Medical lab technicians are practical scientists who help evaluate patients' health through the methods of modern technology. Working in hospitals, diagnostic laboratories and doctors' offices, they take samples of body tissues and test them. They usually receive supervision from other professionals, including medical lab technologists. Unlike technologists, who are bachelor's degree graduates, most medical lab technicians qualify through two-year associate degree programs. However, certificate programs are also available to qualified applicants.
You need a high school diploma or the equivalent to begin a medical laboratory technician associate degree program. These programs usually require high school classes in math, biology and chemistry for admission, but some require college-level prerequisites -- for example, in English, math and biology. Applicants to certificate programs usually need a prior degree in science or a health profession, such as nursing.
General and Major Classes
Associate degree programs in colleges and technical schools include classes in general education, the sciences and medical lab technology. For example, the program at Delgado Community College in Louisiana requires 64 credit hours over a two-year period. Students must take general education sections in English, algebra, sociology or psychology and humanities. Required science subjects in anatomy and physiology, microbiology and chemistry provide a foundation for professional studies. Their coursework in the major includes medical technology, hematology, serology and immunology and urinalysis.
Clinical Classes and Practicum
Associate degree programs for medical lab technicians also include clinical courses, clinical laboratory sections and clinical experience. For clinical practice, students work under supervision in medical labs, usually in hospitals affiliated with the learning institution. For example, students at Delgado Community College take clinical chemistry and clinical microbiology, each with a lab, and complete an additional section in clinical immunohematology. For real-world experience, they put their training into use in two sessions of practicum in medical laboratories.
Available through hospitals, colleges and the armed forces, one-year certificate programs are a fast track for students with previous college. For example, the University of California at Irvine offers a certificate in medical lab technology for students who already hold a bachelor's degree. The program prerequisites include 37 semester units total in chemistry, biological science and physics, plus college math. Students complete six classes in one year for the certificate, including clinical chemistry, microbiology and transfusion services. For the required section in professional practice, students perform lab duties in the University Medical Center or other affiliated labs.
Licensing and Certification
In some states, medical lab technicians must have a license. The requirements depend on the state, but generally include education, examination or certification. A variety of general and specialty certifications are available from national organizations, including American Medical Technologists, the National Credentialing Agency for Laboratory Personnel and the American Society for Clinical Pathology. The requirements depend on the certifying agency, but typically include accredited training and an examination. Certification is not mandatory for all jobs, but some employers require it.
Outlook and Wages
The number of jobs for medical lab technicians will increase by 15 percent from 2010 to 2020, similar to the average rate for all jobs, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The average pay for medical lab technicians was $39,340 per year in 2012, reports the BLS. The highest-earning 10 percent received $57,710 per year or more.
2016 Salary Information for Medical and Clinical Laboratory Technologists and Technicians
Medical and clinical laboratory technologists and technicians earned a median annual salary of $50,240 in 2016, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. On the low end, medical and clinical laboratory technologists and technicians earned a 25th percentile salary of $41,520, meaning 75 percent earned more than this amount. The 75th percentile salary is $62,090, meaning 25 percent earn more. In 2016, 335,600 people were employed in the U.S. as medical and clinical laboratory technologists and technicians.