Lab Technician: How Do I Become a Laboratory Tech?

Medical lab technicians perform crucial duties and tests that help doctors to diagnose patients. Schools for lab technicians offer associate's degrees or certificate programs, designed to help techs receive the certification or licensure they need to work.

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How to Become a Medical Laboratory Technician

Medical laboratory technicians collect samples from patients and test them in clinical laboratory settings in order to diagnose patients and assist doctors in treatment. They work in hospitals, clinics, and stand-alone medical labs, and they typically operate under the supervision of medical technologists, medical laboratory scientists, or pathologists. The process of becoming a lab tech involves completing a formal medical lab technician training program, securing certification or licensure as needed, and taking part in continuing education.

Lab Technician Requirements

Education Certificate or associate's degree in clinical laboratory science
Licensure and Certification Certification from AMT and/or ASCP; licensure required in a few states
Median Salary (2018)* $52,330 (for all Medical and Clinical Laboratory Technologists and Technicians)

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

In order to become a medical lab tech, it is necessary to complete either an associate's degree or a certificate program in clinical laboratory science or medical laboratory technology. Laboratory technician degrees focus on the basics needed to perform the job, such as anatomy and physiology, phlebotomy, and medical terminology, while also providing a general education that acts as the groundwork for professional success. Certificate programs for medical lab technicians are generally only available to those who already hold a degree in a related field, such as biology or chemistry, and include just the medical tech career-focused courses

When signing up for lab tech training programs, it may be necessary to complete a background check, undergo physical exams and health screenings, and provide evidence of up-to-date vaccinations. Applicants may have greater success by ensuring that these eligibility requirements are met.

Lab Technician Certification and Licensure

Certification of medical lab technicians is not required in most states, but employers may prefer applicants that hold certification from the American Medical Technologists (AMT) or American Society for Clinical Pathology (ASCP). Both certifications require an associate's degree at minimum, and many associate's degree programs are designed in accordance with a particular certification exam. After obtaining certification, a lab tech will need to complete a certain amount of continuing education credits in order to maintain certification. Both certifications have a renewal period of three years. Currently, licensure is only required in a handful of states, and each state has its own rules and regulations regarding how certification relates to licensure. Be sure to consult the appropriate government organization to find out the exact requirements if a license is needed in your state.

Advancement Opportunities for Lab Techs

Many of the certifications required to work as medical lab technicians offer a route for promotion when combined with additional education or experience. Obtaining certification for higher level roles, such as medical lab technologists, medical laboratory scientists, or specialists in various areas, such as cytometry or hematology, can serve as evidence to employers that an individual is ready to take on more responsibility. Consider carefully what roles might interest you and what matches best with your education level when planning to pursue more advanced certifications.

Lab Tech Salary and Career Outlook

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median salary for all medical and clinical laboratory technologists and technicians was $52,330 in 2018, or about $25 per hour. Employment of medical and clinical laboratory technicians is expected to grow by 14% in the 10-year period from 2016 to 2026, which is much faster than the national average. Growth is largely attributed to the increasing elderly population and the need to perform tests such as prenatal screenings for genetic conditions, which only recently became common.

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