Medical laboratory technicians perform laboratory tests and procedures to help diagnose, analyze, and treat diseases. For their efforts, they get rewarded with an impressive salary, veritable job security, and a possibility for growth.
Thanks to all of these, a career as a medical laboratory technician is an appealing one. But how exactly does one go about it? And what options are there in this regard?
There is more than one path to becoming a medical laboratory technician, and each course has pros and cons. Below we take a step-by-step look at all available options and how to navigate the direct but technical road to becoming a medical laboratory technician.
Who is a Medical Laboratory Technician?
Medical laboratory technicians are experts in laboratory sample analyses to diagnose or analyze diseases/conditions. General medical laboratory technicians can carry out tests on a handful of subjects and specimens, but it is also possible for a medical lab technician to specialize in certain areas.
For instance, lab technicians may specialize in hematology and conduct tests only on blood cells or specialize in immunohematology and conduct tests only on matching blood types.
Before choosing a specific area, all medical laboratory technicians must obtain a generalized knowledge of the field. Only after this can they proceed to secure employment and then specialize.
Steps to Becoming a Medical Laboratory Technician
The following are some mandatory and optional steps to becoming a medical laboratory technician.
Step 1: Getting a High School Diploma
A high school diploma or GED is necessary for anyone looking to become a medical laboratory technician. Focusing on chemistry, mathematics, and biology courses can help prepare candidates for the more complex and specialized topics once they enroll in a proper medical laboratory technician program.
Step 2: Education & Training Program
There are two options for medical laboratory technicians seeking the appropriate training to practice in the field. The first is to obtain an associate’s degree, while the other is to earn a certificate from a vocational training program.
Associate’s degree programs usually last for two years and are the most common route through which individuals become medical laboratory technicians. Before you choose a schedule, ensure that both the school and the program are accredited, as this can go a long way in ensuring your certification and employment processes are as easy as possible.
Associate’s degree programs focus on microbiology, immunology, hematology, and clinical laboratory practices. Students also get to become familiar with laboratory equipment and medical data analysis.
Instead of pursuing an associate’s degree, interested candidates may enroll in a vocational training program. These programs usually take less time than degree programs, lasting ten months instead of 2 years.
Another benefit of going through this route is that you don’t necessarily have to obtain training from an institution. For example, you could attend a vocational program run by the armed forces, hospitals, or technical training programs.
Like associate’s degree programs, vocational schools teach you theoretical and laboratory aspects of the field.
It is also possible to obtain an advanced degree like a bachelor’s or a master’s degree. While neither of these is mandatory, it can greatly help upward mobility. For instance, medical lab technicians with bachelor’s degrees can take on more complex or supervisory roles, such as laboratory manager or clinical laboratory technologist.
Step 3: Certification Exams
Most medical laboratory technicians choose to get certified, even if they practice in states where certification is not mandatory. This is because accreditation often makes it easier to secure employment.
For instance, given a pool of applicants with the same qualifications, an employer will often choose the certified candidate over the uncertified one. Additionally, certification also helps with continuing education, among other benefits.
American Association of Bioanalysts (AAB)
The AAB is one of the most popular certification bodies for medical laboratory technicians. To become AAB certified, candidates must pass a generalized exam.
To sit for the exam, they must already possess either an associate’s degree or 50 weeks of training from a vocational training program.
American Society of Clinical Pathology (ASCP)
To become certified by the American Society of clinical pathology, candidates must possess three years of experience, an associate’s degree, or 50 weeks of vocational training.
The ASCP exam tests candidates on various topics, including immunology, microbiology, hematology, and chemistry.
Step 4: Licensing
Licensing requirements for medical laboratory technicians vary by state. States that mandate licensing may also mandate certification. Feel free to check out this resource for more information on certification and licensing requirements for your state.
What to Expect as a Medical Laboratory Technician in Training
As a medical laboratory technician in training, you will learn how to prepare analysis, collect samples, and dispose of wastes, among other things. If you already find medical laboratory activities fascinating, you may expect training to be stimulating, exciting and challenging at the same time.
Once you secure employment, you will be called on daily to put everything you have learned into practice. You will have to collect urine, blood, tissue, or other kinds of samples from patients, analyze and study these samples through laboratory technology, and collect and discuss your findings with a physician, among others.
How Much Can You Expect to Earn as an MLT
As for the potential salary and career outlook, medical laboratory technicians can also expect positive figures in this regard. The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates the average yearly salary for MLTs to be $57,800. This figure may go up or down depending on the establishment, experience, and location.
The projection for the field is also positive, with a 7% growth projection over the next seven years, which is well in line with the national average.