How to Become a Medical and Clinical Laboratory Technologist or Technician
Blood bank technologists, or immunohematology technologists, collect, type, and prepare blood and its components for transfusions.
Medical laboratory technologists typically need a bachelor’s degree. Technicians usually need an associate’s degree or a postsecondary certificate. Some states require technologists and technicians to be licensed.
Universities and hospitals offer medical technology programs. 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 includes courses in chemistry, biology, microbiology, mathematics, and statistics, as well as courses in clinical laboratory skills, management, and education. This degree often is known as a medical laboratory scientist degree.
The courses may be offered through a hospital-based program that students attend during their senior year of college. College graduates who major in other sciences and meet a program’s prerequisites, such as having completed required courses in biology and chemistry, also may apply to a medical laboratory science program.
Medical laboratory technicians often complete an associate’s degree program in clinical laboratory science. A limited number of 1-year certificate programs are available from hospitals for those who already have a degree in a related field, such as nursing. The Armed Forces and vocational or technical schools also may offer certificate programs for medical laboratory technicians. The 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 courses in chemistry, biology, and mathematics.
Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations
Some states require laboratory personnel to be licensed or registered. To be licensed, a technologist often needs a bachelor's degree and must pass an exam. However, requirements vary by state and specialty. For specific requirements, contact state departments of health or boards of occupational licensing.
Certification of medical laboratory technologists and technicians is required for licensure in some states and by some employers. Medical 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 examination. Although certification is not required to enter the occupation in all cases, employers typically prefer to hire certified technologists and technicians.
Ability to use technology. Medical laboratory technologists and technicians must understand how to operate complex machinery.
Detail oriented. Medical laboratory technologists and technicians must follow exact instructions from physicians in order to perform correct tests or procedures.
Dexterity. Medical laboratory technologists and technicians require skill while working with their hands. They work closely with needles and precise laboratory instruments and must be able to handle these tools effectively.
Physical stamina. Medical laboratory technologists and technicians may work on their feet for long periods while collecting samples. They may need to lift or turn disabled patients to collect samples for testing.
After additional education, work experience, or certification, technologists and technicians may specialize in one of many areas of laboratory science, such as immunology, histotechnology, or clinical chemistry.