A laboratory technician, also called a lab tech, performs a variety of tests on bodily fluids and cells to detect diseases, bacteria, parasites and other microorganisms. A lab tech often collects and prepares specimens that other, more skilled medical workers use to determine blood types, test blood to gauge the effectiveness of prescribed drugs, or analyze the chemical makeup of fluids.
Tools of the trade and crucial skills
Lab techs often work under the supervision of more experienced laboratory technologists, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports. While lab technologists might perform much of the critical analytical work, they are dependent upon lab techs to help prepare specimens and operate a wide range of scientific equipment. Examples include drawing blood samples and cutting and staining tissue specimens for the technologist to examine under a microscope. The tests performed by lab techs often are less complex and not likely to produce errors, the Web site Medical Jobs states.
Instrumentation used by lab techs and technologists includes cell counters, microscopes, and computerized and highly specialized equipment capable of performing a wide range of testing procedures. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that much of the work done by lab techs has become more automated, and as a result, these professionals must be highly analytical and able to use good judgement.
Education and training
Lab techs typically need to complete an associate degree or certificate program, while technologists usually need at least a bachelor’s degree for employment, the BLS states. Length of coursework varies by program, but a typical community college lab tech program that culminates in an associate degree requires roughly 105 semester hours. The majority of classes in medical technology programs focus on clinical work and experience, with a handful of general education courses mixed in as well.
Core classes for medical technician training programs could include many of the following:
- Medical terminology
- Human anatomy and physiology
- Clinical chemistry
- Clinical microbiology
With additional schooling, many lab techs advance to better-paying jobs or positions with more responsibility, such as laboratory technologist, histotechnician or cytotechnologist.
Job prospects and earnings potential
The BLS predicts growth of 16 percent for medical lab techs. Hospitals are the main employer of lab techs, but many work in physicians offices and diagnostic laboratories as well.