Becoming a Lab Assistant: Job Description & Salary Information

About this article
Laboratory assistants earn an average yearly wage of around $40,000, but are the training requirements really worth it? See real job descriptions and duties and get the truth about career prospects to find out if becoming a lab assistant is right for you.
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Pros and Cons of a Career as a Lab Assistant

Lab or laboratory assistants are professionals who help in basic routine laboratory testing. Reading about the pros and cons of being a lab assistant may help you decide if this is the right career for you.

Pros of Being a Lab Assistant
Employment growth expected to be 18% between 2014 and 2024*
Can work in various medical settings**
A high school diploma or lab assistant certificate may sufficient for entry-level positions**
Advancement opportunities (to supervisor level)**

Cons of Being a Lab Assistant
Low salary (average income of around $40,000 annually)***
Work hours may include evenings, weekends and holidays*
May have to spend a lot of time on their feet*
Possibly working around fumes*
May be required to wear protective goggles, masks and gloves*

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, **American Medical Association, ***American Society for Clinical Pathology.

Essential Career Info

Job Description

Laboratory assistants play an important role in the diagnosis and prevention of diseases. They assist lab technicians and technologists in routine laboratory testing, making sure to follow legal guidelines. In addition to working under stress, lab assistants must be very careful, accurate and detail-oriented because one little mistake could result in inaccurate information or a wrong diagnosis.

Some of their duties include inventory management, specimen processing, selecting and initiating lab testing on automated analyzers and performing point-of-care testing. In addition to clinical laboratory tasks, lab assistants also perform administrative tasks and duties involving patient contact. They may also be in charge of taking and recording vital sign measurements and maintaining regulated quality control protocols, while also following safety and infection control procedures.

Job Growth and Salary

The American Society for Clinical Pathology (ASCP) differentiated lab assistants from other medical and clinical lab technicians. ASCP reported in their 2010 Wage and Vacancy Survey that laboratory assistants earned an average annual wage of around $28,000. The ASCP also stated that lab assistants working in non-pathologist physicians' offices typically earned a higher hourly wage. Laboratory assistants working at the supervisory level earned an average annual wage or near $41,000.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), employment of all medical and clinical laboratory workers was expected grow by 7% between 2014 and 2024. Contributing to this job growth was the continued need to treat medical conditions because of the aging population.

Education and Training Requirements

What Employers Are Looking for

Although some lab assistants receive their training on the job, others complete formal training programs to improve their employment opportunities. Formal laboratory assistant training programs can be found at technical schools and community colleges and usually result in a certificate of completion. The program provides students with training in inventory management, specimen processing and analysis, quality control and phlebotomy. The curriculum usually combines coursework with laboratory studies so students can get hands-on training. Some courses may be offered online or as hybrid courses.

Top Skills for Lab Assistants

In addition to completing a formal training program, you should possess the following qualities and skills for this career.

  • Manual dexterity
  • Ability to work as part of a team
  • Good analytical judgment
  • Ability to work under pressure
  • Good computer skills

Job Postings from Real Employers

Experience appears to be the most common requirement employers are looking for in laboratory assistants. Many job postings only call for a high school diploma, but they're also seeking a minimum of one year of experience. The following is a sampling of open job postings from March 2012:

  • A reference laboratory in Tennessee advertised for a laboratory assistant with a high school diploma but is pursuing or completing a bachelor's degree in science or biology. The candidate would locate and process specimens and perform a number of electronic record keeping tasks. Experience with flow cytometry was desirable.
  • A Pennsylvania university is seeking a laboratory assistant to perform routine laboratory/research tasks for its pediatric research center. Under supervision, the candidate will assist with animal management, animal dissections, PCR genotyping and slide preparation. The assistant also maintains inventory and records laboratory data. Applicants must have a high school diploma, experience in handling animals and proficiency in data entry.
  • A Minnesota scientific resources company is looking for a detail-oriented laboratory assistant to work with frozen specimens and handle relabeling. Candidates must live in the Rochester area and have experience working with Excel software.

How to Beat the Competition

Get Certified

In some states, medical lab assistants are required to be registered or licensed. Although certification isn't required, many employers prefer to hire assistants who are certified. Two associations that offer certifications include the American Medical Technologists and the National Healthcareer Association. Eligibility requirements vary, but applicants must meet education and work experience requirements, as well as pass written examinations.

Continuing Education

In addition to obtaining certification, you can also pursue additional training. With training and work experience, lab assistants can often become laboratory technicians or technologists. Specializing in or earning a degree in medical technology can help with advancements as well. You'll need to complete continuing education to maintain certifications.

Alternative Career Paths

Medical Records and Health Information Technician

If working in a lab isn't for you, consider a career as a medical records technician. Also known as health information technicians, these professionals work in an office assembling patient information and entering data into a computer system. They may also do medical coding for reimbursement purposes. This career may be a good fit if you want to be part of the medical industry but prefer little or no patient contact. This field usually requires a field-related certificate or an associate's degree. The BLS reported a mean annual wage of around $36,000 and an estimated employment growth of 21% between 2010 and 2020.

Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN)

If you'd like to continue in the health field and interact with patients, but on a more personal level, nursing could be an option. Although many think of nursing as a career that requires years of schooling, aspiring nurses can usually earn a postsecondary certificate or associate's degree and become a licensed practical nurse (LPN) in one year. Unlike lab assistants, LPNs need to be licensed by passing the National Council Licensure Examination after completing a training program. As of 2011, the BLS reported that LPNs earned a mean salary of $42,000, which is wage substantially higher than that of a lab assistant. This option had a projected 22% job outlook from 2010-2020 according to the BLS.

Popular Schools

  • Online Programs Available
    1. The George Washington University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • MSHS in Clinical Microbiology
      • MSHS in Clinical Microbiology
    Bachelor's
      • BSHS in Medical Laboratory Sciences
      • BSHS in Medical Laboratory Sciences
  • Online Programs Available
    2. Kaplan University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • MS in Nursing
      • Master of Healthcare Admin
      • Master: Nursing/Nurse Educator
      • Master: Nursing/Nurse Administrator
    Bachelor's
      • Bachelor: Health Science
      • Bachelors of Science in Nursing - RN to BSN (RN License Required)
      • Bachelor: Healthcare Admin
      • Bachelor: Health and Wellness
  • Campus Locations:
    3. Virginia College

    Program Options

    Associate's
      • Associate: Medical Assistant
    Certificate
      • Diploma Program - Pharmacy Technician
  • Online Programs Available
    4. Colorado Technical University

    Program Options

    Doctorate
      • Doctor of Management - Health Care Management and Leadership
    Master's
      • MS - Healthcare Management
      • Master of Science in Management - Healthcare Management
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      • BS - Business Administration - Health Care Management
  • Online Programs Available
    5. University of the Southwest

    Program Options

    Master's
      • MBA Healthcare Administration
  • Campus Locations:
    6. Brightwood College

    Program Options

    Associate's
      • Medical Assistant - AS
    Certificate
      • Medical Assistant - Certificate
      • Medical Assistant - Diploma
      • Pharmacy Technician Certificate
  • Online Programs Available
    7. Colorado State University Global

    Program Options

    Master's
      • Graduate Specialization - Healthcare Administration
  • Online Programs Available
    8. Northcentral University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • MS - Organizational Leadership: Health Care Administration
  • Online Programs Available
    9. American InterContinental University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • Master of Healthcare Management
      • Master of Business Admin: Healthcare Admin
    Bachelor's
      • Bachelor of Business Admin: Healthcare Management
      • Bachelor of Healthcare Management - HSA Mgt.
      • Bachelor of Healthcare Management
  • Online Programs Available
    10. Baker College Online

    Program Options

    Master's
      • Healthcare Management - MBA (Master's)

Featured Schools

The George Washington University

  • MSHS in Clinical Microbiology
  • BSHS in Medical Laboratory Sciences

What is your highest level of education?

Kaplan University

  • MS in Nursing
  • Master of Healthcare Admin
  • Bachelor: Health Science
  • Bachelors of Science in Nursing - RN to BSN (RN License Required)

Which subject are you interested in?

Virginia College

  • Associate: Medical Assistant
  • Diploma Program - Pharmacy Technician

What is your highest level of education completed?

Colorado Technical University

  • Doctor of Management - Health Care Management and Leadership
  • MS - Healthcare Management
  • BS - Business Administration - Health Care Management

Are you a US citizen?

University of the Southwest

  • MBA Healthcare Administration

What is your highest level of education?

Brightwood College

  • Medical Assistant - AS
  • Medical Assistant - Certificate
  • Medical Assistant - Diploma

What is your highest level of education?

Colorado State University Global

  • Graduate Specialization - Healthcare Administration

What is your highest level of education?

Northcentral University

  • MS - Organizational Leadership: Health Care Administration

What is your highest level of education?