Lab technicians take raw materials and, using instruments and equipment, shape them into the grounds for conclusions, treatments, and decisions. Learn from the lab technician job description below how experience in this field serves as a foundation for the medical and scientific communities, as well as advanced work in medicine and science.
Job Overview: What Does a Lab Technician Do?
Collection and analysis represent the principal tasks of a lab technician. Physicians and medical personnel depend on reliable specimens and experiments to diagnose medical conditions or determine subjects’ compliance with job or legal requirements. To perform their duties, lab technicians must exhibit various physical and mental abilities to get specific information.
Lab Technicians Job Duties
- Collect blood, urine, and other body fluids from patients or other subjects, as well as samples of raw materials, works in progress, and completed products.
- Analyze specimens or samples using microscopes, automatic analyzers, or other instruments.
- Confirm from samples or specimens that tests or experiments follow standards and protocol.
- Detect potential diseases, abnormal conditions, and substances or chemicals in samples.
- Record findings and results into computers or data bases for use by physicians, scientists, or other users.
- Log the date, time, and custody of test or experiment subjects.
- Consult with physicians, scientists, or other experts on methods of and findings from tests.
- Clean, organize, calibrate, and prepare microscopes and other laboratory instruments.
Lab Technician Job Essential Skills
Detail-Oriented Skills. Lab technicians collect specimens and test according to specific and detailed instructions and steps to insure the reliability of conclusions. Being conscientious with details includes the ability to record all relevant data, identify those from whom samples are taken, and thoroughly describe the subjects and findings. Technicians must have organized stations to ensure all needed equipment is sterile and available for collecting specimens.
Physical Skills. Dexterity helps lab technicians handle and grasp medical equipment and supplies, such as needles, to obtain precise samples for testing. Many of these instruments are small or contain multiple parts. Other physical skills include the strength to move or lift patients or objects, and remain standing for lengthy periods of time to collect samples and analyze them.
Reasoning Skills. Lab technicians must know how to detect relationships between events and data. Reasoning capabilities involve the ability to form conclusions based on information received or collected. The technician must know when inconsistencies or errors appear.
Technological Skills. Within the lab technician job description lies the ability to use complex instruments and machines. Knowledge of computers and databases is necessary to record information on the subject and the material tested or sampled.
Becoming a Lab Technician
Preparation for a lab technician job involves a significant amount of training in the techniques and procedures of collecting, testing, and handling samples. The educational qualifications typically do not extend beyond an associate’s degree, though the courses will also expose the technician to laboratory and medical concepts.
Qualifications and Training
Prospective laboratory technicians generally need an associate’s degree in clinical laboratory science. The typical course load includes basic or introductory classes touching on the theoretical and practical facets of laboratory fields, such as hematology and laboratory procedures. Hospitals may also enroll students in a one-year certificate program for laboratory technicians.
Those who seek the more advanced position of laboratory technologist have to pursue a bachelor’s degree in medical laboratory technology or medical laboratory science, and take more advanced or in-depth classes in biology, math, statistics, chemistry, and microbiology.
Training usually comes via clinical work in an associates program.
A handful of jurisdictions require a license to become a medical laboratory technician. While specific requirements vary by state, laboratory technicians must earn at least an associate’s degree in a clinical laboratory technician program and pass an examination. Some states recognize the exam given by the American Society for Clinical Pathology as valid for licensure.
Even where licensure is not required, certification as a medical laboratory technician can meet individual employer requirements or preferences.
New laboratory technicians may begin as assistants under the supervision of more experienced laboratory technicians. As they gain experience, technicians will receive more autonomy but still have direction and supervision from physicians or scientists. In some companies, these workers will man satellite offices where they collect blood, urine, or other specimens.
For aspiring technicians, working or volunteering in a blood bank, clinic, or university laboratory may also help.
Generally, laboratory technicians log full-time hours. Those who work in laboratory testing facilities normally work weekdays and daytime hours.
In hospitals, nursing homes, and other 24-hour facilities, technicians can expect some evening and weekend work as well. Laboratory technicians might also work irregular hours in order to test specimens from those experiencing public health emergencies or outbreaks.
Job Outlook & Advancement Opportunities
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects an 18 percent climb in the employment of medical and clinical laboratory technicians through 2024. This translates to 192,400 openings by that time. As of 2014, the occupation had an estimated 163,400 participants.
An aging population and increased reliance on medical metrics will spur the need for medical lab technicians. Genetic disorders, diabetes, and cancer are among the most frequently-tested conditions. The availability of health insurance and potential malpractice claims from the failure to test for certain conditions also contribute to demand for medical laboratory technicians.
Beyond detecting potential medical problems, laboratory testing firms also help probation officers or law enforcement determine the presence of unlawful substances and whether athletes are violating rules on performance-enhancing drugs.
Medical and clinical laboratory technicians may use these positions and bachelor’s-level education as springboards to becoming laboratory technologists. At the moment, the annual median salary for a lab technician is $39,220.
Applicants for lab technician positions should see ample job opportunities. Medical and clinical laboratories demand qualified technicians to test patients, job applicants, and athletes at various competitive levels. With experience, skills in handling small and complex equipment, education, and the rest of the requirements in the lab technician job description, these professionals can reach positions with more responsibilities and benefits.