What Does a Medical Lab Technician Do?

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

Essential Information

Medical laboratory technicians assist physicians in the diagnosis and treatment of diseases by performing tests on tissue, blood and other body fluids. Medical lab technicians most commonly work in hospitals or doctors' offices.

This career field typically requires an associate's degree, and certification might be needed.

Job Description

Medical laboratory technicians play an important role in the prevention and diagnosis of diseases, such as cancer, diabetes and AIDS. Medical lab technicians work under the supervision of a physician, lab manager or medical technologist and perform laboratory tests on specimens.

The tests that lab techs conduct assist doctors in verifying the causes of an illness, making medical decisions and determining treatment options. Some of the areas in which medical lab technicians may specialize include:

  • Microbiology
  • Hematology
  • Blood banking
  • Immunology
  • Clinical chemistry
  • Molecular biology
  • Cytotechnology

Work Environment

Most medical lab technicians can be found working in hospitals, diagnostic laboratories or physicians' offices. Other employment options for medical lab technicians are available with blood and organ banks, medical equipment sales companies, research facilities, clinics, and public health organizations, as well as pharmaceutical and reference laboratories.

Their workplaces are clean, sanitized and well lit. They must wear protective clothing including lab coats, masks, goggles, and gloves when handling equipment or specimens. They can work odd shifts throughout the day and be on call in case of emergency.

Job Duties

Medical lab technicians set up and sanitize laboratories, prepare specimens, match blood compatibility for transfusions, analyze fluid chemical content, collect blood samples and examine immune system elements. Technicians are expected to handle sophisticated laboratory equipment, including cell counters, microscopes and automated analyzers. These devices are used to search for parasites, bacteria and other microorganisms. Medical laboratory technicians carry out less complicated procedures and tests than do medical laboratory technologists.

Types of Training

Medical lab technicians are generally required to have a certificate or an associate's degree from an accredited school. Topics covered as part of a medical lab technician training program may include human anatomy and physiology, biochemistry, microbiology, chemistry, medical laboratory techniques, applied immunology, blood coagulation and urinalysis. In some cases, they may need licensing based on state requirements. Medical lab technicians may advance to become medical lab technologists with additional experience and training. Prospective technologists need to earn a bachelor's degree in medical technology.

Job Outlook and Salary Information

In May 2015, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported an annual median salary of $38,970 for medical and clinical laboratory technicians. The BLS predicted 18% employment growth for these technicians from 2014-2024, which is much faster than average.

To review, medical lab technicians perform tests that help physicians diagnose and treat diseases. A certificate or associate's degree is typically needed to start in the field, while a bachelor's degree could lead to an advanced position as a medical lab technologist.

Search Degrees, Careers, or Schools