Individuals can train to work in medical labs through associate's and bachelor's degree programs as well as certificate programs for individuals who hold degrees in other areas. Through a combination of classroom and lab work, students learn to perform many types of clinical testing procedures. They learn about disease and study anatomy. Internships in medical facilities give them hands-on experience. Graduate of these programs can earn certification from a professional organization, which many employers require.
Common prerequisites for admissions include a GED or high school diploma and a strong background in math and science for associate's and bachelor's levels. Some certificate programs require an associate's degree for admission or certain undergraduate science courses.
Associate Degree in Medical Lab Technology
An associate's degree in medical lab technology requires two years of study. Required credit hours range from 71-75 semester hours (or 107-113 quarter hours). Students learn how to use and care for medical laboratory equipment. In addition to performing clinical lab procedures, students are taught anatomy and the physiology of both healthy and diseased organs.
Laboratory courses typically require three hours of class time and three hours of laboratory time each week for four credit hours. Practicum courses will have a higher ratio of laboratory hours. Required courses generally include:
- Anatomy and physiology
- Body fluids and urinalysis
- Clinical chemistry
- Immunology, microbiology, and a practicum
Bachelor's Degrees in Medical Lab Technology
Bachelor's degrees are most often called Bachelor of Science in Clinical Laboratory Sciences or Bachelor of Science in Medical Technology. Some schools have agreements with local community colleges to offer associate degree graduates the final two years in a bachelor's degree program in medical lab technology. The bachelor's degree allows graduates to work as laboratory technologists. This job involves more complicated lab procedures and tests, and sometimes means supervising medical lab technicians. Technologists may also modify or develop procedures and set up and monitor programs in order to be sure tests are accurate.
The curriculum is similar to the coursework for the associate degree, but the courses are often more advanced versions, and they may be practica instead of laboratory classes. Some programs include management classes and research courses. Courses especially for the bachelor degree program include:
- Automated clinical chemistry
- Biometry, genetics
- Clinical lab statistics
- Management of clinical labs
- Medical lab science research methods
Certificate in Medical Lab Technology
Certificates in medical laboratory technology are usually designed for people with an associate's or bachelor's degree who want to move into lab tech work. Programs take 12-16 months to complete and may differ greatly from one another.
There are programs for those who already have an associate's degree and do not want to earn an additional associate's degree or a bachelor's degree. These programs usually lead to a Certificate of Proficiency.
Other certificate programs are designed for those who already have a bachelor's degree and do not want another one. Students who complete these programs may receive awards such as a Clinical Laboratory Science/Medical Technology Certificate or a Medical Laboratory Technology Advanced Certificate of Achievement.
Coursework is also varied. A program may require only six specified courses, or it may require from 54-60 credit hours, not including prerequisites. Coursework often is almost identical to that for an associate's degree. Other courses may include:
Medical lab technologists will almost always have a lab technology job. However, they can find niche jobs where they specialize in certain kinds of laboratory work, although some of these positions may require further training. These can include:
- Molecular biology technologist
- Clinical chemistry technologist
- Immunology technologist
- Medical laboratory supervisor
Associate's degree holders are eligible for jobs as medical lab technologists; they must have a bachelor's degree to work as technicians. Or, if a technician wants to move into a management position, he or she may earn a Bachelor of Technical/Professional Studies in Laboratory Management (BTPS).
Many employers seek applicants who have achieved a recognized professional certification. There are several associations that offer certification. These include the Board of Registry of the American Society for Clinical Pathology (BOC of the ASCP), the National Credentialing Agency for Laboratory Personnel (NAACLS), the American Medical Technologists (AMT) and the Board of Registry of the American Association of Bioanalysts (AAB).
The number of medical laboratory technologist jobs is expected to grow by 14% from 2014 to 2024, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (www.bls.gov). Hospitals employ the largest number of medical and clinical lab technologists, but technologists may also find work in diagnostic laboratories, doctor's offices, health care facilities and universities.
Education in the medical lab technology field is available to students at associate's, bachelor's and certificate levels. Popular careers for graduates often include a molecular biology technologist or immunology technologist.