Medical laboratory technologists (commonly known as medical laboratory scientists) and medical laboratory technicians collect samples and perform tests to analyze body fluids, tissue, and other substances.Duties
Medical laboratory technologists and technicians typically do the following:
Both technicians and technologists perform tests and procedures that physicians and surgeons or other healthcare personnel order. However, technologists perform more complex tests and laboratory procedures than technicians do. For example, technologists may prepare specimens and perform detailed manual tests, whereas technicians perform routine tests that may be more automated. Medical laboratory technicians usually work under the general supervision of medical laboratory technologists or laboratory managers.
Technologists in small laboratories perform many types of tests; in large laboratories, they sometimes specialize. The following are examples of types of specialized medical laboratory technologists:
Blood bank technologists, or immunohematology technologists, collect blood, classify it by type, and prepare blood and its components for transfusions.
Clinical chemistry technologists prepare specimens and analyze the chemical and hormonal contents of body fluids.
Cytotechnologists prepare slides of body cells and examine these cells with a microscope for abnormalities that may signal the beginning of a cancerous growth.
Immunology technologists examine elements of the human immune system and its response to foreign bodies.
Microbiology technologists examine and identify bacteria and other microorganisms.
Molecular biology technologists perform complex protein and nucleic acid tests on cell samples.
Like technologists, medical laboratory technicians may work in several areas of the laboratory or specialize in one particular area. For example, histotechnicians cut and stain tissue specimens for pathologists, who are doctors who study the cause and development of diseases at a microscopic level.
Technologists and technicians often specialize after they have worked in a particular area for a long time or have received advanced education or training in that area.
Medical laboratory technologists typically need a bachelor’s degree. Technicians usually need an associate’s degree or a postsecondary certificate. Some states require technologists and technicians to be licensed.Education
An entry-level job for technologists usually requires a bachelor's degree in medical technology or life sciences.
A bachelor’s degree program in medical laboratory technology, also known as a medical laboratory scientist degree, includes courses in chemistry, biology, microbiology, math, and statistics. Coursework emphasizes laboratory skills, including safety procedures and lab management.
The courses may be offered through a university or hospital-based program that students attend during their senior year of college. College graduates who major in other sciences and meet a program’s prerequisites, such as having completed required courses in biology and chemistry or maintaining a certain GPA, also may apply to a medical laboratory science program.
Medical laboratory technicians often complete an associate’s degree program in clinical laboratory science. A limited number of 1-year certificate programs are available from hospitals, and admission requirements vary. The Armed Forces and vocational or technical schools also may offer certificate programs for medical laboratory technicians. Technician coursework addresses the theoretical and practical aspects of each of the major laboratory disciplines.
High school students who are interested in pursuing a career in the medical laboratory sciences should take classes in chemistry, biology, and math.Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations
Some states require laboratory personnel to be licensed. Requirements vary by state and specialty. For specific requirements, contact state departments of health, state boards of occupational licensing, or visit The American Society for Clinical Laboratory Science.
Certification of medical laboratory technologists and technicians is required for licensure in some states. Although certification is not required to enter the occupation in all cases, employers typically prefer to hire certified technologists and technicians.
Medical laboratory technologists and technicians can obtain a general certification as a medical laboratory technologist or technician, respectively, or a certification in a specialty, such as cytotechnology or medical biology. Most credentialing institutions require that technologists complete an accredited education program in order to qualify to sit for an exam. For more credentialing information, visit the National Accrediting Agency for Clinical Laboratory Sciences.Important Qualities
Ability to use technology. Medical laboratory technologists and technicians must understand how to operate complex machinery.
Detail oriented. Medical laboratory technologists and technicians must follow exact instructions in order to perform tests or procedures correctly.
Dexterity. Medical laboratory technologists and technicians need to be skilled with their hands. They work closely with needles and precise laboratory instruments and must handle these tools effectively.
Physical stamina. Medical laboratory technologists and technicians may work on their feet for long periods while collecting samples. They may need to lift or turn disabled patients to collect samples for testing.Advancement
After additional education, work experience, or certification, technologists and technicians may specialize in one of many areas of laboratory science, such as immunology, histotechnology, or clinical chemistry. Some medical laboratory technicians advance to technologist positions after gaining experience and additional education.
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