What Does a Laboratory Technician Do?
If you're curious by nature, love science and like to work behind the scenes, this is a career to seriously consider.
Laboratory technicians, also known as medical laboratory technicians (MLTs) and clinical laboratory technicians, collect samples and perform tests to analyze body fluids, tissue and other substances.
They use various types of machinery, lab equipment and complex computer programs to perform their tests. Through their data, lab technicians play a crucial role in medical care.
If you’re interested in the medical field and think this role might be a good fit, keep reading to learn more about training and where this career could take you.
- Analyze samples
- Perform tests according to standard procedures
- Make observations
- Operate sophisticated laboratory equipment including automated equipment
- Record all data and results
- Maintain equipment
- Follow all safety guidelines
- Maintain a clean, organized environment
- Discuss results of laboratory tests with physicians
How To Become a Lab Technician: FAQs
What steps do I need to take?
Most students complete an associate degree program in clinical laboratory science from a community college or technical school. The National Accrediting Agency for Clinical Laboratory Sciences (NAACLS) provides a list of accredited programs.
Another path to this career is by earning a certificate at a technical school or through military service. Many medical lab technicians also train as phlebotomists.
Technician program courses may include chemistry, biology, microbiology, statistics, laboratory skills and lab management. Programs also prepare students with hands-on training in a hospital or other medical setting.
The career paths of medical lab techs can vary. A related and more advanced role is laboratory technologist, which may require a bachelor's degree.
There are many other related roles to consider in the medical field. For some lab technicians and technologists, finding work in a city with a robust healthcare community may provide more job opportunities.
Are there any other qualifications?
Certification isn’t required in all states, but it’s a good way for medical lab technicians to prove their general expertise or to specialize. The American Society for Clinical Pathology Board of Certification (ASCP BOC) provides information on getting and maintaining credentials.
Lab technicians can specialize in many areas, including blood banking or clinical chemistry.
Some states require lab technicians to be licensed. In others, Medical Lab Technician certification is a requirement to earn a license. Other requirements can include fingerprinting and documentation of training.
The rules vary by state. The American Society for Clinical Laboratory Science (ASCLS) provides a list of lab tech licensure rules by state.
How long does it take to become a laboratory technician?
Certificate programs for medical laboratory technicians typically take one year. An associate degree takes two years, and a bachelor’s degree takes four years.
Where do lab technicians work?
Laboratory technicians work in hospitals, diagnostic labs and doctors’ offices.
Lab technician vs. lab technologist: What’s the difference?
There’s a hierarchy in a medical laboratory. This makes the best use of everyone’s time, although there may be overlap, depending on the size of the lab.
A laboratory assistant collects specimens and does paperwork. A laboratory technician focuses on specimen preparation and testing. A laboratory technologist performs more advanced, less automated tests and screens samples for a pathologist. A pathologist reviews samples and focuses on providing diagnoses.
Is there a demand for this career?
The Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts employment for laboratory techs (technicians and technologists) will grow 7% from 2021 and 2031.
An increase in the number of older adults will result in a greater need for diagnostic testing.
What skills and qualities would make someone a good fit for this job?
Successful lab techs tend to share these traits:
- Good attention to detail
- Work well under pressure
- Good at following precise instructions
- Possess the dexterity to work with needles and precision laboratory instruments
- Work well independently
- Adept at operating computerized lab equipment