Medical Lab Technician
Medical and Clinical Laboratory Technologists
Medical laboratory technicians collect samples and perform tests to examine body fluids, tissue, and other substances. They also analyze results to detect and record abnormalities.
- Helping patients (even without being in direct contact with them)
- Realizing a passion for biology and chemistry by using these disciplines in everyday life
- There are four departments in the clinical laboratory to work in: Chemistry, Hematology, Microbiology, and Blood Bank
- In Chemistry, techs analyze the liquid portion of blood and other body fluids (urine, spinal fluid, etc.) to determine if a patient has a disease. Chemistry is the most automated part of the lab, with over 90 percent of the work being done by instruments. The tech's job is to interpret the results that the instrument gives you, and report those results to the patient’s health care provider. This is important for diagnosing diabetes, electrolyte imbalances, infectious diseases like HIV, liver diseases, and many others.
- In Hematology, techs analyze the cellular part of blood and body fluid. They identify and count various types of blood cells, and check them for abnormalities. Around 70 percent of this is done by a machine, where the other 30 percent is done under the microscope. This is how the techs diagnose diseases such as anemia, sickle cell disease, infections, and many others. Coagulation and urinalysis is also generally combined with Hematology.In the coagulation department, techs look at blood clot formations, which is especially important when monitoring blood thinning drugs. When working in urinalysis, techs look at at urine to diagnose urinary tract infections, kidney stones, and other diseases.
- Microbiology deals with the identification of bacteria, fungi, and parasites. It also focuses on selecting the proper antibiotics to treat infections. Micro is about 40 percent automated, with most of the work being done under the microscope or in a biological fume hood.
- Blood Bank is where blood is tested in preparation for transfusion. In blood bank, techs test patient blood and donor blood to make sure that they are compatible with each other. This is a critical department because giving someone the wrong blood can very easily kill them. This department is the least automated, with over 90 percent of the work being done by hand.
- All four departments are critical to diagnosing and providing care for patients
- Active listening and communication
- Critical thinking
- Detail oriented: instructions for performing tests must be followed exactly
- Science knowledge
- Billing software
- Medical software: E.g. Electronic medical record EMR software, MEDITECH software, Test result delivery software, Test routing software
- Dexterity: Medical lab technicians must work precisely with needles and other laboratory instruments
- Doctor's office
- Private laboratory
- Government laboratory
- Research facility
- Balancing time spent at school, with family and friends, and studying for difficult classes
- Keep in mind MLT students have to tackle some of the most technically detailed classes that are offered at an associate's level
Very few lab techs are graduating while many of the older techs are retiring, resulting in many job openings for medical lab technicians every year
- Most Medical Laboratory Technicians have had a passion for science subjects from a young age
- MLTs are employed in one of the few jobs that allows them to use scientific theory in practice every day
- Technicians usually require an associate’s degree or postsecondary certificate in clinical laboratory science (*technologists may require a bachelor’s degree)
- A certification / licensure exam and six months of clinical rotation are required before graduation
Bachelor's degrees allow lab technicians to be promoted to the position of a medical laboratory scientist, who do many of the same jobs, but have higher interpretation responsibilities
- Take as many biology and chemistry courses as possible
- The best thing anyone can do in high school is read. Read everything you can get your hands on. It does not have to be science related, but that will help you as well. Other than a love of science, reading is the second most common denominator of people in the lab. Reading increases your ability to think critically, and critical thinking is the most important part of being a tech.
- Many medical lab technicians will be hired while performing their clinical rotation, toward the end of course work. Clinical rotations involve going to a laboratory in a hospital or reference lab and learning the technical skills that go along with the theory learned in class
- Hospitals often accept a number of students for clinical rotations equal to the number of positions they have available, with the hope that by training those students, they will eventually gain them as well trained employees
- Critical thinking skills
- Great work ethic
- The drive to learn continuously throughout your career, as medical lab technicians will be expected to keep up to date on current laboratory science breakthroughs and instrumentation
One of the great things about the laboratory field is that instructors of MLT programs have at some point worked in the field. This gives them insight into how the field works outside of a school setting and makes them excellent mentors.
- ASCP.org has a lot of information about laboratory science. It is the most widely recognized accrediting agency for lab professionals
- It is possible to move from the clinical side of the lab to the anatomical side, if a tech works in a lab that provides for both. Anatomical pathology looks at diagnosing disease from tissue samples and other sources not covered in the clinical lab.
- The general science background possessed by all MLTs also allows for an easy transition to another medical, or even life science, field
If you love science, and are a good critical thinker/problem solver, the lab might be that dream job you are looking for. The pay is significant (check your local salary ranges) and the work is rewarding!