Pros and Cons of a Clinical Lab Technician Career
Clinical lab technicians help doctors, pathologists and technologists diagnose diseases, illnesses and abnormalities. Read on for more pros and cons of a clinical lab technician career.
|Pros of a Clinical Lab Technician Career|
|A two-year associate's degree or certificate is the minimum educational requirement*|
|Can choose to work in a range of work places (hospitals, physician offices, etc.)*|
|Ability to help patients by discovering the cause or source of their disease or illness*|
|Some areas of specialization available (four offered by the American Society for Clinical Pathology)**|
|Cons of a Clinical Lab Technician Career|
|May work with dangerous specimens and materials that give off fumes*|
|Have to stand for long periods of time while collecting samples or performing procedures*|
|Additional certifications or licenses may be required by the state*|
|Technicians may work unusual and long hours*|
Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, **American Society for Clinical Pathology (ASCP).
Job Description and Duties
Clinical lab technicians work in hospitals, labs and physician's offices. They collect samples, like blood or tissue, in order to determine if patients have any diseases or illnesses. They usually work in a team that includes other technicians, technologists and pathologists. In addition to using delicate lab equipment to analyze specimens, technicians also clean and maintain the equipment for future use. While some clinical or medical technicians remain generalized, some technicians choose to specialize in collecting blood samples (phlebotomists) or preparing tissue samples (histotechnicians).
Career Outlook and Salary Information
The BLS projects that in the decade from 2012-2024, medical and clinical laboratory technicians will have an employment growth of 18%, which is about average. BLS data from May 2014 reports that these workers made a median annual wage of about $38,000. The workers from the middle half of the group make earnings ranging from about $30,000-$48,000, and the highest-paid workers made about $59,000.
Requirements for the Job
You'll need to have either a certificate or an associate's degree in medical lab technology or a related field to qualify for the job. Clinical lab technician programs are offered by many community colleges and universities, and generally combine coursework with supervised clinical experiences. Depending on your state, you may also need to receive a license or certification in order to be able to work with patients.
Clinical lab technicians should be interested in medicine and biology in order to get the most out of their careers. Based on trends found in BLS reports and job postings, you should also possess these other qualities:
- Analytical skills
- Able to work on a team and follow instructions
- Interested in details and meticulous experimentation
- Physical stamina to stand for long hours
- Able to work with delicate lab instruments
- Proficiency in computer programs
- Good communication skills
- Sympathetic to patients
Job Postings from Real Employers
While searching for jobs, you may come across both clinical and medical lab technician postings, which have the same basic job duties. Usually, employers ask for technicians who can collect samples, and many employers also seek applicants with at least an associate's degree. All technicians should be prepared to work with safety procedures, and some employers require lab licenses, which are determined by each state. Though this isn't a complete representation of the market, here are some examples of what real employers looked for in job postings open in May 2012:
- A healthcare services company in California needed a medical lab technician with 1-3 years of patient care work experience. The technician would collect both blood and urine samples, help clinical lab scientists and record relevant information. The technician needed to have valid licenses for the state and clinical laboratory duties. Experience with hematology and oncology was considered a plus.
- A research institute in Florida looked for a medical lab technician with an associate's degree, a state license and at least four years of work experience in healthcare. They preferred applicants with national certification. Applicants needed to be able to use data computer programs, solve basic math problems, stand for long periods of time and communicate effectively.
- A technology group in Ohio sought a clinical pathology lab technician with an associate's or bachelor's degree in medical technology. Applicants needed to be attentive to detail.
- A dermatopathology lab Arizona asked for a medical lab technician with a bachelor's degree (or equivalent training) and certification as a histotechnican. The chosen candidate should be prepared to train as a Mohs technician, cut specimens, prepare tissue samples and complete paperwork.
How to Stand Out
You may consider continuing your education and receiving a bachelor's degree, but this level of education usually is reserved for technologists. However, if you wish to advance your career, this is an option to consider.
You can stand out from other clinical lab technicians by being certified and specializing in several fields. Certification can be beneficial because it shows that you have voluntarily pursued a nationally recognized standard in medical care and clinical lab experience. Typically, certification organizations ask for high school graduates who have completed vocational training as an eligibility requirement. You must pass the relevant exams and maintain certification to keep this status. One organization that offers these certifications is the ASCP, which offers many specializations that employers look for, including histotechnician, phlebotomy technician, donor phlebotomy technician and medical lab technician designations.
Medical and Clinical Laboratory Technologist
If you want a similar career in the field with better pay, then you might consider becoming a clinical technologist. Not to be confused with clinical lab technicians, these workers have more responsibilities. They usually must have a bachelor's degree in medical lab technology or a similar subject. Their job duties are very similar to technicians, but they have a wider range of specializations, such as clinical chemistry or cytotechnology.
The BLS expected that these workers would have an 11% employment growth for 2010-2020. BLS data shows that they made a median annual salary of about $57,000 as of May 2011.
If you're more interested in research and experiments than collecting samples, you can pursue a career as a biological technician. These workers must have a bachelor's degree in biology, and they need lab experience. While they perform similar duties to clinical lab technicians like analyzing specimens and cleaning laboratory equipment, they also have additional responsibilities like assisting scientists in finding new treatment for diseases.
The BLS projects a 14% employment growth for biological technicians for the years 2010-2020. BLS 2011 data shows that these workers made a median annual salary of about $39,000. Keep in mind that these workers have intense competition for jobs.