Medical technologists, also known as clinical laboratory technologists, perform and analyze the results of complex scientific tests on blood and bodily fluids. These highly trained professionals work in hospitals and independent laboratories using sophisticated procedures and equipment. When test results are analyzed and completed, medical technologists collaborate with physicians or laboratory directors on patient data. A bachelor's degree in medical technology or science is required for entry-level positions.
Medical technologists analyze samples of blood, tissue and body fluids to determine chemical content, cell count, drug levels or blood type; they may also search for specific microorganisms like bacteria or parasites. Preparing the samples for examination, using automated equipment and specialized instrumentation, performing numerous complicated tests simultaneously, and accurately interpreting the results are all part of a medical technologist's job.
Whether in a medical facility or independently run laboratory, medical technologists often work with infectious specimens. Infection control and sterilization protocols must be followed to minimize these hazards. Medical technologists can also expect to spend many hours standing in a laboratory. Hospital employees often work irregular hours or are on call for emergency situations.
The day-to-day duties of a medical technologist include complex analysis of microscopic, immunologic, biologic, bacteriologic, hematologic, and chemical tests and their results. Some tasks that a medical technologist might be asked to perform could include:
- Preparing cultures of tissue samples
- Establishing and monitoring programs that ensure data accuracy
- Microscopically examining slides of bodily fluids
- Cross-matching blood for transfusions
- Chemically analyzing blood or urine for toxic components
- Analyzing lab reports for accuracy
- Operating and calibrating equipment
- Delivering test results to physicians, researchers or patients
- Collecting and studying blood samples to determine morphology
Becoming a Medical Technologist
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), a bachelor's degree is the minimum entry-level requirement for a medical technologist. Advancement to laboratory director is a relatively common career step for medical technologists, and this position usually requires a master's degree.
Bachelor's degree programs in medical technology, clinical laboratory science or allied health technologies all prepare students for work in this field. These 4-year programs are heavily focused on the natural sciences and often include an internship. Common course topics include anatomy and physiology, lab management, immunology, clinical microbiology, parasitology and medical ethics.
Depending on the state, medical technologists may need to be certified before they are licensed or registered, according to the BLS. This often includes proof of a bachelor's degree and a written exam. State boards of occupational licensure or departments of health administer medical technologist licensure.
While not required, employers may prefer to hire medical technologists who are professionally certified. Specialized medical technologists can become certified through organizations that administer to their specialty. The American Medical Technologists (AMT) agency offers a professional AMT designation. Applicants must have a bachelor's degree from an accredited program and either a recognized medical technology internship or a year of approved experience to sit for the written examination.
Career and Salary Information
The BLS projected that the number of jobs for medical and clinical laboratory technologists would grow at a rate of 16% between 2014-2024. Over 50% of medical and clinical laboratory technologists were employed by hospitals as of 2014, while the rest worked in laboratories, physicians' offices, or colleges and universities. Additionally, the BLS reported that the median annual salary for medical and clinical laboratory technologists was $60,520 in 2015.
Medical technologists perform tests and analyze results in a laboratory setting. A bachelor's degree is necessary to enter this field, and certification may be necessary.