How to Become a Medical and Clinical Laboratory Technologist or Technician
Medical laboratory technologists typically need a bachelor’s degree.
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.
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, also known as a medical laboratory scientist degree, includes courses in chemistry, biology, microbiology, math, and statistics. Students typically complete college coursework and then apply to the clinical portion of the program. Coursework emphasizes laboratory skills, including safety procedures and lab management, while the clinical portion includes hands-on training in a typical work setting like a hospital. Some laboratory science programs can be completed in 2 years or less and require prior college coursework or a bachelor’s degree.
Medical laboratory technicians often complete an associate’s degree program in clinical laboratory science. The Armed Forces and vocational or technical schools also may offer certificate programs for medical laboratory technicians. 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 classes in chemistry, biology, and math.
Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations
Some states require laboratory personnel to be licensed. Requirements vary by state and specialty. For specific requirements, contact state departments of health, state boards of occupational licensing, or visit The American Society for Clinical Laboratory Science.
Certification of medical laboratory technologists and technicians is required for licensure in some states. Although certification is not required to enter the occupation in all cases, employers typically prefer to hire certified technologists and technicians.
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 exam. For more credentialing information, visit the National Accrediting Agency for Clinical Laboratory Sciences, American Medical Technologists, and the American Society for Clinical Pathology.
Ability to use technology. Medical laboratory technologists and technicians must understand how to operate computerized lab equipment.
Detail oriented. Medical laboratory technologists and technicians must follow exact instructions in order to perform tests or procedures correctly.
Dexterity. Medical laboratory technologists and technicians need to be skilled with their hands. They work closely with needles and precision laboratory instruments and must 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. Some medical laboratory technicians advance to technologist positions after gaining experience and additional education. Some colleges have bachelor’s degree programs for medical laboratory technicians to become technologists (often referred to as MLT to MLS programs).