Should I Become a Lab Assistant?
Lab assistants work under the guidance of lab technicians and other laboratory professionals. Common duties of lab assistants include collecting specimens, recording results and sanitizing laboratory equipment. Precautions must be taken when dealing with potentially infectious materials. Some assistants might work evening, weekend or overnight hours.
Typically, a high school diploma or equivalent is the minimum educational requirement for becoming a lab assistant. Specific training for the position is done on the job or through a clinical laboratory assistant certificate program. Certain states require lab assistants to be licensed; certification is not required but is preferred by many employers. In some cases, employers prefer incoming lab assistants to have at least one year of experience.
Lab assistants need to have a strong attention to detail, excellent manual dexterity, and good analytical judgment. As of 2016, the median salary for entry-level laboratory assistants, according to Salary.com, was $36,555 a year.
Step 1: Get Trained
Although some lab assistants may be trained on the job, many employers prefer applicants who have completed a laboratory assistant training program. Several community and technical colleges offer 1-year certificate of completion programs, which train students for entry-level lab positions. Candidates may be required to pass a criminal background check, drug test and complete a cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) or first aid course. Classes taken in a certificate program may include medical terminology, phlebotomy, urinalysis, specimen processing and professional laboratory standards.
Complete a laboratory internship.
Students may need to complete internship hours under the direct supervision of senior laboratory staff. Interns may perform such tasks as cleaning laboratory equipment, entering data, receiving and storing medical samples and sending out patient information.
Take computer classes.
Students may benefit from taking basic computer classes to become proficient in programs like Microsoft Word and Excel. Many employers prefer candidates who have experience using a variety of computer programs like these.
Step 2: Pass a Certification Exam
Graduates may be eligible to take one or more of the national certification exams administered by the Board of Registry of the American Society for Clinical Pathology, the American Medical Technologists or the National Accrediting Agency for Clinical Laboratory Sciences. Other credentialing organizations include the National Credentialing Agency for Laboratory Personnel and the Board of Registry of the American Association of Bioanalysts. Each organization maintains individual certification requirements.
Prepare for the exam.
Students planning on taking any of the certification exams should obtain the recommended reading materials, study guides and practice exams.
Step 3: Obtain State Licensing
Some states require laboratory assistants to become licensed or registered prior to obtaining employment. Licensing requirements can include passing a state-administered exam, providing proof of having completed an accredited program and paying the licensing fees. License renewal may be required every two to three years and may include the submission of continuing education credits.
Step 4: Pursue Career Advancement Opportunities
Lab assistants can continue their education to become laboratory technicians. Laboratory technicians hold an associate degree and are usually responsible for supervising lab assistants and performing more complex laboratory tasks.
Lab assistants work under the guidance of lab technicians and other laboratory professionals. Training is usually done on the job or through a certificate program and prospective lab assistants may need or want to be licensed and certified.