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Medical Laboratory Technician Career Guide

How to Become a Medical Laboratory Technician

Are you looking for a high-impact career in healthcare but want to work behind the scenes? If so, then becoming a medical laboratory technician could be a great option. Lab techs play a critical role in patient care and are on the front lines when it comes to testing and analysis. However, unlike doctors, they don’t often interact with patients. Rather, they spend their time working under the supervision of a licensed physician or another superior like a clinical laboratory scientist. Lab techs analyze blood work and other samples and run laboratory tests that influence a patient’s diagnosis and care plan. 

Learn more about what a lab tech is, their day-to-day responsibilities, and how you can prepare to become one.  

healthcare worker working in lab

What Is a Medical Laboratory Technician?

Laboratory technicians can be found in industries ranging from microbiology to chemistry and geology. If there are specimens that need testing in a laboratory, lab technicians are likely to be present. Medical laboratory technicians (MLTs) specifically work in hospitals, labs, or testing facilities performing hands-on testing and analysis. This guide will highlight the duties of a medical lab technician and uncover how you can prepare to become one.

What Does a Medical Laboratory Technician Do?

A medical lab tech can have various key responsibilities. Some may include:

  • Preparing samples. Medical lab technicians get samples ready to be analyzed. They then use specialized equipment to study microorganisms. MLTs may also perform other functions like examining blood for transfusions and determining drug levels in the blood.
  • Running tests. Medical lab techs often perform tests on various bodily fluids—most commonly blood or urine. They test for diseases by monitoring levels of certain substances that indicate the presence of disease or other ailments.
  • Recording data. Doctors must receive results in order to notify patients of suggested action. Lab techs record the data so this can happen. 
  • Ensuring accuracy. Making sure tests and analyses are carried out accurately is critical. Inaccurate recording could lead to errant reporting and devastating consequences. For instance, if data is wrongly recorded, a healthy patient might incorrectly be informed that they have a certain condition. If a patient is prescribed medication for a disease they don’t have, the side effects could be severe, not to mention any potential mental, emotional, and legal repercussions of such an error.
  • Maintaining equipment. It’s vital that lab equipment remains sanitary and in good working condition, according to OSHA regulations. Lab techs must keep a close eye on the instruments they use and dispose of any that are contaminated or not fit for use. In many cases, certain smaller pieces of equipment are only used once to avoid the risk of cross-contamination.
  • Creating and maintaining organizational systems. Experienced lab technicians may be charged with designing a way to keep samples organized. They follow best practices and frequently communicate with their supervisor or laboratory manager.

How Do I Become a Medical Laboratory Technician?

Schooling and certification are required to become an entry-level lab technician. Here are the requirements:

  • Earn a degree: It’s recommended that medical lab technicians earn at least an associate degree in a program that includes clinical rotations or at least six months of lab experience. A bachelor’s or master’s degree is preferable, particularly for those who wish to move up within the lab. Relevant bachelor’s degrees may include a bachelor’s in healthcare management or health services coordination. Those seeking a master’s degree might opt for a master’s of health leadership or an MBA in healthcare management.
  • Complete certification: Most employers require lab techs to be certified. Certifications can be earned through the American Society for Clinical Pathology (ASCP) Board of Certification or the American Medical Technologists (AMT) Organization. The ASCP certification is more widely recognized and highly regarded in the field.
  • Gain additional experience: The more experience you gain in the lab, the greater chance you’ll have to progress in your career. Spending time in the laboratory after earning a degree can help you reach your career goals.

Best Degrees for a Medical Laboratory Technician

Health Services Coordination – B.S.

An online health degree program for students passionate about...

An online health degree program for students...

An online health degree program for students passionate about value-based care and dedicated to helping others.

  • Time: 60% of graduates of similar programs finish within 3 years.
  • Tuition and fees: $3,650 per 6-month term, plus a one-time Health Professions Student Fee of $350.

Sample careers and jobs this degree will prepare you for:

  • Care coordinator
  • Patient advocate
  • Health services coordinator
  • Patient educator
  • Community health educator

This degree allows you to work inside the healthcare industry, while also directly working with patients who need help.

Master of Health Leadership

A master's focused on managing comprehensive, value-based care,...

A master's focused on managing comprehensive,...

A master's focused on managing comprehensive, value-based care, directly in line with innovations in health and healthcare.

  • Time: 78% of grads finish within 18-24 months. 
  • Tuition and fees: $4,240 per 6-month term.

Examples of careers and jobs this degree will prepare you for:

  • Managed care executive
  • Director of integrated care management
  • Health center manager/clinic manager
  • Director of integrated facilities

Your rich experience in a health-related field can mean more when you bring a master's level of understanding to the problems that organizations need to solve.

Compare degrees
This program is not the only degree WGU offers designed to create leaders in the field of healthcare. Compare our health leadership degrees by clicking the button below.

Compare Similar Degrees

Healthcare Management – B.S. Business Administration

You can become a healthcare industry leader:...

You can become a healthcare industry leader:...

You can become a healthcare industry leader:


Compare with B.S. Health Information Management

  • Time: 73% of graduates finish within 30 months.
  • Tuition: $3,575 per 6-month term.

Sample careers and jobs this business degree will prepare you for:

  • Health information manager
  • Community service manager
  • Clinical manager
  • Medical records manager
  • Social service manager

The online courses in this career-focused business degree program will prepare you with management-level skills and an up-to-date understanding of our healthcare delivery system.

MBA Healthcare Management

Prepare for a career leading private or public healthcare...

Prepare for a career leading private or public...

Prepare for a career leading private or public healthcare organizations.

  • Time: Graduates can finish within 12 months.
  • Tuition: $4,530 per 6-month term.

Some careers and jobs this business degree will prepare you for:

  • President and CEO
  • Vice president
  • Administrative director
  • Chief financial officer
  • Other executive-level roles

Healthcare is big business in today's complex economy.  Steer your career with this specialty MBA.

Compare online business degrees

This program is not the only online business degree WGU offers that is designed to create leaders in the field of healthcare. Compare our health leadership degrees by clicking the button below.

Compare Similar Degrees

Next Start Date

Start the 1st of any month—as soon as you complete enrollment!

Apply Today

Our online university degree programs start on the first of every month, all year long.

No need to wait for spring or fall semester. It's back-to-school time at WGU year-round. Get started by talking to an Enrollment Counselor today, and you'll be on your way to realizing your dream of a bachelor's or master's degree—sooner than you might think!

Learn about online college admissions at WGU.

Compare nursing degree options.

There are BSN degree options to choose from. Compare them to find the best fit for you.

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What Skills Does a Medical Laboratory Technician Need?

A couple doctors and a nurse sit together in a meeting.

A medical lab tech can have various key responsibilities. Some may include:

  • Preparing samples. Medical lab technicians get samples ready to be analyzed. They then use specialized equipment to study microorganisms. MLTs may also perform other functions like examining blood for transfusions and determining drug levels in the blood.
  • Running tests. Medical lab techs often perform tests on various bodily fluids—most commonly blood or urine. They test for diseases by monitoring levels of certain substances that indicate the presence of disease or other ailments.
  • Recording data. Doctors must receive results in order to notify patients of suggested action. Lab techs record the data so this can happen. 
  • Ensuring accuracy. Making sure tests and analyses are carried out accurately is critical. Inaccurate recording could lead to errant reporting and devastating consequences. For instance, if data is wrongly recorded, a healthy patient might incorrectly be informed that they have a certain condition. If a patient is prescribed medication for a disease they don’t have, the side effects could be severe, not to mention any potential mental, emotional, and legal repercussions of such an error.
  • Maintaining equipment. It’s vital that lab equipment remains sanitary and in good working condition, according to OSHA regulations. Lab techs must keep a close eye on the instruments they use and dispose of any that are contaminated or not fit for use. In many cases, certain smaller pieces of equipment are only used once to avoid the risk of cross-contamination.
  • Creating and maintaining organizational systems. Experienced lab technicians may be charged with designing a way to keep samples organized. They follow best practices and frequently communicate with their supervisor or laboratory manager.

How Much Does a Medical Laboratory Technician Make?

$57,800

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the average salary for clinical lab technicians and technologists in 2021 was $57,800. Many entry-level lab tech position salaries can be around $44,000. As with most professions, pay varies depending on location and experience level.

What is the Projected Job Growth?

7%

The BLS projects the job market for clinical lab techs and technologists to grow by 7% from 2021 to 2031, creating 21,800 new clinical and lab technician jobs.

Do I Need a Degree to Become a Medical Laboratory Technician?

Yes

To become a medical lab tech, you’ll need at least an associate degree in an applicable field. It should include clinical and lab experience. It’s recommended that you obtain a bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree if you wish to advance within the profession.

 

 

Interested in Becoming a Medical Laboratory Technician?

Learn more about degree programs that can prepare you for this meaningful career.

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