Have you ever thought about a career as a medical lab technician? It isn’t always the most well-known career path, meaning that you may never have even heard of it. While everyone has heard of doctors, nurses, surgeons, and the like, and many children aspire to these fields, medical lab technician careers aren’t always the most-discussed or understood. However, this is a highly rewarding career in the medical field that is a great alternative to the difficult and extremely selective careers such as that of a doctor or surgeon.
Because the medical lab technician career path isn’t discussed that often, it can be tricky to learn about. You’ll likely have plenty of burning questions. We created this guide to discuss the role of a medical lab technician and how you can set yourself up to become one. By the time we’re finished here, we hope you’ll feel that all your questions have been answered and you’re prepared and excited to move on to take your first steps into this exciting career.
What Is a Medical Lab Technician?
Let’s first talk about medical laboratory technicians, who they are and what they do. Essentially, medical lab techs work in lab settings and help conduct tests, work with pieces of lab equipment, record results and data, and more.
As a patient, you may never have interacted directly with a lab technician in the same way you have with doctors, but you’ve probably experienced the benefits of their work. Imagine you’re a patient and the doctor decides you need to have some blood work done. The nurse will draw some blood, and then the blood disappears out of your sight. Even though you don’t get to see this part, the blood then travels to a lab where medical tab techs run tests on it, compile the results and send them back to your doctor, who then discusses the results with you.
As a medical lab technician, you’ll find that there’s a lot more to this job than simply running blood tests, but this makes for a quick example of the type of work you’ll find yourself doing. You will likely find yourself working in a diagnostic capacity many times. Furthermore, this type of work is also typically done away from the patient, meaning that you will likely not have much, if any, face time directly with patients.
You will, however, likely work closely with other lab technicians. You will probably even work directly under the supervision of a head tech. Depending on the size and precise function of your laboratory, you may be the sole technician, or you may be part of a team of workers.
What Are Some of a Medical Lab Technician’s Duties and Responsibilities?
Based on our medical lab technician description, you probably already begin to have an idea of the types of tasks you’ll find yourself completing. As with most jobs, however, every day will likely be different. On any given day there will be various problems to solve, different projects to tackle and unusual circumstances that must be dealt with.
In general, however, there are a few common tasks that you’ll likely find yourself doing on a regular basis. With that in mind, here are some typical medical lab technician responsibilities and daily activities:
- Preparing solutions and reagents
- Collect samples
- Examining cells
- Analyzing data and test results
- Crafting charts, reports and graphs
- Discussing and reporting results with doctors and other medical personnel
- Operate, clean and adjust laboratory equipment
As a medical lab technician, you will play a critical role in a patient’s diagnostic process, even if you never see them face-to-face. You will be running the tests to help determine a patient’s condition, and you will be compiling the results and sending them back to the doctor. You’ll be operating the machinery in the lab. At the end of the day, you’ll likely be cleaning the equipment and putting it away, as well.
With these types of activities and tasks in mind, we begin to get a picture of what a typical day as a lab tech looks like.
Of course, an essential part of understanding what any job will be like comes from understanding the work environment. As a medical lab tech, you’ll be working in a lab that’s anywhere from tiny and designed for one person, to enormous and designed for a whole army of lab techs. Either way, you will most likely spend the majority of your day in this lab, moving from machine to machine to desk and back again.
You’ll likely interact with the other techs, as well as doctors, nurses and administrative personnel. One thing in particular that sets this job apart from other types of medical professions, however, is the fact that this job is not patient-facing. In other words, you won’t be interacting with the patients.
On the rare occasion that you do interact with a patient, it will likely be very limited in nature, such as in the case of drawing blood or taking some other type of sample. Another scenario where you might work directly with a patient is a case where you work at a small facility with limited medical personnel, where workers all take on multiple roles at once.
There will likely also be strict regulations about your dress code in this type of work environment. While it will surely differ depending on the exact nature and location of your work, you can likely expect to wear things like eye shields, gloves and other protective equipment. In addition, there are likely to be rules about close-toed shoes and other safety protocols.
Where Do Medical Lab Technicians Work?
Based on the name alone, we can understand that medical lab techs work in labs. But where are these labs located, precisely? What types of settings, facilities and organizations might you find yourself working with as a lab tech?
There is quite a long list of possibilities. However, a few of the most common places are:
- Private Laboratories
- Public Health Organizations
- Research and Development Facilities
There may be some places where medical techs are hired that don’t fit neatly into any of these categories, but these are the most common locations.
What Is a Typical Medical Lab Technician’s Salary?
As with any job, you’ll want to know more about the practical details as you decide whether or not this is a field you might be interested in. Particularly, how much money can you expect to earn?
As with any career, there is a decent amount of variance among salaries. Professionals who have been in this field for longer can certainly expect to make more than the average, while recent graduates and workers just starting out may safely expect to make slightly under this average amount.
The median salary for a medical lab technician is $38,950 annually in 2016. This number is a national figure and will vary widely, depending on many factors such as geographic location, experience, employer and particular specialization. For example, a job in New York City will likely pay more than a job in a small town in Nebraska, while a large hospital will likely may more than a small private clinic and so on.
What Is the Medical Lab Technician Job Outlook?
One of the first questions many of us ask when considering a new career is that of job outlook. This is only logical, as there is little future in pursuing a career or a field with no growth and a declining number of jobs.
When it comes to the field of medical lab technicians, however, you don’t need to have any such fears. The job outlook is very positive, meaning that with a little experience and a solid education under your belt, you’re likely to find success in this field.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), medical laboratory technician jobs are projected to increase by 18 percent on a national average between the years 2014 and 2024. This data is based on the fact that increasingly better technology, diagnostic tests, scans and other work of this nature will become cheaper and more readily available, thus creating more jobs as people are needed to operate this technology. Additionally, the BLS further predicts that the greatest number of medical laboratory technician jobs will be found at hospitals, making this the most likely place to apply if you’re in this field and looking for work.
What Are the Medical Lab Technician Qualifications and Preferred Education?
So, you’ve decided this is the career path for you. The work sounds interesting and engaging, the work environment appeals to you, and the projected job outlook excites you. What are the next steps you should take?
While there are sure to be exceptions, you’ll most likely want a solid associate’s degree under your belt. This can be obtained through many local community colleges, or even some larger universities that offer this option as well. Search for programs specifically in medical lab technician work. If this isn’t an option at schools near you, look for programs in similar fields like lab work or medical technician work.
Additionally, you might consider pursuing certification in a medical technician program. You’ll find these at your local community college or through tech schools or vocational schools. In some cases, you may even find hospitals that offer certification programs through training at their facilities and with their staff.
While these steps are recommended as the bare minimum for anyone interested in entering this field, they are by no means the only ones you can take. You might also pursue a bachelor’s degree in a field related to medical technology or biology. While nothing is certain, this has a good chance of giving you a leg up in the job market as you compete for positions against other candidates with only an associate’s degree.
Outside the realm of strictly classroom education, you should never underestimate the value of experiential learning. While this will certainly look great on a resume and make you look more attractive to potential employers, it also can be of untold value to you as you seek to learn and prepare yourself for this career.
Depending on your state and location, a certification as a medical lab technician may be necessary to begin working. Look into your state’s regulations to be sure.
Is a Career as a Medical Lab Technician Right for Me?
In the end, you’re the only one who can answer this question. But we understand what a huge question it is, and how difficult finding the right answer can be. To help you out, here are just a few of the criteria that we think will lead to a successful career as a lab tech. If these sound like you, then the odds are you’re on the right path.
1. You Love Science
If you are a total science geek, then this is the perfect job for you. You’ll be working with science all day long, running tests, analyzing results and more. On the other hand, if you’ve always struggled with science and disliked the subject, you may want to consider a different career path.
2. You’re Good With Details
In this job, it’s all about the details. If you’re the type of person that’s adept at focusing on even the minutest details and is good at focusing and staying grounded in the minutiae, then you’ll succeed well here. If, however, you see yourself as more of a big-picture thinker, the fit might not be quite as good.
3. You Don’t Mind Repetition
Some people can’t handle the idea of going to work every day and doing more or less the same thing. They need constant excitement and stimulation to stay interested and awake. If this describes you, then you might want to steer clear of med tech jobs. If, however, you don’t mind a repetitive job, then you’ll fit in well here.
4. You Don’t Need the Spotlight
In the medical field, doctors, surgeons and other more patient-facing positions are the ones that often get the spotlight. As a technician, you’ll be doing more behind-the-scenes work. If this suits you, then we think you’ll mesh well with this position and work environment.
Launch Your Career as a Medical Lab Technician Today
After reading through this information, are you convinced that a career as a medical lab tech is right for you? If so, then congratulations. Your next steps should be to track down either a certification in this field or an associate’s degree. Luckily, Vista College offers just such a program. Learn more about our Medical Lab Technician degree program today and how you can kick-start your career as a lab technician by joining us. If you have any questions, contact us and we’ll be happy to help.