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Medical laboratory technologists (commonly known as medical laboratory scientists) and medical laboratory technicians collect samples and perform tests to analyze body fluids, tissue, and other substances.
Medical laboratory technologists and technicians typically do the following:
Both technicians and technologists perform tests and procedures that physicians and surgeons or other healthcare personnel order. However, technologists perform more complex tests and laboratory procedures than technicians do. For example, technologists may prepare specimens and perform detailed manual tests, whereas technicians perform routine tests that may be more automated. Medical laboratory technicians usually work under the general supervision of medical laboratory technologists or laboratory managers.
Technologists in small laboratories perform many types of tests; in large laboratories, they sometimes specialize. The following are examples of types of specialized medical laboratory technologists:
Blood bank technologists, or immunohematology technologists, collect blood, classify it by type, and prepare blood and its components for transfusions.
Clinical chemistry technologists prepare specimens and analyze the chemical and hormonal contents of body fluids.
Cytotechnologists prepare slides of body cells and examine these cells under a microscope for abnormalities that may signal the beginning of a cancerous growth.
Immunology technologists examine elements of the human immune system and its response to foreign bodies.
Microbiology technologists examine and identify bacteria and other microorganisms.
Molecular biology technologists perform complex protein and nucleic acid tests on cell samples.
Like technologists, medical laboratory technicians may work in several areas of the laboratory or specialize in one area. For example, histotechnicians are a type of medical laboratory technician who cut and stain tissue specimens for pathologists—doctors who study the cause and development of diseases at a microscopic level.
Technologists and technicians often specialize after they have worked in a particular area for a long time or have received advanced education or training in that area.
Medical and clinical laboratory technicians hold about 164,200 jobs. The largest employers of medical and clinical laboratory technicians are as follows:
|Hospitals; state, local, and private||43%|
|Medical and diagnostic laboratories||18|
|Offices of physicians||12|
|Colleges, universities, and professional schools; state, local, and private||6|
|Outpatient care centers||5|
Medical and clinical laboratory technologists hold about 171,400 jobs. The largest employers of medical and clinical laboratory technologists are as follows:
|Hospitals; state, local, and private||57%|
|Medical and diagnostic laboratories||17|
|Offices of physicians||8|
|Colleges, universities, and professional schools; state, local, and private||6|
Medical laboratory personnel are trained to work with infectious specimens or with materials that are caustic or produce fumes. When they follow proper methods to control infection and sterilize equipment, the risk decreases. They wear protective masks, gloves, and goggles for their safety.
Technologists and technicians can be on their feet for long periods, and they may need to lift or turn disabled patients to collect samples.
Most medical laboratory technologists and technicians work full time. Technologists and technicians who work in facilities that operate around the clock, such as hospitals and some independent laboratories, may work evening, weekend, or overnight hours.
Medical and clinical laboratory technicians have a higher rate of injuries and illnesses than the national average. They may be subject to repetitive motion injuries since they can perform the same tasks repeatedly.
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Medical laboratory technologists typically need a bachelor's degree. Technicians usually need an associate's degree or a postsecondary certificate. Some states require technologists and technicians to be licensed.
An entry-level job for technologists usually requires a bachelor's degree in medical technology or life sciences.
A bachelor's degree program in medical laboratory technology, also known as a medical laboratory scientist degree, includes courses in chemistry, biology, microbiology, math, and statistics. Students typically complete college coursework and then apply to the clinical portion of the program. Coursework emphasizes laboratory skills, including safety procedures and lab management, while the clinical portion includes hands-on training in a typical work setting like a hospital. Some laboratory science programs can be completed in 2 years or less and require prior college coursework or a bachelor's degree.
Medical laboratory technicians often complete an associate's degree program in clinical laboratory science. The Armed Forces and vocational or technical schools also may offer certificate programs for medical laboratory technicians. Technician coursework addresses the theoretical and practical aspects of each of the major laboratory disciplines.
High school students who are interested in pursuing a career in the medical laboratory sciences should take classes in chemistry, biology, and math.
Some states require laboratory personnel to be licensed. Requirements vary by state and specialty. For specific requirements, contact state departments of health, state boards of occupational licensing, or visit The American Society for Clinical Laboratory Science.
Certification of medical laboratory technologists and technicians is required for licensure in some states. Although certification is not required to enter the occupation in all cases, employers typically prefer to hire certified technologists and technicians.
Medical laboratory technologists and technicians can obtain a general certification as a medical laboratory technologist or technician, respectively, or a certification in a specialty, such as cytotechnology or medical biology. Most credentialing institutions require that technologists complete an accredited education program in order to qualify to sit for an exam. For more credentialing information, visit the National Accrediting Agency for Clinical Laboratory Sciences, American Medical Technologists, and the American Society for Clinical Pathology.
Ability to use technology. Medical laboratory technologists and technicians must understand how to operate computerized lab equipment.
Detail oriented. Medical laboratory technologists and technicians must follow exact instructions in order to perform tests or procedures correctly.
Dexterity. Medical laboratory technologists and technicians need to be skilled with their hands. They work closely with needles and precision laboratory instruments and must handle these tools effectively.
Physical stamina. Medical laboratory technologists and technicians may work on their feet for long periods while collecting samples. They may need to lift or turn disabled patients to collect samples for testing.
After additional education, work experience, or certification, technologists and technicians may specialize in one of many areas of laboratory science, such as immunology, histotechnology, or clinical chemistry. Some medical laboratory technicians advance to technologist positions after gaining experience and additional education. Some colleges have bachelor's degree programs for medical laboratory technicians to become technologists (often referred to as MLT to MLS programs).
The median annual wage for medical and clinical laboratory technicians is $38,950. The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $26,010, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $61,720.
The median annual wage for medical and clinical laboratory technologists is $61,070. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $41,550, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $85,160.
The median annual wages for medical and clinical laboratory technicians in the top industries in which they work are as follows:
|Colleges, universities, and professional schools; state, local, and private||$40,870|
|Outpatient care centers||40,030|
|Hospitals; state, local, and private||39,690|
|Offices of physicians||39,150|
|Medical and diagnostic laboratories||37,420|
The median annual wages for medical and clinical laboratory technologists in the top industries in which they work are as follows:
|Hospitals; state, local, and private||62,000|
|Medical and diagnostic laboratories||61,390|
|Offices of physicians||58,330|
|Colleges, universities, and professional schools; state, local, and private||54,760|
Most medical laboratory technologists and technicians work full time. Technologists and technicians who work in facilities that are always open, such as hospitals and some independent laboratories, may work evening, weekend, or overnight hours.
Employment of medical laboratory technologists is projected to grow 12 percent over the next ten years, faster the average for all occupations. Employment of medical laboratory technicians is projected to grow 14 percent over the next ten years, faster than the average for all occupations.
An increase in the aging population is expected to lead to a greater need to diagnose medical conditions, such as cancer or type 2 diabetes, through laboratory procedures. Prenatal testing for various types of genetic conditions also is increasingly common. Medical laboratory technologists and technicians will be in demand to use and maintain the equipment needed for diagnosis and treatment.
Job prospects will be best for medical and clinical laboratory technologists and technicians who complete an accredited education program and earn professional certification.
|Occupational Title||Employment, 2016||Projected Employment, 2026||Change, 2016-26|
|Clinical laboratory technologists and technicians||335,700||378,300||13||42,700|
|Medical and clinical laboratory technologists||171,400||191,200||12||19,700|
|Medical and clinical laboratory technicians||164,200||187,200||14||22,900|