Pros and Cons of a Certified Medical Lab Technician Career
As a medical lab technician, you'd work with a team to gather and examine patients' samples. To enter the field as a technician, you'll generally need to attend a 2-year associate's degree program. Read the pros and cons below for further information on becoming a certified medical lab technician.
|Pros of a Certified Medical Lab Technician Career|
|30% job growth projected from 2012-2022*|
|Relatively few years of education required*|
|Opportunity to specialize*|
|Can work in large hospital or small doctor's office*|
|Cons of a Certified Medical Lab Technician Career|
|Working with potential hazardous biological materials*|
|May require licensure*|
|Phlebotomy skills often required (drawing blood for analysis)*|
|Possible night or weekend hours*|
Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics
Essential Career Info
A medical lab technician, or clinical lab technician, position is typically the entry-level job in medical laboratories. You would work with other technicians, technologists and supervisors to prepare specimens for analysis in various machines. Much of the lab work is increasingly computerized, so lab personnel may be more involved in analyzing the results of a test. You would spend most of your time in the lab on your feet, and you may be assigned phlebotomy duties, drawing blood from patients. Otherwise, you'll seldom interact with patients.
Career Prospects and Salary
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projected that employment for medical and clinical laboratory personnel would increase much faster than the average for all occupations from 2012-2022, mainly due to the large number of aging Americans. Hospitals were the largest employer of medical lab staff, but independent diagnostic labs and doctor's offices were expected to increasingly employ lab techs. The BLS reported as of May 2013 that medical and clinical lab technicians made a median annual wage of about $37,970 (www.bls.gov).
Education and Certification Requirements
Medical lab personnel are typically categorized by their level of education: laboratory technicians attend a 2-year degree program and technologists a 4-year program. The National Accrediting Agency for Clinical Laboratory Sciences (NAACLS) accredits certificate, associate's degree and bachelor's degree programs in medical laboratory technology. These programs typically combine classroom learning with supervised practical experience in a laboratory setting. Courses within an associate's degree program in medical laboratory technology might include medical microbiology, analytic chemistry, clinical chemistry, urinalysis, immunology and serology, hematology and pathogenic bacteriology.
Licensing and Certification
In some states, medical lab workers are required to be licensed, and a national exam may serve as your licensure. In states with separate licensing exams, some certifying agencies may accept your state licensure in lieu of a passing exam score. You may choose to seek certification. Even if you don't need to get certified, a professional credential from American Medical Technologists or the American Society for Clinical Pathology (ASCP)'s Board of Certification can help you demonstrate your knowledge and ability.
What Employers Are Looking for
Although many of the job openings in March 2012 didn't require certification, they mention certification eligibility. Employers were generally looking for candidates with at least one year of experience in a clinical laboratory. Check out these summaries of job postings from March 2012 to see what employers are looking for:
- A women's hospital in Arkansas was looking to hire a medical lab technician with ASCP certification or eligibility, prior hospital experience and the ability to perform phlebotomy duties for weekend shifts.
- A healthcare facility in Oklahoma was searching for a medical lab technician with a science degree and three years of clinical lab experience to work the evening shift. The posting mentioned certification as a plus.
- A healthcare system in Michigan was looking for a certified medical lab technician with either 3-5 years of clinical lab experience or successful completion of an NAACLS-accredited program.
How to Stand out in the Field
In order to test biological samples, someone must first gather material from the patient. If you are able to draw blood as well as test it, employers may consider this additional skill set an asset. Some training programs may teach you phlebotomy skills, so you should check the curriculum if this is something in which you're interested. You may also choose to seek a phlebotomist certification.
Some laboratory workers perform tests on many types of bodily materials, while others specialize in one area. You could focus on cytotechnology, the study of the cell; histotechnology, the study of tissues; or hematology, the study of blood. The BLS notes that advances in genomics, or the study of genetic material, will spur medical testing and may contribute to the projected employment increase.
Other Career Paths
If you like the nature of assisting in a healthcare atmosphere but don't want to spend all your time in the lab, consider a career in general medical assisting. The BLS notes that this is one of the fastest growing professions, with employment projected to increase by 29% from 2012-2022. As a medical assistant, you would have some laboratory duties, but you would also help with administrative tasks and have more patient interaction. As of May 2013, the BLS reported that medical assistants made a median annual wage of about $29,610.
If you still want to work in a medical lab but want to perform more complex tasks, consider attending a 4-year bachelor's degree program to become a medical technologist. With additional study and training, you may be able to enter a supervisory role more quickly. The BLS reported in May 2012 that medical and clinical laboratory technologists made a median annual wage of $57,580.