Hospital Lab Technician Careers: Salary Info & Job Description

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Get the truth about a hospital lab technician's salary, education and licensure requirements and career prospects. Read the job description and see the pros and cons of becoming a hospital medical lab technician.
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Pros and Cons of a Career as a Hospital Lab Technician

A hospital medical lab technician (MLT) draws blood, prepares tissue samples and performs simple diagnostic tests. Becoming a hospital MLT can be a solid career choice, but explore the pros and cons before making a decision.

Pros of a Career as a Hospital Medical Lab Technician
Need only an associate's degree or certificate*
Can work any shift (hospital labs are open 24/7, which means nights, weekends or day shifts are available)*
Hospitals typically pay more than other employers do for the same job (hospital MLTs made a mean of $19.81/hour in May 2014, higher than the total mean, which was $19.59/hour)*
Opportunities for specialization*

Cons of a Career as a Hospital Medical Lab Technician
Advancement requires additional education**
Usually must hold state license*
Many employers require certification**
May be required to work weekends or holidays*
Risk of injury from lifting patients, possible exposure to disease*

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), **American Medical Technologists.

Essential Career Information

Job Description

Hospital medical lab technicians act on the orders of physicians and other healthcare professionals to collect samples of tissue, body fluids and other material. They then analyze these substances through manual tests or with the aid of laboratory equipment, such as cell counters or microscopes. MLTs are supervised by medical lab technologists and perform less complex tasks than the technologists do. It's not a job for the squeamish - you'll be drawing blood and collecting urine from patients, either in the hospital lab or, more likely, at a patient's bedside. You will also be responsible for keeping records of what you've done, along with dates and times.

Since hospitals are 24/7 operations, you could work any shift, and you may be required to work on holidays and weekends. Although you will collect samples from sick people, as long as you take proper precautions, you shouldn't be at risk. There's some chance of injury from lifting or positioning patients, and you'll be on your feet for most of your shift.

Career Prospects

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) predicted that employment of MLTs would grow by 18% from 2014-2024, significantly faster than the average for all professions. The BLS predicted that an aging population would cause an increase in demand for diagnostic tests. More than half of all lab technician jobs are in hospitals, according to American Medical Technologists (AMT).

Salary Info

The median annual salary for all medical and clinical laboratory technicians was nearly $38,370 in May 2014, the BLS reported, with the middle half making between $30,860 and $48,470. The highest paid ten percent made $59,750 or more, according to the BLS. The BLS noted that medical and laboratory techs employed by hospitals made a mean annual salary of nearly $41,210 in May 2014.

What Are the Requirements?

Education Requirements

MLTs need training in science, math and laboratory procedures. You can prepare for this career while in high school by taking chemistry, math and biology courses. Hospital medical laboratory technicians generally need an associate's degree from an accredited MLT program. A 1-year certificate may suffice if the student already holds a bachelor's degree in a related field, such as nursing. Some MLTs may earn a certificate through the armed forces. Training includes courses in various laboratory practices with opportunities for practical experience.

Licensing

Some states require that MLTs obtain an occupational license. To become licensed, you may have to meet education and experience requirements and pass an examination. You'll likely pay a fee, which could be several hundred dollars, to get your initial license. You renew your license every few years.

Certification

Although it is not mandatory for all positions, many employers prefer to hire medical lab technicians who are certified by a professional association, according to the BLS. Certifying organizations include the American Society of Clinical Pathology (ASCP), the American Certification Agency (ACA) for Healthcare Professionals and the AMT. All of these organizations have minimum qualifications regarding education and experience and require passing an examination.

Useful Skills

MLTs must be meticulous and detail-oriented. The ability to notice small changes and differences can be crucial to a lab test result. They must be able to follow instructions and have the stamina to work at a physically demanding job. The work is not just in the lab, and MLTs must be personable and compassionate with the patients they encounter.

What Employers Want

Job postings show that an associate's degree, licensing and a few years of experience are the standard requirements around the country for hospital MLTs. Some employers specify that they want a technician who is certified or can become certified within six months of hire. Here's a sampling of job postings from real employers in April 2012:

  • In Tennessee, a hospital was looking for a technician with at least a year of experience in collecting and testing blood. An associate's degree was required along with a Tennessee state medical lab tech license or letter of eligibility. The posting emphasized that the employer wanted someone with good communication and problem-solving skills.
  • A North Dakota hospital needed a technician with a year's experience to work in urinalysis, bacteriology or serology, among other areas. Keeping accurate records and maintaining quality control were listed as requirements of this job.
  • A hospital in Minnesota needed a part-time licensed technician to collect specimens and perform moderate or high complexity tests. They must be able to document instrument maintenance and quality control before patients are tested. Day and evening shift positions were available.

How to Stand out in the Field

Specialize

While many employers require that you earn a general MLT certification, you can go the extra mile and increase your employment options by specializing. Most professional associations offer certifications in phlebotomy, the drawing and testing of blood, and histology, the preparation and testing of body tissues. Someone with a donor phlebotomy technician certification can work in a blood bank.

Affiliate

Through membership in a professional organization such as ASCP or the AMT, you can take continuing education courses needed to maintain your license and certification. You also have access to job postings. State and national conventions and meetings give you a chance to network and learn more about your profession.

Other Career Alternatives

Medical Laboratory Technologist

For just a few more years of schooling, you can earn substantially more money as a hospital medical laboratory technologist, performing more complex tests and supervising lab technicians. Hospital lab technologists must hold a bachelor's degree in medical laboratory technology, but you may feel the extra education is worth it. Technologists earned a median annual salary of nearly $57,000 in May 2011, according to the BLS, about $20,000 more than a lab technician.

Veterinary Technician

If you'd rather use your scientific and patient care skills helping animals, you might consider a career as a veterinary technician. Like a hospital medical lab technician, you'll collect specimens and run tests on them according to the vet's instructions. You may help the vet in other ways, such as talking with pet owners and performing basic care for the animals. A veterinary technician usually holds a 2-year associate's degree in veterinary technology. The job outlook is outstanding for veterinary technicians and technologists. The BLS predicted that employment would grow by 52% from 2010-2020. The BLS said the median annual salary for veterinary technologists and technicians was about $30,000 in May 2011.

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  • Master of Science in Health Informatics

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American University

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Argosy University

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Kaplan University

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  • Bachelor: Health Science
  • Medical Assisting Certificate

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Saint Joseph's University

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Baker College Online

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Herzing University

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Keiser University

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