A medical lab technologist's role is to provide accurate laboratory results. The test results are utilized by clinical practitioners to confirm or rule out diagnoses, examine the effects of various medical therapies and to monitor chronic disease changes. Medical lab technologists perform complicated tests such as chemical, microscopic, immunologic, hematological, biological and bacteriological.
They utilize microscopes and analytical equipment to analyze blood and other body fluids. They check for parasites, bacteria and other types of microorganisms. Due to their tasks, they're trained to work with infectious specimens. In addition, their work has become more analytical and less hands-on due to automation and computer technology.
Lab technologists utilize techniques including bone marrow counts and manual white blood cell differentials. They also analyze test results and design and make modifications to procedures. Overseeing programs to make sure tests are accurate is part of the occupation. Lab technologists also look for anomalies in test results and correct the problems with instrumentation. In addition, they consult with doctors and nurses regarding the selection of the correct lab tests and collection procedures.
Lab technologists employed in large laboratories typically have a specialty. Those working in small laboratories perform a variety of tests. Specialties are available in numerous areas including microbiology, genetics, parasitology, mycology, immunohematology, cytotechnology, immunology and molecular.
Laboratory technologists usually have more education and training than lab technicians. Technologists are typically required to have a bachelor's degree. Technologists perform more complicated procedures and tests than technicians.
- Make cultures of tissue samples and body fluids to determine if parasites, bacteria, fungi or other microorganisms exist
- Evaluate samples for chemical content or a chemical reaction and ascertain the concentrations of particular compounds
- Type and cross-match blood samples for transfusions
- Perform tests such as metabolic panel, electrolyte panel, complete blood count and liver function tests
- Examine the chemical content of fluids
- Perform urinalysis, renal function, lipid profile, thyroid function and coagulation profile tests
- Perform tests on routine cultures
- Test drug levels in patient's blood to determine how a patient is responding to treatment
- Prepare specimens for examination
- Check for abnormal cells in body fluids
- Analyze test results
- Detect and remove contaminated or sub-standard specimens
- Monitor, screen and troubleshoot analytical equipment
- Calibrate laboratory equipment
- Utilize automated equipment and computerized instruments to simultaneously perform numerous tests
Lab technologists usually wear protective goggles, masks and gloves. Laboratories are usually clean, however sometimes fumes are produced by solutions, specimens and reagents.
Those in the profession should be able to perform well under pressure, pay close attention to details and have good analytical judgement. Good manual dexterity and normal color vision are also important. In addition, they should be proficient with computers.
Laboratory workers in large hospitals typically work the day, evening or night shift. Also, they sometimes have to work on weekends and holidays. Medical laboratory technologists that work in small facilities may have rotating work shifts. In some facilities, they may be called at night or during the weekends, in case of an emergency.
The median annual earnings for medical and clinical lab technologists in 2006 was $49,700. There were about 167,000 positions for medical and clinical laboratory technologists in 2006. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, estimates a 14% growth rate in the employment of clinical laboratory workers from 2006 to 2016, which is faster than average for all other occupations. The majority of the increase in demand for laboratory workers will be due to population growth and the development of new types of tests.
Employment for laboratory jobs is expected to grow the fastest in medical and diagnostic laboratories and physician offices. However, hospitals are projected to be the major employers. It's projected that the need for clinical laboratory workers will exceed the number of workers available.
Experienced lab technologists have opportunities to advance into supervisory positions in laboratory work. They also may become chief medical or clinical laboratory technologists and laboratory managers in hospitals. A graduate degree in medical technology, chemistry, biological sciences, education or management along with professional certification typically speeds up career advancement.
Medical Lab Technologist Schools, Certification, and Licensing
Medical lab technologists usually obtain a bachelor's degree in medical technology, also referred to as clinical laboratory science, or a degree in one of the life sciences. Some may qualify as a medical lab technologist with a combination of on-the-job training, specialized training and education. In addition, the Clinical Laboratory Improvement Act requires technologists that perform very complex tests to have, at a minimum, an associate degree.
Universities and hospitals provide medical technology education programs. In the majority of medical technology curriculums, students take classroom courses for three years and are provided with clinical rotations for one year. Some programs include different time frames for classroom learning and clinical rotations. During clinical rotations, the students are provided with hands-on training in each laboratory subject and perform diagnostic testing in a laboratory.
The education programs typically included courses in microbiology, chemistry, biological sciences, mathematics and statistics. Specialized courses are also included. Some of the programs include training in computer applications. Those seeking to specialize in the profession, often take unique undergraduate education courses for their specialty. However, the majority of medical technologists are generalists.
The National Accrediting Agency for Clinical Laboratory Sciences accredits a large number of programs for medical lab technologists. The Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs and the Accrediting Bureau of Health Education Schools provide accreditation for distinct fields for clinical laboratory workers.
In order for lab technologists to be licensed, they often must have a bachelors's degree and pass an exam. However, the requirements vary by state and by the specialty. Many employers prefer to hire laboratory personnel that have been certified by a recognized professional association. Associations offering accreditation include the Board of Registry of the American Society for Clinical Pathology, the National Accrediting Agency for Laboratory Personnel and the Board of Registry of the American Association of Bioanalysts. The agencies have different requirements for certification.
- American Medical Technologists
- National Accrediting Agency for Clinical Laboratory Sciences
- American Association of Bioanalysts, Board of Registry
- American Society for Clinical Pathology
- National Credentialing Agency for Laboratory Personnel
- American Society for Clinical Laboratory Science
- Clinical Laboratory Management Association
The major employers of medical lab technologists are hospitals, medical and diagnostic laboratories, physician offices, the federal government and colleges and universities.
Schools for Medical Lab Technologists are listed in the column to the left.