Becoming a Lab Technician: Job Description & Salary Info

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What are the pros and cons of a lab technician career? Get real job descriptions, career prospects and salary info to see if becoming a lab technician is the right choice for you.
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Pros and Cons of a Lab Technician Career

Medical and biological lab technicians work to prepare and execute tests to diagnose diseases or research medical advances in laboratories. Check out these pros and cons of a lab technician career:

Pros of a Lab Technician Career
Minimum 1-2 years of education for medical lab work*
Specializations available*
Can work in hospitals, private labs, university departments and government agencies*
Opportunity to improve people's lives through research*

Cons of a Lab Technician Career
Risk of contamination or exposure to biological hazards*
Possible evening or weekend hours at 24-hour medical facilities*
Licensing or certification required by some states and employers*
Additional schooling required for advancement*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Job Description and Career Info

The career title of lab technician covers two types of workers: medical laboratory technicians and biological technicians. Medical and clinical lab technicians work in hospitals, doctor's offices and diagnostic laboratories. They prepare samples of patients' blood, tissue and other bodily specimens for testing. Many of the tests use computer equipment. After completing a test, technicians then relay the results to a doctor or nurse. While medical lab technicians may collect blood samples from patients, there is often little patient interaction in this role.

Like medical lab technicians, biological technicians must observe strict safety protocols in order to avoid contamination or exposure to biologically hazardous materials. Work opportunities are available in research laboratories, universities, government agencies and pharmaceutical manufacturers. As a biological technician, you would work under the supervision of a biologist who would determine the experimental parameters and technology to be used, including specialized computers and robotics equipment.

Salary Info and Job Prospects

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported in May 2014 that medical lab technicians made a median annual wage of about $36,000 and that biological technicians earned about $41,000 (www.bls.gov). The BLS projected that employment for medical lab technicians and biological technicians would increase by 30% and 10% from 2012-2022. As the population gets older, more people will require diagnostic tests and medications. These projected employment increases are about as fast as average for all other occupations.

Education and Training Requirements

Medical Lab Technicians

Generally, workers with an associate's degree in medical lab technology are called technicians, while those with bachelor's degrees are called technologists. The National Accreditation Agency for Clinical Laboratory Sciences (NAACLS) accredits medical lab technology programs at all levels. These programs teach you basic lab techniques both in classroom settings and in practical lab environments. After completing a program, you will be eligible for national certification and state licensure.

Biological Technicians

Biological technicians typically hold a bachelor's degree in biology or another life science area. Biology degree programs at 4-year universities and colleges often include courses that have a lab component, and this experience can help prepare you to work in a lab. You may also choose to take some computer science courses in order to understand and feel comfortable with the computerized lab equipment you may use on the job.

What Employers Are Looking for

In job postings for medical lab technician openings, employers often prefer applicants with certifications and state licensure. However, some employers may request that technicians gain a certification within six months to a year of hire. Read these summaries of job postings open in April 2012 for medical lab technicians to get an idea of what employers are looking for:

  • A critical care lab in a hospital in Ohio was looking to hire a medical lab technician with an associate's degree. Certification at the time of hire was preferred, but you would need to seek the designation within six months of starting the job.
  • A cancer institute in Florida was searching for a medical lab technician with an associate's degree, state licensure and four years of experience. Certification was preferred.

Job postings for biological technician positions often mention experience with certain lab techniques, including specific computer programs or equipment. Check out these summaries of postings open in April 2012 to see what employers require:

  • A lab in Ohio wanted to hire a biological technician to assist in microbiological analysis of food samples. The candidate should have a bachelor's degree in biology or a related field.
  • A university lab in Illinois was looking for a research technician with a bachelor's degree in a biological science and one year of experience to work on a neuroscience research project.

How to Stand Out in the Field

Get Certified

For medical lab technicians, national certification is a voluntary process that can demonstrate your knowledge and ability to potential employers. The American Society for Clinical Pathology offers the Medical Laboratory Technician (MLT) credential as well as various other specialty certifications. After completing your NAACLS-accredited program, you will be eligible to take the MLT exam. Check with your state for specific rules and regulations. American Medical Technologists (AMT) offers the Medical Laboratory Technician (AMT) designation. You are also eligible to take this test after completing a medical lab technology program.

Specialize

Medical lab testing involves a number of specializations, such as cytotechnology and phlebotomy. Cytotechnology is the study of cells, while phlebotomy is the study of blood. As you gain experience in a lab, you may wish to specialize in one of these areas. In a smaller lab, your duties may include all types of diagnostic testing; however, in a larger lab, you could focus on one type of medical technology.

The same concept works for biological technicians; if you gain enough experience working as a technician, you may have an opportunity to advance to a higher level position.

Other Careers to Consider

Chemical technicians work in labs assisting chemists with various experiments. To begin working as a chemical technician, you need to complete an associate's degree program in chemical technology and receive some on-the-job training. The BLS reported in May 2011 that chemical technicians had a median annual wage of about $42,000.

If you are good with your hands but aren't sure chemical or biological lab work is for you, you might want to think about a dental laboratory technician career. Dental lab techs create crowns, bridges and dentures from impressions of patients' teeth. Many dental lab techs learn their skills on the job, but there are some 2-year formal training programs available. The BLS reported in May 2011 that dental laboratory technicians had a median annual wage of about $36,000.

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George Mason University

  • Master of Science in Health Informatics

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American University

  • Master of Science in Healthcare Management

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Argosy University

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  • Medical Technology (BS)
  • Medical Laboratory Technology (AS)

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Kaplan University

  • MS in Nursing
  • Bachelor: Health Science
  • Medical Assisting Certificate

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Saint Joseph's University

  • MS in Health Administration

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Baker College Online

  • Healthcare Management - MBA (Master's)

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Herzing University

  • MBA Dual Concentration: Healthcare Management and Public Safety Leadership
  • Associate of Science - Medical Assisting Services
  • Diploma: Medical Assisting

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Keiser University

  • Associate of Sciences - Medical Assistant

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