Clinical laboratory technologists (commonly known as medical laboratory scientists) and clinical laboratory technicians collect samples and perform tests to analyze body fluids, tissue, and other substances.

Duties

Clinical laboratory technologists and technicians typically do the following:

  • Analyze body fluids, such as blood, urine, and tissue samples, and record normal or abnormal findings
  • Study blood samples for use in transfusions by identifying the number of cells, the cell morphology or the blood group, blood type, and compatibility with other blood types
  • Operate sophisticated laboratory equipment, such as microscopes and cell counters
  • Use automated equipment and computerized instruments capable of performing a number of tests at the same time
  • Log data from medical tests and enter results into a patient’s medical record
  • Discuss results and findings of laboratory tests and procedures with physicians

Both technicians and technologists perform tests and procedures that physicians and surgeons or other healthcare personnel order. However, technologists perform more complex tests and laboratory procedures than technicians do. For example, technologists may prepare specimens and perform detailed manual tests, whereas technicians perform routine tests that may be more automated. Clinical laboratory technicians usually work under the general supervision of clinical laboratory technologists or laboratory managers.

Technologists in small laboratories perform many types of tests; in large laboratories, they sometimes specialize. The following are examples of types of specialized clinical laboratory technologists:

Blood bank technologists, or immunohematology technologists, collect blood, classify it by type, and prepare blood and its components for transfusions.

Clinical chemistry technologists prepare specimens and analyze the chemical and hormonal contents of body fluids.

Cytotechnologists prepare slides of body cells and examine these cells under a microscope for abnormalities that may signal the beginning of a cancerous growth.

Immunology technologists examine elements of the human immune system and its response to foreign bodies.

Microbiology technologists examine and identify bacteria and other microorganisms.

Molecular biology technologists perform complex protein and nucleic acid tests on cell samples.

Like technologists, clinical laboratory technicians may work in several areas of the laboratory or specialize in one area. For example, histotechnicians are a type of clinical laboratory technician who cut and stain tissue specimens for pathologists— doctors who study the cause and development of diseases at a microscopic level.

Technologists and technicians often specialize after they have worked in a particular area for a long time or have received advanced education or training in that area.

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Work Environment

Clinical laboratory technologists and technicians held about 331,700 jobs in 2018. The largest employers of clinical laboratory technologists and technicians were as follows:

General medical and surgical hospitals; state, local, and private 48%
Medical and diagnostic laboratories 19
Offices of physicians 9
Junior colleges, colleges, universities, and professional schools; state, local, and private                      6
Outpatient care centers 3

Clinical laboratory personnel are trained to work with infectious specimens or with materials that are caustic or produce fumes. When they follow proper methods to control infection and sterilize equipment, the risk decreases. They wear protective masks, gloves, and goggles for their safety.

Technologists and technicians can be on their feet for long periods, and they may need to lift or turn disabled patients to collect samples.

Injuries and Illnesses

Clinical laboratory technologists and technicians risk injury or illness on the job. For example, they may be subject to repetitive motion injuries because they do the same tasks repeatedly.

Work Schedules

Most clinical laboratory technologists and technicians work full time. Technologists and technicians who work in facilities that operate around the clock, such as hospitals and some independent laboratories, may work evening, weekend, or overnight hours.

Education and Training

Clinical laboratory technologists typically need a bachelor’s degree. Technicians usually need an associate’s degree or a postsecondary certificate. Some states require technologists and technicians to be licensed.

Education

An entry-level job for technologists usually requires a bachelor's degree in medical technology or life sciences.

A bachelor’s degree program in medical laboratory technology, also known as a medical laboratory scientist degree, includes courses in chemistry, biology, microbiology, math, and statistics. Students typically complete college coursework and then apply to the clinical portion of the program. Coursework emphasizes laboratory skills, including safety procedures and lab management, while the clinical portion includes hands-on training in a typical work setting like a hospital. Some laboratory science programs can be completed in 2 years or less and require prior college coursework or a bachelor’s degree.

Clinical laboratory technicians often complete an associate’s degree program in clinical laboratory science. The Armed Forces and vocational or technical schools also may offer certificate programs for medical laboratory technicians. Technician coursework addresses the theoretical and practical aspects of each of the major laboratory disciplines.

High school students who are interested in pursuing a career in the medical laboratory sciences should take classes in chemistry, biology, and math.

Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations

Some states require laboratory personnel to be licensed. Requirements vary by state and specialty. For specific requirements, contact state departments of health, state boards of occupational licensing, or visit The American Society for Clinical Laboratory Science.

Certification of clinical laboratory technologists and technicians is required for licensure in some states. Although certification is not required to enter the occupation in all cases, employers typically prefer to hire certified technologists and technicians.

Clinical laboratory technologists and technicians can obtain a general certification as a medical laboratory technologist or technician, respectively, or a certification in a specialty, such as cytotechnology or medical biology. Most credentialing institutions require that technologists complete an accredited education program in order to qualify to sit for an exam. For more credentialing information, visit the National Accrediting Agency for Clinical Laboratory SciencesAmerican Medical Technologists, and the American Society for Clinical Pathology.

Advancement

After additional education, work experience, or certification, technologists and technicians may specialize in one of many areas of laboratory science, such as immunology, histotechnology, or clinical chemistry. Some clinical laboratory technicians advance to technologist positions after gaining experience and additional education. Some colleges have bachelor’s degree programs for medical laboratory technicians to become technologists (often referred to as MLT to MLS programs).

Personality and Interests

Medical laboratory technologists typically have an interest in the Building, Thinking and Organizing interest areas, according to the Holland Code framework. The Building interest area indicates a focus on working with tools and machines, and making or fixing practical things. The Thinking interest area indicates a focus on researching, investigating, and increasing the understanding of natural laws. The Organizing interest area indicates a focus on working with information and processes to keep things arranged in orderly systems.

If you are not sure whether you have a Building or Thinking or Organizing interest which might fit with a career as a medical laboratory technologist, you can take a career test to measure your interests.

Medical laboratory technologists should also possess the following specific qualities:

Ability to use technology. Medical laboratory technologists and technicians must understand how to operate complex machinery.

Detail oriented. Medical laboratory technologists and technicians must follow exact instructions from physicians in order to perform correct tests or procedures.

Dexterity. Medical laboratory technologists and technicians require skill while working with their hands. They work closely with needles and precise laboratory instruments and must be able to handle these tools effectively.

Physical stamina. Medical laboratory technologists and technicians may work on their feet for long periods while collecting samples. They may need to lift or turn disabled patients to collect samples for testing.

Pay

The median annual wage for clinical laboratory technologists and technicians was $53,120 in May 2019. The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $30,920, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $81,530.

In May 2019, the median annual wages for clinical laboratory technologists and technicians in the top industries in which they worked were as follows:

General medical and surgical hospitals; state, local, and private $55,780
Outpatient care centers 54,810
Medical and diagnostic laboratories 50,760
Junior colleges, colleges, universities, and professional schools; state, local, and private                        49,600
Offices of physicians 47,990

Most clinical laboratory technologists and technicians work full time. Technologists and technicians who work in facilities that are always open, such as hospitals and some independent laboratories, may work evening, weekend, or overnight hours.

Job Outlook

Employment of clinical laboratory technologists and technicians is projected to grow 11 percent from 2018 to 2028, much faster than the average for all occupations.

An increase in the aging population is expected to lead to a greater need to diagnose medical conditions, such as cancer or type 2 diabetes, through laboratory procedures. Prenatal testing for various types of genetic conditions also is increasingly common. Clinical laboratory technologists and technicians will be in demand to use and maintain the equipment needed for diagnosis and treatment.

Job Prospects

Job prospects will be best for clinical laboratory technologists and technicians who complete an accredited education program and earn professional certification.

For More Information

For more information about clinical laboratory technologists and technicians, visit

The American Society for Clinical Laboratory Science

American Society of Cytopathology

For a list of accredited and approved educational programs for medical laboratory personnel, visit

National Accrediting Agency for Clinical Laboratory Sciences

For information on certification, visit

American Association of Bioanalysts

American Medical Technologists

American Society for Clinical Pathology

FAQ

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The career information above is taken from the Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook. This excellent resource for occupational data is published by the U.S. Department of Labor every two years. Truity periodically updates our site with information from the BLS database.

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