Microscopic Level Analysis: Medical Lab Technician Degree

If you are interested in medical science and enjoy research, consider a career as a medical lab technician. Medical, or clinical lab technicians, as they are also known, originated with the invention of the brand new “microscope”. Lab technicians utilized the microscope to analyze tissue and fluid samples. The field has grown tremendously since the 1920s, but is still focused on analyzing samples in order to help doctors prevent or diagnose disease and to further medical research.

Today medical lab technicians work in a laboratory setting overseen by a medical lab technologist or biologist. Procedures are run in the areas of blood banking, microbiology, chemistry, hematology, and immunology. Lab technicians analyze body fluids, cells and tissue. They operate automated analyzers, collect blood samples, prepare specimens for examination and perform manual tests.

People who are precise and detail-oriented make good medical lab technicians. Analytical and computer skills are also desirable traits, as is the ability to work under pressure. Medical lab technicians usually work alone and need to be able to pace themselves without much supervision.

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Medical Lab Technician Degree Information

Most medical and clinical laboratory technicians receive either an associate's degree from a community college or a certificate from the armed forces, a hospital or vocational school. Degrees and certificates are typically not specifically given in medical lab technology. Common A.A. degrees leading to careers as a lab technician include health information technology, medical assisting, or a closely related health science discipline.

Bachelor’s degrees increase the responsibilities and earning potential for a lab technician. Clinical laboratory science is the most common degree. Both online and offline programs are available.

Online research will be necessary to determine the best program and college for a medical or clinical laboratory technician degree. For example, you can discover programs that will allow you to obtain an associate's degree in health information technology or take an allied health science degree program.

Medical Lab Technician Curriculum

An education in laboratory science teaches you many laboratory research techniques, and how to apply critical thinking skills to analytical problems. The relevant curriculum includes classes in:

  • Phlebotomy/venipuncture
  • Cytogenic technology
  • Molecular biology
  • Clinical assistance
  • Chemistry
  • Blood studies and analysis
  • Laboratory procedures and operations.

The associate’s degree or certificate typically includes at least one supervised clinical experience.

Getting a Degree Online

Traditional as well as online programs are available to become a medical lab technician. Online programs are often self-paced for students whose schedule requires flexibility. Programs for medical lab technicians are accredited by the National Accrediting Agency for Clinical Laboratory Sciences (NAACLS) and other accrediting agencies.

Free information is available online for a variety of programs and degrees for medical lab technicians. Simply use the school search forms on this page to learn more.

Licensure and Certification

After achieving your associate’s degree or certificate, professional certification is usually not necessary. However, some states and many employers require or at least prefer certified lab technicians. Certification is offered by the American Medical Technologists, the American Society for Clinical Pathology and the American Association of Bioanalysts. Six months of laboratory experience is required in order to take the certification test.

Professional licensure is necessary in most states. Contact your state’s board of health or occupational licensing for details.

Career Opportunities

Medical lab technicians usually perform the same function in a healthcare setting—preparing and analyzing samples for viruses, bacteria, and diseases such as cancer. Lab technicians may work at private laboratories, hospitals, physicians’ offices, colleges and universities, or government agencies. Jobs are available all over the country, in both urban and rural settings, making this a good “portable” career choice if you wish to work in different geographical areas.

Earning Potential

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median salary for a medical lab technician was $36,280 per year in 2010. In general, wages are higher in a hospital setting than in physicians’ offices.

If you choose to obtain a bachelor’s degree you may become a medical lab technologist. The 2010 median salary for technologists was $56,130.

Career Outlook

The U.S. is projected to add 42,900 medical lab technicians to its workforce by 2020. This is considered an average job increase at 13%. Jobs are expected to move from hospitals to private laboratories as hospitals increasingly utilize outside labs for tissue and fluid analysis. Testing is expected to increase as medical professionals continue to emphasize preventative care.

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How long does it take to become a medical lab technician?

Typically two to four years. Associate’s degrees take two years of full time attendance; certificates are usually issued as part of the senior year of a bachelor’s degree.

What can I expect in a job as a lab technician?

Some lab technicians can expect to interact with patients to draw blood. Others may not have patient contact. All lab technicians spend at least part of their time in the lab operating advanced machinery, preparing samples and slides, and analyzing these samples for abnormalities.

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