively diagnosing and treating patients. You are expected to collect samples and perform tests to support doctors and other medical professionals as they detect diseases and treat patients. 

The job outlook for medical laboratory technicians and other similar health care workers in Canada is “Moderate” to “Very Good” for the next three years, depending on the province and territory where you work [1]. This indicates 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 vary by 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 laboratory technician career can be rewarding and meaningful because you can help physicians and surgeons determine a patient's diagnosis. It may be an exciting challenge for anyone who enjoys solving problems. Clinical laboratory technicians 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 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.

The Government of Canada Job Bank reports medical laboratory technicians across Canada make a median wage of $26.00 per hour [2]. That number may be higher in certain provinces. 

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 program.

To become a medical laboratory technician, you'll need to complete a college certificate program in medical laboratory science. This type of program will prepare you for an entry-level job. In many cases, if you decide to advance your health care career, your credits will transfer toward earning a bachelor's degree in science.

Most employers will also require a certification from the Canadian Society for Medical Laboratory Science.

2. Complete the program.

Once you begin your program, you'll take science and math courses. You'll also get familiar with tests and samples and how they are used to treat patients. You'll learn about biochemistry, hematology, histotechnology, microbiology, and transfusion science. Your classes will be a mix of labs, lectures, and clinical internships. 

3. Get certified.

Upon completing an accredited medical laboratory science program, you'll be ready to take the Canadian Society for Medical Laboratory Science national certification examination. Once you're certified, you can work in any Canadian province or territory.  

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 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.  

  • Histotechnnologists study tissue samples under microscopes to help diagnose abnormalities.

  • 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.

Get started with Coursera.

Is a career in health care right for you? Take a beginner-friendly course like Introduction to Healthcare from Stanford University to find out. Upon completion, gain a shareable Professional Certificate to include in your resume, CV, or LinkedIn profile.

Article sources


Job Bank Canada. “JOB PROSPECTS Medical Laboratory Technician in Canada, https://www.jobbank.gc.ca/marketreport/outlook-occupation/4211/ca.”  Accessed June 6, 2024.

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