Lab technicians are a valuable asset to the healthcare industry. Lab technicians play a crucial role in medical laboratories by testing samples and providing information about patients’ health status. They may also be involved in research, quality control, or consulting with physicians and other lab staff on test results. What does it take to get into this field? And what do you need for education? Read on to find out more!
1. What Is a Lab Technician?
A laboratory technician (aka clinical laboratory scientist, medical laboratory technologist) has specialized training to perform all or part of the varied and complex tasks involved in the testing process. They do not perform two specific tests that we often think about when we hear “lab tech,” and they’re not in charge in the same way doctors are. But, they do work closely with doctors to provide the information doctors use to make diagnoses and determine treatments for patients.
Lab technicians prepare blood samples for analysis in a lab, test urine or other fluids to monitor patient health, conduct tissue cultures that help diagnose diseases, examine cells under microscopes to look for dangerous organisms like cancer cells, prepare reagents used in testing, and much more. If you can think of a way to test or screen patients for diseases, there’s probably a lab tech who has taken care of it.
Lab technicians are part of their team within the larger medical team that often includes doctors, nurses, therapists, pharmacists, researchers, and other professionals.
2. What Does a Lab Technician Do?
Lab technicians are responsible for the various tests performed in laboratories. They have advanced knowledge of relevant lab processes and can conduct tests to obtain data to diagnose or patient care. Lab technicians routinely prepare specimens received from physicians, hospitals, patients, etc., perform testing procedures following established protocols to produce reliable results, maintain equipment used during evaluations, and carry out quality control procedures.
Lab technicians are also increasingly being called upon to analyze test methods or results, produce reports to be used by physicians in patient care and assist in preparing medical claims for insurance purposes.
Most lab technicians work in the clinical laboratory performing tests that help physicians diagnose diseases or monitor treatments. These tests are used to detect, diagnose and monitor many diseases or health conditions, such as diabetes, heart disease, AIDS/HIV infection, cancer, and pregnancy.
3. What Do You Need to Become a Lab Technician?
The educational requirements to be a lab technician vary based on the state you live, your chosen area of study, and the duties you’re expected to perform.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that most lab technicians need a bachelor’s degree because employers prefer candidates with formal education in biology, chemistry, or health science. But where degrees are required, there is some wiggle room for candidates who have earned an associate’s degree and meet certification requirements. Usually, you need to get a license or certificate to work as a lab technician.
According to the American Society for Clinical Pathology (ASCP), certification is required by most states and employers, but requirements vary from state to state. Some states require that you pass an exam to get the certification, and others require completing a formal education program or an apprenticeship/internship. Most, however, require both: certification and formal education like an associate’s degree.
If you want to become a lab technician, it is best to research the requirements in your state to make sure that you satisfy all the requirements before you begin training for this career.
4. How Much Do Lab Technicians Earn?
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, lab technicians earned a median wage of $30.08 per hour or $62,230 per year as of May 2012. The bottom 10% in this field earned less than $19.900, while the top 10% made over $57,070.
Salary will vary based on specific job duties, training and education required, as well as the setting in which you work (academic institution or private industry).
5. What Course Can Prepare You to Be a Lab Technician?
You can take courses in chemistry, biology, or mathematics that may prepare you for a career as a lab technician. Still, if you’re interested in becoming a medical technologist or medical laboratory scientist, specific courses of study may be required.
These programs typically involve two years of full-time study and often include an internship or apprenticeship. They’re offered at community colleges, vocational/technical schools, and some universities.
Some programs require that applicants have a bachelor’s degree. Still, others allow you to apply with an associate’s degree and meet additional requirements, such as work experience or passing specific exams (such as the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT) and Graduate Record Examination (GRE)). Search for Medical Technologist training programs.
6. What Kind of Skills Do You Need to Have for a Lab Job?
A lab technician must work as part of a team and prioritize tasks as necessary. They also need strong interpersonal skills, sound judgment, and critical thinking abilities. This is because they will often work with patients, doctors, and nurses daily. They will even need to train new team members and stay up-to-date on new lab techniques and technology.
Lab technicians should have an eye for detail, accuracy, and precision and be able to think clearly under pressure. Paying close attention to details is essential in medical laboratories where mistakes can result in serious health concerns.
7. The Job Outlook for a Lab Technician
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the projected growth rate for medical and clinical laboratory technologists and technicians is estimated to be 16% from 2010 to 2020, which is much faster than average. You can learn more about job growth projections here.
Due to a growing elderly population in need of medical care, this field will likely grow considerably in the coming years. The number of jobs in the field is expected to grow much faster than other occupations, making this an excellent time to enter the profession.
But you can’t ignore technology advances like automation and computerization that will likely result in fewer lab technician job openings over the next decade. However, ongoing demand for medical treatment will also help create new jobs.
8. What Is a Typical Day on this Job?
Lab technicians work in various settings, from academic institutions to private industry. They may also work for laboratories that perform tests for research purposes instead of testing medical specimens from sick patients. In general, their primary responsibility is to ensure the accuracy and quality of test results from lab tests.
Lab technicians must carefully monitor machines and other equipment, so they should have good vision and work in a constant state of alertness. They may also need to operate lab instruments or handle hazardous chemicals used in the testing process, so solid manual dexterity is a plus.
As a lab technician, you’ll spend a significant amount of time on your feet, so you should be in good physical condition. Good communication skills are essential since you will often liaise with patients and other healthcare professionals.
9. What Are the Different Types of Lab Technicians?
There are three main areas of specialization for lab technicians: blood bank technicians, clinical laboratory technologists, and histology technicians.
A blood bank technologist prepares blood specimens for tests and runs the blood analysis machinery.
A clinical laboratory scientist performs complex medical testing procedures to determine a patient’s illness or injury while recording test results.
Histology technicians prepare tissues samples for analysis by pathologists. They may work in hospital laboratories, diagnostic laboratories, or research laboratories.
10. Pros and Cons of Being a Lab Technician
Some of the pros of being a lab technician include:
- A sense of purpose, helping others who are sick or injured
- An opportunity to work in real-life settings at hospitals, clinics, and other healthcare facilities
- The ability to work with high-tech equipment and systems
- A sense of accomplishment, helping to save lives
- The opportunity to work with other healthcare professionals to achieve a common goal
As for the cons:
- Temporary layoffs due to business losses or budget cuts at hospitals and other institutions
- Exposure to infectious diseases in medical settings (Although you can take precautions against this)
- Long hours, including some overnight and weekend shifts
- High pressure, a fast-paced work environment with demanding management
11. Top Recruiting Companies for a Lab Technician
Here are some of the top recruiting companies for jobs as laboratory technicians.
- Lab Support
- Randstad Healthcare
- Kelly Services
12. Best Colleges to Study Medical Technology
Several colleges and universities offer degree programs in medical technology.
- Adelphi University
- Anne Arundel Community College (AA)
- Calumet College of Saint Joseph (CSJ)
- Chaffey College (CA)
- Elmhurst College (IL)
Lab technicians are an essential part of the medical field, and their work is essential to diagnosing and treating patients. With the proper training, lab technicians can have a long and fulfilling career in the medical industry. There are many different ways to become a lab technician, so there is no one-size-fits-all path for this career. The best way to find out what route is correct for you is to explore your options and talk to professionals in the field. Lab technicians can make a real difference in people’s lives with hard work and dedication.