Clinical laboratory technologists and technicians collect samples and perform tests to analyze body fluids, tissue, and other substances.
What they do
Clinical laboratory technologists (commonly known as medical laboratory scientists) and clinical laboratory technicians collect samples and perform tests to analyze body fluids, tissue, and other substances.
Clinical laboratory technologists and technicians typically do the following:
- Analyze body fluids, such as blood, urine, and tissue samples, and record normal or abnormal findings
- Study blood samples for use in transfusions by identifying the number of cells, the cell morphology or the blood group, blood type, and compatibility with other blood types
- Operate sophisticated laboratory equipment, such as microscopes and cell counters
- Use automated equipment and computerized instruments capable of performing a number of tests at the same time
- Log data from medical tests and enter results into a patient’s medical record
- Discuss results and findings of laboratory tests and procedures with physicians
Both technicians and technologists perform tests and procedures that physicians and surgeons or other healthcare personnel order. However, technologists perform more complex tests and laboratory procedures than technicians do. For example, technologists may prepare specimens and perform detailed manual tests, whereas technicians perform routine tests that may be more automated. Clinical laboratory technicians usually work under the general supervision of clinical laboratory technologists or laboratory managers.
Technologists in small laboratories perform many types of tests; in large laboratories, they sometimes specialize. The following are examples of types of specialized clinical laboratory technologists:
Blood bank technologists, or immunohematology technologists, collect blood, classify it by type, and prepare blood and its components for transfusions.
Clinical chemistry technologists prepare specimens and analyze the chemical and hormonal contents of body fluids.
Cytotechnologists prepare slides of body cells and examine these cells under a microscope for abnormalities that may signal the beginning of a cancerous growth.
Immunology technologists examine elements of the human immune system and its response to foreign bodies.
Microbiology technologists examine and identify bacteria and other microorganisms.
Molecular biology technologists perform complex protein and nucleic acid tests on cell samples.
Like technologists, clinical laboratory technicians may work in several areas of the laboratory or specialize in one area. For example, histotechnicians are a type of clinical laboratory technician who cut and stain tissue specimens for pathologists— doctors who study the cause and development of diseases at a microscopic level.
Technologists and technicians often specialize after they have worked in a particular area for a long time or have received advanced education or training in that area.
Clinical laboratory personnel are trained to work with infectious specimens or with materials that are caustic or produce fumes. When they follow proper methods to control infection and sterilize equipment, the risk decreases. They wear protective masks, gloves, and goggles for their safety.
Technologists and technicians can be on their feet for long periods, and they may need to lift or turn disabled patients to collect samples.
How to become a Clinical Laboratory Technologist and/or Technician
Clinical laboratory technologists typically need a bachelor’s degree. Technicians usually need an associate degree or a postsecondary certificate. Some states require technologists and technicians to be licensed.
An entry-level job for technologists usually requires a bachelor's degree in medical technology or life sciences.
A bachelor’s degree program in medical laboratory technology, also known as a medical laboratory scientist degree, includes courses in chemistry, biology, microbiology, math, and statistics. Students typically complete college coursework and then apply to the clinical portion of the program. Coursework emphasizes laboratory skills, including safety procedures and lab management, while the clinical portion includes hands-on training in a typical work setting like a hospital. Some laboratory science programs can be completed in 2 years or less and require prior college coursework or a bachelor’s degree.
Clinical laboratory technicians often complete an associate degree program in clinical laboratory science. The Armed Forces and vocational or technical schools also may offer certificate programs for medical laboratory technicians. Technician coursework addresses the theoretical and practical aspects of each of the major laboratory disciplines.
High school students who are interested in pursuing a career in the medical laboratory sciences should take classes in chemistry, biology, and math.
Some states require laboratory personnel to be licensed. Requirements vary by state and specialty. For specific requirements, contact state departments of health, state boards of occupational licensing, or visit The American Society for Clinical Laboratory Science.
Certification of clinical laboratory technologists and technicians is required for licensure in some states. Although certification is not required to enter the occupation in all cases, employers typically prefer to hire certified technologists and technicians.
Clinical laboratory technologists and technicians can obtain a general certification as a medical laboratory technologist or technician, respectively, or a certification in a specialty, such as cytotechnology or medical biology. Most credentialing institutions require that technologists complete an accredited education program in order to qualify to sit for an exam. For more credentialing information, visit the National Accrediting Agency for Clinical Laboratory Sciences, American Medical Technologists, and the American Society for Clinical Pathology
The median annual wage for clinical laboratory technologists and technicians was $53,120 in May 2019. The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $30,920, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $81,530.
Employment of clinical laboratory technologists and technicians is projected to grow 7 percent from 2019 to 2029, faster than the average for all occupations.
Similar Job Titles
Certified Clinical Laboratory Technician, Clinical Laboratory Scientist, Clinical Laboratory Technician (Clinical Lab Technician), Laboratory Assistant (Lab Assistant), Laboratory Supervisor, Laboratory Technician (Lab Tech), Medical Laboratory Technician (MLT), Medical Laboratory Technicians (Medical Lab Technician), Medical Technician, Chief Medical Technologist; Clinical Laboratory Scientist (CLS); Clinical Laboratory Technologist; Histologist Technologist; Medical Laboratory Technologist (Medical Lab Tech); Medical Technologist (MT); Medical Technologist, Microbiologist; Microbiology Technologist; Research Assistant
Biological Technician, Cytogenetic Technologist, Histotechnologist and Histologic Technician, Medical and Clinical Laboratory Technician, Respiratory Therapy Technician, Medical and Clinical Laboratory Technologist, Cardiovascular Technologist and Technician, Diagnostic Medical Sonographer
The trade associations listed below represent organizations made up of people (members) who work and promote advancement in the field. Members are very interested in telling others about their work and about careers in those areas. As well, trade associations provide opportunities for organizational networking and learning more about the field’s trends and directions.
- American Association of Blood Banks (AABB)
- Academy of Clinical Laboratory Physicians and Scientists
- American Society for Clinical Pathology
- College of American Pathologists
- American Association of Bioanalysts
- American Medical Technologists
- American Society for Clinical Pathology
- American Society for Cytotechnology
- American Society of Cytopathology
- Clinical Laboratory Management Association
- Coordinating Council on the Clinical Laboratory Workforce
- Department of Health and Human Services
- National Accrediting Agency for Clinical Laboratory Sciences
Magazines and Publications
- Clinical Laboratory International Magazine
- Medical Lab Management Magazine
- Lab Manager Magazine
- Laboratory Medicine Magazine
- Medical Lab Observer Magazine
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When a doctor orders a series of tests on a patient, it’s the job of medical and clinical laboratory technologists and technicians to prepare and perform those tests to help detect diseases or abnormalities. These professionals analyze body fluids, tissue, and cells. Using powerful medical equipment, they look for bacteria, parasites, and abnormal cells. They also analyze cholesterol levels, and cross-match blood samples for transfusions, documenting their results in reports or patient medical records. Since they regularly handle samples and medical instruments contaminated by infectious microbes, they wear protective goggles, gloves, and masks to minimize the risk of contagion. In larger labs and hospitals, technologists and technicians tend to specialize in areas like blood work or microbiology. Most work full-time. In general, technologists supervise the work of technicians. Technicians need an associate’s degree in clinical laboratory science, and technologists need a bachelor’s degree in medical technology or life sciences. Licensure is required in some states, and certification is often preferred by employers. The work can be stressful, especially when they must perform complex tests accurately and in a limited time. However, they gain satisfaction from knowing they’ve provided the vital information doctors need to save lives… or cure diseases.
Content retrieved from: US Bureau of Labor Statistics-OOH www.bls.gov/ooh,
CareerOneStop www.careeronestop.org, O*Net Online www.onetonline.org