Medical and Clinical Laboratory Technologists and Technicians


Quick Facts: Medical and Clinical Laboratory Technologists and Technicians
2017 Median Pay $51,770 per year 
$24.89 per hour
Typical Entry-Level Education  
Work Experience in a Related Occupation None
On-the-job Training None
Number of Jobs, 2016 335,700
Job Outlook, 2016-26 13% (Faster than average)
Employment Change, 2016-26 42,700

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Medical Technology Career, Salary and Education Information

What Medical and Clinical Laboratory Technologists and Technicians Do

Medical laboratory technologists (commonly known as medical laboratory scientists) and medical laboratory technicians collect samples and perform tests to analyze body fluids, tissue, and other substances.

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Medical and Clinical Laboratory Technologists and Technicians

Duties of Medical and Clinical Laboratory Technologists and Technicians

Medical laboratory technologists and technicians typically do the following:

  • Analyze body fluids, such as blood, urine, and tissue samples, and record normal or abnormal findings

  • Study blood samples for use in transfusions by identifying the number of cells, the cell morphology or the blood group, blood type, and compatibility with other blood types

  • Operate sophisticated laboratory equipment, such as microscopes and cell counters

  • Use automated equipment and computerized instruments capable of performing a number of tests at the same time

  • Log data from medical tests and enter results into a patient’s medical record

  • Discuss results and findings of laboratory tests and procedures with physicians

  • Supervise or train medical laboratory technicians

Both technicians and technologists perform tests and procedures that physicians and surgeons or other healthcare personnel order. However, technologists perform more complex tests and laboratory procedures than technicians do. For example, technologists may prepare specimens and perform detailed manual tests, whereas technicians perform routine tests that may be more automated. Medical laboratory technicians usually work under the general supervision of medical laboratory technologists or laboratory managers.

Technologists in small laboratories perform many types of tests; in large laboratories, they sometimes specialize. The following are examples of types of specialized medical laboratory technologists:

Blood bank technologists, or immunohematology technologists, collect blood, classify it by type, and prepare blood and its components for transfusions.

Clinical chemistry technologists prepare specimens and analyze the chemical and hormonal contents of body fluids.

Cytotechnologists prepare slides of body cells and examine these cells under a microscope for abnormalities that may signal the beginning of a cancerous growth.

Immunology technologists examine elements of the human immune system and its response to foreign bodies.

Microbiology technologists examine and identify bacteria and other microorganisms.

Molecular biology technologists perform complex protein and nucleic acid tests on cell samples.

Like technologists, medical laboratory technicians may work in several areas of the laboratory or specialize in one area. For example, histotechnicians are a type of medical laboratory technician who cut and stain tissue specimens for pathologists— doctors who study the cause and development of diseases at a microscopic level.

Technologists and technicians often specialize after they have worked in a particular area for a long time or have received advanced education or training in that area.


Work Environment for Medical and Clinical Laboratory Technologists and Technicians

Medical and clinical laboratory technicians hold about 164,200 jobs. The largest employers of medical and clinical laboratory technicians are as follows:

Hospitals; state, local, and private: 43%

Medical and diagnostic laboratories: 18%

Offices of physicians: 12%

Colleges, universities, and professional schools; state, local, and private: 6%

Outpatient care centers: 5%

Medical and clinical laboratory technologists hold about 171,400 jobs. The largest employers of medical and clinical laboratory technologists are as follows:

Hospitals; state, local, and private: 57%

Medical and diagnostic laboratories: 17%

Offices of physicians: 8%

Colleges, universities, and professional schools; state, local, and private: 6%

Federal government: 3%

Medical laboratory personnel are trained to work with infectious specimens or with materials that are caustic or produce fumes. When they follow proper methods to control infection and sterilize equipment, the risk decreases. They wear protective masks, gloves, and goggles for their safety.

Technologists and technicians can be on their feet for long periods, and they may need to lift or turn disabled patients to collect samples.

Work Schedules for Medical and Clinical Laboratory Technologists and Technicians

Most medical laboratory technologists and technicians work full time. Technologists and technicians who work in facilities that operate around the clock, such as hospitals and some independent laboratories, may work evening, weekend, or overnight hours.

Injuries and Illnesses 

Medical and clinical laboratory technicians have a higher rate of injuries and illnesses than the national average. They may be subject to repetitive motion injuries since they can perform the same tasks repeatedly.


How to Become a Medical or Clinical Laboratory Technologist or Technician

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.

Education

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 SciencesAmerican Medical Technologists, and the American Society for Clinical Pathology.

Important Qualities

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.

Advancement

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).


salaries for Medical and Clinical Laboratory Technologist and Technician

The median annual wage for medical and clinical laboratory technicians is $38,950. The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $26,010, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $61,720.

The median annual wage for medical and clinical laboratory technologists is $61,070. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $41,550, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $85,160.

The median annual wages for medical and clinical laboratory technicians in the top industries in which they work are as follows:

Colleges, universities, and professional schools; state, local, and private: $40,870

Outpatient care centers: $40,030

Hospitals; state, local, and private: $39,690

Offices of physicians: $39,150

Medical and diagnostic laboratories: $37,420

The median annual wages for medical and clinical laboratory technologists in the top industries in which they work are as follows:

Federal government: $64,210

Hospitals; state, local, and private: $62,000

Medical and diagnostic laboratories: $61,390

Offices of physicians: $58,330

Colleges, universities, and professional schools; state, local, and private: $54,760

Most medical laboratory technologists and technicians work full time. Technologists and technicians who work in facilities that are always open, such as hospitals and some independent laboratories, may work evening, weekend, or overnight hours.


Job Outlook for Medical and Clinical Laboratory Technologists and Technicians

Employment of medical laboratory technologists is projected to grow 12 percent over the next ten years, faster the average for all occupations. Employment of medical laboratory technicians is projected to grow 14 percent over the next ten years, faster than the average for all occupations.

An increase in the aging population is expected to lead to a greater need to diagnose medical conditions, such as cancer or type 2 diabetes, through laboratory procedures. Prenatal testing for various types of genetic conditions also is increasingly common. Medical laboratory technologists and technicians will be in demand to use and maintain the equipment needed for diagnosis and treatment.

Job Prospects for Medical and Clinical Laboratory Technologists and Technicians

Job prospects will be best for medical and clinical laboratory technologists and technicians who complete an accredited education program and earn professional certification.

Employment projections data for Medical and Clinical Laboratory Technologists and Technicians, 2016-26

Employment, 2016: 335,700

Projected Employment, 2026: 378,300

Change, 2016-2026: +13%, +42,600


Careers Related to Medical and Clinical Laboratory Technologists and Technicians

Biological Technicians

Biological technicians help biological and medical scientists conduct laboratory tests and experiments.

Chemical Technicians

Chemical technicians use special instruments and techniques to help chemists and chemical engineers research, develop, produce, and test chemical products and processes.

Chemists and Materials Scientists

Chemists and materials scientists study substances at the atomic and molecular levels and analyze the ways in which the substances interact with one another. They use their knowledge to develop new and improved products and to test the quality of manufactured goods.

Veterinary Technologists and Technicians

Veterinary technologists and technicians perform medical tests under the supervision of a licensed veterinarian to assist in diagnosing the injuries and illnesses of animals.

OccupationENTRY-LEVEL EDUCATION2017 MEDIAN PAY
Biological TechniciansBachelor's degree$43,800
Chemical TechniciansAssociate's degree$47,280
Chemists and Materials ScientistsBachelor's degree$76,280
Veterinary Technologists and TechniciansAssociate's degree$33,400

Citation:

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Medical and Clinical Laboratory Technologists and Technicians, on the Internet at https://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/medical-and-clinical-laboratory-technologists-and-technicians.htm