Medical and Clinical Laboratory Technologists
Training and Education
|Recommended Degree Level||Bachelor|
|Number of Jobs, 2012||160,700|
|Annual Job Growth Rate||2.9%|
|Job Openings per Year (est.)||5,210|
What's needed: Medical and clinical laboratory technologists must obtain a bachelor's degree in laboratory science or an associated field such as microbiology. Most states require that lab technologists seek ongoing training and enroll in continuing education courses and maintain their certification.
What you study:
Medical technologists receive an in-depth education in their subjects. An emphasis on the theory behind the technology differentiates the medical technology curriculum from that of medical lab technicians. Coursework for lab technologists includes:
- General biology
- Cytology and histology
- Anatomy and physiology
- Laboratory science
A quick introduction into a medical lab technologist career. Created for the US Dept. of Labor.
A Day in the Life
Your specialty as a medical technologist determines the course of your day. The field encompasses a range of disciplines and working conditions, so your experiences may differ greatly from those of another specialist. You may spend most of your day using a microscope, an x-ray machine or other medical imagery devices.
As a medical laboratory technologist, you will more likely spend your day with sophisticated equipment than with patients. Before your shift begins, you spend some time reviewing notes and doing maintenance paperwork. In large medical centers, testing labs operate 24 hours a day, so you'll talk with the previous shift's techs. You discover that aside from a minor problem with one of the centrifuges, the prior shift was uneventful. You'll be the one to call the equipment repair technician if it malfunctions again, so you make a note to watch it during your shift.
If you're a cytology lab technologist, you work with cell samples. Your roles include supervising the technicians who prepare slides for microscopy and performing more complex tests yourself. You'll also spend part of your day assessing samples for any irregularities or abnormalities. As a specialist in analyzing Pap smears, for example, you play a vital role in the early detection of cervical cancer. In a center that specializes in infectious diseases, you may be searching slides for evidence of tuberculosis or other contagions. Technicians who have problematic samples bring them to you for a more detailed assessment. Although you have an endless supply of samples to assess, you don't hurry through your inspections; the work you do is too important to rush.
Regardless of your specialty, you follow procedures common to all medical lab technologists. It's your job to maintain proper laboratory protocols to ensure samples are handled and stored correctly. You're also in charge of arranging meetings for lab technicians to instruct them in using new lab equipment. Your adherence to appropriate lab procedures such as frequent hand-washing, regular changing of gloves and careful tracking of samples is also an example for techs. As you become more comfortable in your role, you may make changes to streamline the work process and improve the already high accuracy of your lab.
Because any unusable or contaminated sample could mean a delay in treatment or costly retesting, it's imperative to keep samples pure. It's rare, but if you note any anomaly with a sample such as a name that doesn't match or a tissue type that looks nothing like its label, you'll notify a doctor. Your attention to detail is key to catching these rare errors. During your tenure in the lab, no such mistakes have happened, but you've established a system for the possibility of an identification error.
Certifications and Licensing
Although not every state requires licensing and certification for medical laboratory technologists, many employers require it. Specialists who have a keen interest in a particular aspect of the field often choose to earn certification in these roles. A radiologic technologist, for example, specializes in processing and analyzing x-ray images.
Full-time versus part-time:
Most medical laboratory technologists work fixed, full-time shifts, although some smaller independent clinics and medical offices offer part-time positions. Most work is on-site. Technologists may make rounds within the facility, especially if they specialize in operating portable imaging and diagnostic equipment, but they work within a single complex.
- Bureau of Labor Statistics: Medical and Clinical Laboratory Technicians and Technologists – The BLS provides an Occupational Outlook Handbook that gives an overview of the varied roles medical laboratory technologists play in health care. With data on average salaries, educational requirements and projections of future demand, this site is a good first stop for prospective lab technologists.
- The American Society for Clinical Pathology – As the largest professional organization for medical and clinical laboratory technologists, the ASCP gives visitors to the site a wealth of information about career directions, specialization, professional advocacy and student development. The certification and certification maintenance programs are of particular interest to students seeking careers in the field and to entry-level graduates who want to advance their education.
- The American Society for Clinical Laboratory Science – The ASCLS site features information for teachers and patients as well as laboratory technologists. Younger students who are just beginning to consider their career trajectories can get a feel for the profession from the site. The Professional Development section features online education opportunities and job listings.