When you go to the hospital and have your blood drawn, the sample goes back into a laboratory where it is run through sophisticated test equipment that shows what bacteria, parasites, pathogens, and other anomalies it might contain. Without this technology, the detection of serious diseases such as cancer or diabetes would never be possible. This is where a lab technician becomes such a crucial part of today’s modern healthcare.
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At a Glance
Other Job Titles: Clinical Lab Technician, Healthcare Technician
Salary Range*: $24,000-$57,000; Median $37,000
Education/Training Required: Certificate or associate’s degree
Desired Skills/Aptitude: Technical aptitude, attention to detail, communication skills, manual dexterity
Certification/Licensing: Depends on state; certification available but not required in all cases
Locations with Best Opportunities: Illinois, Washington, Hawaii, California
Employment Outlook: 15% through 2020
Opportunities for Advancement: Lab technicians have opportunities to become lab technologists through further education
What a Lab Technician Does
A lab technician works under the supervision of a lab technologist. The latter has a four-year degree and is responsible for performing analysis on specimens at a higher level. Typical duties of the lab technician include:
- Performing tests on cells and bodily fluids
- Collecting and preparing specimens for further analysis
- Operating scientific equipment
Performing tests on cells and bodily fluids are part of the process for detecting diseases, microorganisms, bacteria, and parasites that could be causing an ailment in a patient. As mentioned before, lab technicians perform the basic tests and lab technologists do further complex research.
The lab technician is may also be responsible for collecting samples and specimens. For example, this person may need to draw blood from the patient.
There is a variety of complex equipment used to process samples in a laboratory. The lab technician is trained to operate equipment such as microscopes, cell counters, and other computerized devices used for gathering data on samples.
The majority of lab technicians find employment in hospitals and others work in doctor’s offices and medical diagnostic laboratories. It is the hospital where the laboratory technician might find the day to be the busiest. This is because the initial work is collecting the sample which oftentimes may not be that easy. People in general don’t like getting their blood drawn nor do they like giving urine samples. This is where the lab technician also has to be patient and communicate effectively with patients.
Back in the laboratory, a lab technician helps the lab technologist analyze the sample. The technician might help set up and sterilize equipment. While the technologist does the high-level complex analysis, the technician might follow instructions for running the sample again just to verify there was not a false positive. The different lab scenarios are endless.
Education and Certification
A future lab technician who is still in high school will be one step ahead by taking courses in chemistry, biology, mathematics, and computers before graduating. Chemistry and biology are both highly complex subjects and it is better to find out what they are all about before attending a college program.
Lab technicians only require two-year associate’s degrees. Later on, they can pursue a four-year bachelor’s degree and open up new opportunities as a lab technologist. There is also the option to get a one year certificate in medical laboratory technology but this is typically done when a person already has an advanced degree in the medical field. For example, a registered nurse might decide she would like to work in a laboratory and gets a one-year certificate.
Certification and licensing requirements vary from state to state. It is best to check with your state’s agency responsible for licensing of lab technicians to determine its requirements. There are various certification options that usually involve specializing. For example, a lab technician might want to specialize in blood drawing (phlebotomy) and pursues the appropriate certification for it.
*Salary Source: BLS May 2012