Certified Lab Technician: Salary and Career Facts

Explore the career requirements for certified lab technicians. Get the facts about job duties, education requirements, certification and salary to determine if this is the right career for you. Schools offering Clinical Laboratory Science degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What Is a Certified Lab Technician?

Clinical lab technicians run analytical tests on blood samples, tissue specimens and body fluids, and they write reports on their findings that doctors can use in order to help detect and prevent diseases and abnormalities in patients. The reports can also benefit academic researchers who are studying certain diseases. In some states, these technicians must be certified and/or licensed, depending on their specialization area. Even in states where certification is not required, it may boost job prospects.

The following chart gives you an overview of what you need to know about entering this field.

Degree Required Associate's degree, certificate
Education Field of Study Clinical laboratory technology
Key Skills Understanding of & ability to use medical technology; physical stamina for standing & moving patients; manual dexterity for using precision instruments
Licensing/Certification Licensing or registration required by some states; certification required by some states & employers
Job Growth (2014-2024) 18%*
Average Salary (2015) $41,420*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

What Would I Do As a Certified Lab Technician?

Clinical laboratory technicians work to prepare and analyze biological samples that aid doctors and their teams in making informed medical decisions. As a lab technician, you'd use a microscope to check for bacteria and microorganisms, test for certain molecules in fluid samples and ensure a match for blood transfusions. Increasingly, you'd use complex computerized methods to analyze the samples. You'd work in a clean, well-lit laboratory, following specific procedures to avoid contamination and preserve a sterilized environment.

What Education Do I Need?

Most lab technicians have an associate's degree or a certificate from a nationally recognized training program. The National Accrediting Agency for Clinical Laboratory Sciences (NAACLS) lists over 400 accredited programs in the U.S. for medical and clinical laboratory technicians (www.naacls.org). Clinical laboratory degree programs are typically two years in length and combine classroom learning with clinical training.

Classroom coursework covers medical topics such as anatomy and physiology, urinalysis, immunology, clinical chemistry and microbiology. Your clinical training would most likely occur at a local hospital or clinic where you'd work under the supervision of medical professionals. After completing the program, you could be eligible to take the national certification examination.

How Do I Become Certified?

There are several routes to becoming a Medical Laboratory Technician (MLT) through the American Society of Clinical Pathology (ASCP) Board of Certification (www.ascp.org). The first requires at least 60 college credits in addition to graduation from an NAACLS accredited MLT program. The other routes to certification include additional college coursework and up to a year of job experience.

The American Association of Bioanalysts also offers MLT certification (aab.org). Eligibility requirements through this organization include either graduation from a clinical laboratory training program, an associate's degree, military training or work experience. Some states require medical laboratory workers to be licensed, so check with your state for specific requirements.

What Salary Can I Expect to Earn?

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that in May 2015, clinical laboratory technicians, including those with certification, earned an average salary of $41,420 per year, with about 42% of workers employed by hospitals. During the same month, the top-paying states for clinical lab technicians were Rhode Island ($59,140), Vermont ($55,050) and Connecticut ($49,810). The BLS also notes that job growth for this profession is expected to be 18% during the 2014-2024 decade, which is much faster than the average for all U.S. occupations.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

If you are looking for a job related to medical diagnosis, you might also want to consider a career as a diagnostic medical sonographer. In this career, you would use ultrasound technology to generate images used by doctors for the identification and evaluation of a wide range of diseases and disorders. Another option is a job as a radiologic or MRI technologist, where you would use radiation-based equipment to create diagnostic images. For any of these jobs, you would need to complete a postsecondary certificate or associate's degree program, and certification may be required, depending on the state in which you work.

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