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 health care 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 laboratory technologists do, their educational requirements, and the skills needed 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:

  • Transfusion medicine: Collect, classify, and prepare blood for transfusions

  • Clinical chemistry: Prepare specimens and analyze the chemical and hormonal contents of blood and body fluids

  • Cytotechnology: Examine body cells under a microscope for abnormalities (such as cancer)

  • Clinical microbiology: Examine and identify bacteria and other microorganisms

  • Histotechnology: Prepare and examine human tissue samples under a microscope

General duties for this position include:

  • Collecting and preparing biological samples for immediate testing

  • Perform routine lab procedures and analyses on body fluids and tissues

  • Interpret test results for blood, urine, and other body fluids

  • Authenticate and release test results via written reports

  • Arrange tissue for examination under a microscope by a pathologist

  • Support hospital staff by preparing for transfusions by determining blood type

  • Maintain quality control procedures

  • Manage and support medical research and development activities

Medical laboratory technologist salary and job outlook

According to the Job Bank of the Government of Canada, the median hourly wage for a medical laboratory technologist in Canada is $36.00, with a range of $25.00 to $45.00 per hour [1]. This may vary based on the type of facility you work in, where you’re located, and how much experience you have. 

Over the next three years, the Job Bank projects job opportunities to be very good in Alberta, British Columbia, Manitoba, Ontario, and Saskatchewan and good in New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, and Quebec [2].

How to become a medical laboratory technologist

Several steps lead you to a career as a medical laboratory technologist. These include earning a diploma or college degree, registering with a regulatory body, and becoming certified. You can generally accomplish this in two to three years. 

1. Earn your qualification.

Medical laboratory technologists typically hold a two- or three-year college diploma or bachelor's degree from an approved medical laboratory technology program. You may need to complete supervised practical training as well. General courses may include:

  • Clinical chemistry

  • Microbiology

  • Hematology

  • Hemopathology

  • Histotechnology

  • Immunology

  • Laboratory practicum

  • Collection and handling of biological specimens

  • Science of blood transfusions

2. Develop relevant skills

Learning tends to be a mix of classroom and practice in labs. Beyond these technical skills, an effective medical laboratory technologist will develop a number of personal characteristics or workplace skills while in school and beyond. These can include:

  • Ability to pay attention to detail and maintain high accuracy

  • Ability to perceive forms and colours

  • Strong analytical thinking skills 

  • Ability to communicate and interact well with others

  • Integrity and professionalism

 3. Register with a regulatory body.

Medical laboratory technologists must register with a regulatory body in the provinces of Newfoundland and Labrador, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Quebec, Ontario, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, and Alberta. If you desire to work in one of these areas, contact the provincial regulatory body, such as the College of Medical Laboratory Technologists of Alberta, the New Brunswick Society of Medical Laboratory Technologists, or Ordre professionnel des technologistes médicaux du Québec.

4. Get certified.

It is generally required by employers for medical laboratory technologists throughout Canada to be certified by the Canadian Society for Medical Laboratory Science (CSMLS).  You will need to take a written examination in person at a designated site within the country. 

For those who have been educated or worked outside of Canada, it's possible to have your experience assessed through a Prior Learning Assessment (PLA) by the CSMLS. During this process, a committee will assess your education, training, and all prior work experience and compare it to the expectations of medical laboratory technologists in Canada. 

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 laboratory technologist through courses like Introduction to the Biology of Cancer from Johns Hopkins University or Fundamentals of Immunology Specialization from Rice.

Article sources


Government of Canada Job Bank. “Wages: Medical Technologist - Medical Laboratory in Canada, https://www.jobbank.gc.ca/marketreport/wages-occupation/4203/ca.” Accessed April 23, 2024.

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