Medical & Clinical Laboratory Technician
A medical or clinical laboratory technician could...
|Prepare tissue sample slides and examine them under a microscope to check for signs of disease.||Ensure a fair competition by testing athletes' urine for performance-enhancing drugs.|
|Measure cholesterol levels to determine if a person is at increased risk for heart disease.||Identify the bacteria causing a patient's infection so that his or her doctor can prescribe the right antibiotic.|
Key Facts & Information
|Overview||Doctors need information to decide if a person is healthy or sick, if a baby's earache is bacterial or viral, or if the man next door needs medication to lower his cholesterol and prevent a heart attack. The information often comes in the form of results from lab tests. Medical and clinical laboratory technicians are the people who perform these routine medical laboratory tests, giving the doctors the information needed to diagnose, treat, and prevent disease.|
|Key Requirements||Precision, attention to detail, patience, and the ability to carefully follow a set of instructions|
|Minimum Degree||Vocational or Associate's degree|
|Subjects to Study in High School||Biology, chemistry, algebra, geometry, pre-calculus, English; if available, biotechnology|
|Projected Job Growth (2010-2020)||Faster than Average (14% to 20%)|
Training, Other Qualifications
Medical and clinical laboratory technicians generally have either an associate's degree from a community or junior college or a certificate from a hospital, vocational or technical school, or from one of the U.S. Armed Forces. A few technicians learn their skills on the job.
Certification is a voluntary process by which a nongovernmental organization, such as a professional society or certifying agency, grants recognition to an individual whose professional competence meets prescribed standards. For medical and laboratory technicians in the health industry, certification is a prerequisite for most jobs and often is necessary for advancement. Agencies certifying medical and clinical laboratory technologists and technicians include the Board of Registry of the American Society for Clinical Pathology, the American Medical Technologists, the National Credentialing Agency for Laboratory Personnel, and the Board of Registry of the American Association of Bioanalysts.
Some states also require laboratory personnel to be licensed or registered. Information on licensure is available from state departments of health or boards of occupational licensing.
Education and Training
A career as a medical or clinical laboratory technician requires either an associate's degree from a community or junior college, or a certificate from a hospital, vocational, or technical school. Training can also be found in various branches of the U.S. Armed Forces.
Clinical laboratory personnel need good analytical judgment and the ability to work under pressure. Close attention to detail is essential, because small differences or changes in test substances or numerical readouts can be crucial for patient care. Manual dexterity and normal color vision are highly desirable. With the widespread use of automated laboratory equipment, computer skills are important. Technicians can become technologists through additional education and experience.
Nature of the Work
Watch this video to see what work is like in the clinical laboratory for a medical technician.
Clinical and medical laboratory personnel examine and analyze body fluids, and cells. They look for bacteria, parasites, and other microorganisms; analyze the chemical content of fluids; match blood for transfusions; and test for drug levels in blood, which show how a patient is responding to treatment. Technicians also prepare specimens for examination, count cells, and look for abnormal cells in blood and body fluids. They use microscopes, cell counters, and other sophisticated laboratory equipment. They also use automated equipment and computerized instruments capable of performing a number of tests simultaneously. After testing and examining a specimen, they analyze the results and relay them to physicians.
Working hours and other working conditions of clinical laboratory technologists and technicians vary, according to the size and type of employment setting. In large hospitals or in independent laboratories that operate continuously, personnel usually work the day, evening, or night shift and may work weekends and holidays.
Laboratory personnel in small facilities may work on rotating shifts, rather than on a regular shift. In some facilities, laboratory personnel are on-call several nights a week or on weekends, in case of an emergency. Clinical laboratory personnel must be thorough and accurate. They are trained to work with infectious specimens. When proper methods of infection control and sterilization are followed, few hazards exist. Protective masks, gloves, and goggles are often necessary to ensure the safety of laboratory personnel.
Laboratories usually are well-lit and clean; however, specimens, solutions, and reagents used in the laboratory sometimes produce fumes. Laboratory workers may spend a great deal of time on their feet.
On the Job
- Conduct chemical analyses of body fluids, such as blood and urine, using microscope or automatic analyzer to detect abnormalities or diseases, and enter findings into computer.
- Set up, adjust, maintain and clean medical laboratory equipment.
- Analyze the results of tests and experiments to ensure conformity to specifications, using special mechanical and electrical devices.
- Analyze and record test data to issue reports that use charts, graphs and narratives.
- Perform medical research to further control and cure disease.
- Conduct blood tests for transfusion purposes and perform blood counts.
- Obtain specimens, cultivating, isolating and identifying microorganisms for analysis.
- Examine cells stained with dye to locate abnormalities.
- Collect blood or tissue samples from patients, observing principles of asepsis to obtain blood sample.
- Consult with a pathologist to determine a final diagnosis when abnormal cells are found.
- Inoculate fertilized eggs, broths, or other bacteriological media with organisms.
- Cut, stain and mount tissue samples for examination by pathologists.
- Supervise and instruct other technicians and laboratory assistants.
- Prepare standard volumetric solutions and reagents to be combined with samples, following standardized formulas or experimental procedures.
- Prepare vaccines and serums by standard laboratory methods, testing for virus inactivity and sterility.
- Test raw materials, processes and finished products to determine quality and quantity of materials or characteristics of a substance.
Companies That Hire Medical & Clinical Laboratory Technicians
Explore what you might do on the job with one of these projects...
- A Magnetic Primer Designer
- Biowarfare: Experiment with Viruses that Destroy Bacteria
- BLASTing Flu Viruses
- Column Chromatography: Can you Separate the Dyes in Grape Soda Using Space Sand™?
- Developing Images with X-rays
- Discovering DNA: Do Your Cheek Cells & a Strawberry Both Have DNA?
- Do-It-Yourself DNA
- Extracting Onion DNA
- Forensic Science: Building Your Own Tool for Identifying DNA
- Glitter-Go-Round: Snow Globe Science with a Centrifuge
- How Are Antibodies Used for Blood Typing?
- Protein Fingerprinting
- Purification Strategies
- Sizing It Up! How Scientists Separate Proteins
- Spin Zone: Separating Butter with a Salad Spinner Centrifuge
- The End Zone: Measuring Antimicrobial Effectiveness with Zones of Inhibition
- Tiny Titans: Can Silver Nanoparticles Neutralize E. coli Bacteria?
- What are the Odds? Modeling the Chances of Getting an Autoimmune Disease
- What Makes a DNA Fingerprint Unique?
- What Makes Candies So Colorful? Investigate How Gel Electrophoresis Unlocks the Color Code!
Do you have a specific question about a career as a Medical & Clinical Laboratory Technician that isn't answered on this page? Post your question on the Science Buddies Ask an Expert Forum.
- Labs Are Vital: www.labsciencecareers.com
- American Society for Clinical Laboratory Science: www.ascls.org
- National Accrediting Agency for Clinical Laboratory Sciences: www.naacls.org
- BLS. (2009). Occupational Outlook Handbook (OOH), 2008-09 Edition, Bureau of Labor Statistics. Retrieved May 1, 2009, from http://www.bls.gov/oco/
- NIH Office of Science Education. (n.d.). LifeWorks. Retrieved March 20, 2014, from http://nihlifeworks.org/
- O*Net Online. (2009). National Center for O*Net Development. Retrieved May 1, 2009, from http://online.onetcenter.org/
- Wisconsin AHEC. (n.d.) Medical Laboratory Technician. Retrieved August 6, 2009, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Tt1HOA2wh-Q
We'd like to acknowledge the additional support of: