Medical Technician: Job Duties & Career Info

Mar 25, 2019

Discover what education and skills medical technicians should obtain. Learn about work tasks, employment outlook and salary to determine if this is the right career choice.

Career Definition for a Medical Technician

A career as a medical technician begins with an interest in healthcare and a desire to do hands-on work in a medical environment. The medical technician's comparatively short education requirement and the variety of specialties and accessible opportunities for advancement make it an attractive path to entry into the medical field. Medical technicians can specialize in areas ranging from surgical medical technicians to medical lab technicians or emergency medical technicians; their responsibilities range from analyzing tissue samples in a lab to prepping and handling surgical instruments in the operating room or providing first-response medical attention at the scene of an accident.

Education High school diploma required, associate degree for lab careers
Job Skills Anatomy, biology, physical fitness, ability to work under pressure
Median Salary (2017) $51,770 for medical and clinical lab technologists and technicians
Job Growth (2016-2026) 13% for medical and clinical lab technologists and technicians

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Required Education

Required education varies by area of specialty, though most medical technician jobs require a high school diploma. Medical lab technicians (MLTs) pursue a 2-year associate degree in medical or clinical laboratory technology, followed by a state licensing exam and MLT certification by the American Society for Clinical Pathology (ABCP), the American Association of Bioanalysts (AAB) or another certifying organization.

Emergency medical technicians (EMTs), on the other hand, can enter a special EMT training program with only a high school diploma; the program lasts six months to two years, depending on the desired level of certification. EMTs at every level must be certified by the National Registry of Emergency Medical Technicians (NREMT).

In still another medical technician specialty, cardiovascular medical technicians must enroll in a 2- to 4-year undergraduate degree program accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Professionals (CAAHEP), followed by a certification exam administered either by Cardiovascular Credentialing International (CCI) or the American Registry of Diagnostic Medical Sonographers (ARDMS).

Skills Required

All medical technicians should have a sound understanding of human anatomy, biology, and medical ethics, as well as an interest in the medical field. Further skills differ by specialty: for example, MLTs should have excellent analytical skills and be comfortable working in a laboratory setting; EMTs should be physically fit and capable of making quick decisions under pressure; and surgical medical technicians should be knowledgeable of equipment sterilization and safety procedures and surgical techniques.

Career Outlook

As hospitals and medical centers heighten their focus on cost control, demand for qualified medical technicians will increase in the near future, says the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS); in fact, a 13% increase in jobs for medical and clinical laboratory technicians is expected between 2016 and 2026. Many medical technicians decide to pursue further education and training to advance to the role of medical technologist for expanded job opportunities and greater potential earnings. In 2017, the BLS also published a median salary of $51,770 for medical and clinical lab technologists and technicians.

Alternative Careers

For other career options in medicine and laboratory work, consider these:

Biological Technician

If assisting scientists with experiments and analysis of biological materials such as food, blood and water samples sounds like a fascinating career, consider becoming a biological technician. These technicians might work with medical researchers to find cures for diseases or test the environmental impact of industrial activities. They gather samples, keep detailed records of tests, examine results and prepare reports. Most biological technicians can qualify for employment by earning a bachelor's degree in biology or another related scientific field. Based on expectations from the BLS, biological technicians should see job opportunities increase by 10% from 2016 to 2026, resulting in the creation of 8,400 new positions. These technicians earned a median annual salary of $43,800, as seen in 2017 BLS reports.

Registered Nurse

For those wanting more hands-on patient care responsibilities in a hospital or clinic, becoming a registered nurse could be a good career option. Under the direction of physicians, registered nurses carry out treatment plans by giving medications, performing procedures and tests, watching medical monitors, activating equipment, updating medical files and providing general comfort to patients. To work in the profession, aspiring nurses need to earn a nursing diploma, but more opportunities may be available to those with an associate or bachelor's degree in nursing. All states also require nurses to pass the registered nurse National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX-RN) in order to obtain licensure. The BLS projects strong employment growth of 15% for registered nurses during the 2016-2026 decade, mostly driven by an increased demand for medical care of an aging population. In May of 2017, the BLS determined that registered nurses received a median yearly salary of $70,000.

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