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Lab Assistant: Career Education Overview

Learn about the education and preparation needed to become a lab assistant. Get a quick view of the requirements as well as details about training, job duties and certification options to find out if this is the career for you.

A lab assistant can work in many different lab environments, whether they be medical, clinical or more academic in nature. Lab assistants help scientists with testing procedures and while they may only need a high school diploma, a certificate and official training in medical lab assisting is recommended.

Essential Information

A lab assistant, also called a medical lab assistant or clinical lab assistant, often works in medical laboratories in hospitals or clinics. Others are employed in research labs for private companies or academic institutions. Lab assistants use testing procedures to analyze blood, urine, and other physical samples to help determine if a person has an illness or other medical problem. Some are hired with just a high school diploma or GED credential, but those who complete a certificate program of a few months' duration may have more job options. Certification is not required, but is available through a professional organization.

Required Education High school diploma or the equivalent; certificate program in medical lab assisting recommended
Projected Job Growth (2014-2024)* 14% for medical and clinical lab technologists; 18% for medical and clinical lab technicians
Median Salary (2015)* $60,520 for medical and clinical lab technologists; $38,970 for medical and clinical lab technicians

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS)

Career Education for a Lab Assistant

Although some employers may hire aspiring lab assistants with only a high school diploma and provide on-the-job training, others may prefer those who have completed formal training. Vocational and community colleges offer lab assistant training that may lead to a certificate, which can typically be earned in a year or less. The curriculum combines courses with clinical education, and teaches administrative skills, phlebotomy, immunology, urinalysis and hematology. In addition to learning how to prepare, test and examine specimens for signs of irregularity, students may also receive training on research techniques and methodologies.

Career and Salary Outlook

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) does not provide information on lab assistants, but it does have information on medical and clinical laboratory technologists and technicians. The BLS estimates 14% job growth for medical and clinical lab technologists for the decade 2014-2024. In the same decade, medical and clinical lab technicians are expected to see an 18% increase in job opportunities.

The BLS stated in May 2015 that medical and clinical lab technicians earned $38,970 as a median annual wage. Medical and clinical laboratory technologists earned $60,520 as a yearly median salary in 2015.

Certification

Although not a requirement, medical lab assistants can obtain certification through American Medical Technologists (AMT). To be eligible for certification, individuals must have at least 1,040 hours of work experience in a laboratory technology setting. Applicants must also complete formal training consisting of at least 200 coursework hours and 120 clock hours of clinical lab work.

At least 100 of the 200 coursework hours must have been laboratory-related. Upon completing these requirements, applicants may take a written or oral examination; those who pass become certified. Certification must be renewed every three years by completing continuing education courses or taking another examination.

Required Skills

In addition to training, lab assistants need to have good decision-making skills and the ability to work under pressure. Proficiency in computers is a plus because of the automated equipment used in labs. Lab assistants must also have an eye for detail because a diagnosis may be made based on the lab findings.

A lab assistant is a more general title for the assistants that work in medical, clinical and academic environments. They help scientists prepare tests and practices and can receive formal training through certification programs.

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