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Becoming a Medical Lab Technician: Lab Tech Career Information

How to become a medical lab technicianYou’ve been a die-hard science fan for as long as you can remember. Working behind the scenes, like a silent superhero, is your preference. And, you want to enter the workforce in a stable career. Lean in; we have a fabulous idea for you. Medical Lab Technician training is the way to go. Learn about what’s involved in becoming a medical lab technician and start your journey today!

Medical Lab Tech Job Overview

After you get blood drawn, or pee in a cup, or have whatever other bodily samples the doctor ordered taken, all that stuff ends up in front of a medical lab technician. Medical Lab Technicians work in hospitals and labs performing tests on patient tissue, blood, fluids, and other body-related samples. Even though they are behind the scenes, medical lab techs play a significant role in diagnosing and preventing contagious and deadly diseases like cancer and HIV. There are many different sophisticated machines such as microscopes and cell counters which are used by medical lab technicians to perform their duties better.

A Day in the Life of a Medical Lab Tech

You already know that medical lab technicians collect samples from bodily fluids so let’s take a look at what it is that they do with those samplings:

  • Analyze and record findings based on the samples
  • Study all aspects of a blood sample for transfusion purposes by finding out number of cells, blood type, and compatibility with other blood types.
  • Working required tools of the trade such as microscopes and cell counters
  • Sanitize the lab area
  • Examine immune system
  • Detect abnormalities or diseases through testing samples
  • Find parasites, microorganisms, and bacteria in samples
  • Perform tests that help diagnose and treat a variety of illnesses

Specialties include microbiology, blood banking, hematology, clinical chemistry, molecular biology, cytotechnology.

Medical Lab Tech Soft Skills

Aside from the strong desire and even more solid work ethic that medical lab techs should possess, there are other qualities that employers are looking for when hiring.

  • Trouble-shooter, not trouble-maker! Loads of issues can arise for medical lab technicians, and being able to think quick and problem solve is as necessary as, say, coffee.
  • Must love thyself. So, part of the thing about working as a medical lab tech is that you may be surrounded by many, but you’re pretty much working on your own.
  • You care. You care about people and their health. And, you feel a strong pull to helping to heal through your work.
  • A glory-less job that someone needs to do. And, you don’t mind that you get little to no recognition on your discoveries. Because, you’ve already saved one life and have moved onto the next.
  • You’re kind of a techie. Working in this field, a medical lab technician needs to know a little bit about a lot of techie stuff like computers, computer software, and other electronics. No video gaming skills needed.
  • You’re a big talker. Communication is essential, and it’s important to be able to convey your thoughts effectively. And, you don’t need to just be able to speak well, but writing and listening skills are critical, as well.


How to Become a Medical Lab Tech

Becoming a medical lab technician can take one to two years, depending on if you decide to get a certificate or an associate’s degree. Here are the steps to take if you’re thinking about becoming a medical lab technician:

  • Graduate high school or get a GED. High school classes such as algebra, chemistry, and physics will prepare you for this career.
  • Go get an associate’s degree in clinical or medical lab technology. Yes, certificate programs are also an option, but more employers are giving preference to medical lab techs with associate’s degrees.

*There are some hospitals that offer medical lab tech certificate programs but they are limited, and admission qualifications vary widely.

  • Once you’ve graduated from an accredited lab tech program, you can get your certification so you’re a Certified Medical Lab Technician. It’s not required in all states, but it does make you more hireable.
  • Some states require that their medical lab technicians get licensed. Each state has different requirements that must be met, so it’s important to call your local state boards to find out what your requirements are.American Medical Technologists, American Association of Bioanalysts, and American Society for Clinical Pathology.

Certification & Licensing Requirements

Not all states require lab technicians to be certified. However, most employers prefer to hire certified medical lab technicians. By earning a certification, it proves to employers that they can carry out their tasks in a professional and knowledgeable manner. For the medical lab tech, certification often brings better employment opportunities, along with a larger paycheck.

The ASCP Board of Certification is typically the certifying body that medical lab professionals gain certification through. They are considered the ‘gold standard’ in medical lab certifications. Before even submitting the application to sit for the exam, documentation is needed to prove eligibility:

  • Experience documentation
  • Training documentation
  • Notarized official transcript
  • Letter of authenticity
  • Application fee of $215

There are four ‘routes’ to determine your certification eligibility:

  • Route One: An associate degree or at least 60 credit hours from an accredited college or university. The successful completion of an accredited medical lab technician program within the last five years.
  • Route Two: An associate degree or at least 60 semester hours of relevant course credits from an accredited program. This must include 6 semester hours of chemistry and 6 semester hours of biology, PLUS the ASCP certification.
  • Route Three: An associate degree or at least 60 semester hours of course credits from an accredited college program. This must have included 6 semester hours of chemistry and 6 semester hours of biology, AND to have successfully finished a 50 week U.S. military medical laboratory training course within the last ten years.
  • Route Four: An associate degree or at least 60 semester hours of course credits from an accredited college. This should include 6 credit hours of chemistry and 6 credit hours of biology, PLUS three years full time acceptable clinical lab experience in blood banking, chemistry, hematology, microbiology, immunology, and urinalysis/body fluids in the U.S., Canada or an accredited laboratory within the last six years.

The application must be done online. Applicants must have a valid driver’s license, the name of the accredited and approved college or university, program start and official end date, and name and contact information for the Program Director.

The certification through the American Medical Technologists is another popular one in the allied health care field. There are three routes for medical lab technicians based on education, alternative education, and military experience. The AMT also has an ‘other recognized exam’ route for medical lab techs who have gained certification through other approved methods. Eligibility for the AMT exam include:

  • Graduate with an associate’s or bachelor’s from an accredited program
  • Complete two years or 60 credit hours of courses, including 25 credit hours in clinical lab science, and 6 months of approved lab internship or experience
  • Pass a 50-week program through the US military lab tech training
  • Pay $160 application fee
  • Apply online for certification
  • Submit the proper documentation including the application summary, acknowledgement letter, authorization to test letter, and review/practice exam.

To maintain the AMT certification, an annual fee must be paid, and comply with the Certification Continuation Program (CCP) every three years.

Lab Tech Career Options

A medical lab technician is one of those careers that can hold unlimited career options depending on how far you’d want to go. Many medical lab techs continue their education post bachelor’s degree to become a lab technologist, and then a lab manager or supervisor. Lab managers and supervisors hold advanced degrees in management, biological sciences, or medical technology. A doctorate would allow being promoted to lab director.

Medical lab technicians can also choose to specialize in areas such as immunology, histotechnology, clinical chemistry, blood banking, and microbiology.

Science technicians, dentist techs, and veterinary techs are some career options for medical lab technicians.

Medical Lab Tech Salary

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that medical lab technicians earn $38,950 annually. Entry level medical lab technicians made over $26,000 per year, and the top 10% brought in over $61K. This is a full-time job, often with irregular hours such as evening and weekends, depending on when the hiring medical facility is open.

Top Paying Industries for Medical Lab Technicians

Industry

Salary

Drug and Druggists' Sundries Merchant Wholesalers

$79,230

Office of Dentists

$59,760

Individual and Family Services

$56,650

Computer Systems Design and Related Services

$52,100

Management, Scientific, and Technical Consulting Services

$50,680


Top Paying States For Medical Lab Technicians

State

Salary

Rhode Island

$57,690

Alaska

$54,410

New Jersey

$50,780

Vermont

$50,570

Rhode Island

$48,470

Medical Lab Tech Job Outlook

Through 2026, employment for medical lab technicians is expected to grow 13 percent. This is faster than most other occupations. The aging population means more diagnosing of illnesses being done. Medical lab techs who have completed an accredited program and have gotten licensed and certified will have a leg up on the competition.

Industries With Highest Level Of Employment

Industry

Salary

General Medical and Surgical Hospitals

$42,030

Medical and Diagnostic Laboratories

$41,080

Offices of Physicians

$41,410

Other Ambulatory Health Care Services

$37,360

Outpatient Care Centers

$43,440

States With Highest Level of Employment

State

Salary

California

$47,610

Texas

$40,060

New York

$48,470

Pennsylvania

$41,950

Tennessee

$37,210