Becoming a Specimen Processor: Job Description & Salary Info

About this article
Specimen processors earn a median salary of about $38,370 per year. Is this worth the education and training requirements? Read postings from real employers and learn the truth about the job outlook for this profession to find out if becoming a specimen processor is right for you.
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Pros and Cons of Becoming a Specimen Processor

Specimen processors collect blood, tissue or other types of specimens from patients and prepare them for processing in the lab. Below is a list of pros and cons that can help you determine if this occupation is suitable for you:

Pros of Becoming a Specimen Processor
Usually no education beyond a high school diploma or the equivalent is required*
Job carries the opportunity to advance to lab technician or technologist position**
Position helps patients; accurate processing can ensure that patients receive the right diagnoses for what ails them*
Good earning potential; as of May 2014 the highest-paid 10% of processors earned about $59,750**

Cons of Becoming a Specimen Processor
Potentially hazardous job; processors may be exposed to infectious specimens**
Job requires handling samples of bodily fluids and tissue*
Position usually requires sitting or standing for long periods of time*
May work evening and overnight shift in 24-hour facilities**

Sources: *Job Postings found in November and December of 2012, **U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Career Information

Specimen processors mainly perform clerical duties in clinical medical laboratories. These workers handle specimens such as blood, cultures, tissues and urine, label samples, sort batches of specimens, fill out order requisition forms, enter diagnostic information into computer databases, pick up specimens from medical facilities and deliver specimens to other labs.

The job duties these workers perform are similar to those the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) describes as engaged in by medical and clinical lab technicians. The BLS predicted that, during the 2012-2022 decade, job opportunities for medical and clinical lab technicians would grow 22%, significantly faster than the national average for all occupations. The agency reported that, in May 2014, these workers earned an average salary of approximately $40,750 per year.

What Do Employers Look For?

According to job postings found in November and December of 2012, a high school diploma or the equivalent is usually needed to work as a specimen processor. Employers typically look for candidates who have knowledge of medical terminology, maintaining patient health records and conducting data entry. Many also seek candidates with at least one year of academic training or previous work experience in a lab.

Specimen processors must be detailed-oriented to ensure that specimens are labeled correctly and that patient data is accurately entered into computer systems. They may also be required to type at a certain speed and be able to quickly access electronic records quickly.

Job Postings from Real Employers

Many employers seek specimen processors who can enter diagnostic information into electronic heath records systems. Usually, these professionals earned a minimum wage of about $11 per hour. Below is a list of actual job postings for specimen processors found in November and December of 2012:

  • A biotechnology company in Cincinnati, OH, looked for a processor to collect and process specimens, prepare specimen requisition forms, label and seal specimens and enter diagnosis codes into requisition systems. The employer sought someone with at least one year of experience entering patient information and who possessed knowledge of ICD9 coding and electronic medical record systems.
  • A healthcare staffing agency in Pennsylvania wanted to hire a temporary specimen processor. This processor's job duties would include putting barcodes on specimens, maintaining specimen integrity, performing centrifugation and entering data into computer systems. Candidates must have had experience with cell cultures, medical terminology and sterile techniques.
  • A veterinary diagnostic laboratory in Kansas sought a part-time specimen processor. Candidates must have had at least a high school diploma or the equivalent and some experience, preferably in a laboratory. The processor's job duties would include collecting, sorting, processing and delivering specimens, locating missing specimen and scanning test requisition forms.
  • A staffing agency in Florida sought an overnight specimen processor. The candidate was required to pickup, sort and deliver human specimens such as blood, urine and culture samples and enter data into computer systems. The candidate must have had a high school diploma or GED, previous experience working overnight, academic or work-related medical experience and the ability to type at least 35 words per minute.

How to Stand Out

You can stand out against your competition by completing a certificate or associate's degree program in a related discipline, such as medical or clinical laboratory technology. Classes in these programs cover topics like clinical microbiology, hematology and urinalysis. Alternatively, you can complete a certificate program in phlebotomy. These certificate programs provide training in specimen processing.

Another way to stand out is to earn the Certified Medical Lab Assistant (CMLA) designation offered by the American Medical Technologists. Earning this certification requires passing an exam. To be eligible to take the exam, you must have at least 1,040 hours of work experience within the past three years or complete at least 200 hours of didactic training and 120 hours of clinical lab experience. To maintain your certification, you must pay a fee every year and complete continuing education points every three years.

Other Careers to Consider

Biological Technician

Biological technicians prepare and study specimens with the goal of discovering new treatments and cures for diseases. These workers use advanced robotic machines to process samples and computer systems to analyze statistical data. A bachelor's degree in biology or a related field and experience working in a lab is usually needed to work as a biological technician. The BLS reported that, in May 2011, biological technicians earned a median wage of approximately $39,000 per year. The agency predicted that job opportunities for these technicians would increase 14% during the 2010-2020 decade.

Chemical Technician

Chemical technicians perform chemical tests to ensure that products meet standards, develop chemical solutions, test water and air samples or maintain equipment and improve efficiency. To work in this field, you usually need to complete a 2-year degree program in applied science, chemical technology or a related discipline. The BLS reported that, as of May 2011, chemical technicians earned an annual median wage of about $42,000. The agency predicted that, during the 2010-2020 decade, job opportunities for these technicians would increase seven percent.

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