How to Become a Clinical Lab Technician in 5 Steps

Research what it takes to become a clinical lab technician. Learn about job duties, education requirements, licensing and salary info to find out if this is the career for you. Schools offering Clinical Laboratory Science degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What Does a Clinical Lab Technician Do?

Clinical lab technicians perform routine testing of biological materials, including body fluids, cells, and tissues. They may test samples for cell counts, blood type and more. To do this, clinical lab technicians are trained to use a variety of lab equipment, such as microscopes and computerized instruments that allow them to multi-task. Clinical lab technicians are typically responsible for running routine tests that require the use of automated machines. They keep detailed records of their tests and results, and often need to discuss their findings with a patient's physician. Clinical lab technicians may work under the supervision of a laboratory technologist or manager. Take a look at the following chart for an overview of how to enter this field.

Degree Required Associate's degree
Education Field of Study Medical laboratory technology, clinical laboratory science
Key Responsibilities Process & analyze biological specimens; report test results; maintain/clean lab instruments
Licensure and Certification Some states require licensing or registration; certification may be required for licensure and is otherwise voluntary
Job Growth (2014-2024 ) 18% for all clinical and medical lab technicians*
Average Salary (2015) $41,420 for all clinical and medical lab technicians*

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

What Is a Clinical Lab Technician?

Clinical lab technicians work in doctors' offices, hospitals, research centers, and independent laboratories under the supervision of medical laboratory technologists or laboratory managers. If you pursue a job in this field, you could be responsible for collecting and processing biological specimens, analyzing test results, and reporting or recording test data for the use of physicians and researchers. You might also clean and maintain lab equipment, such as microscopes and centrifuges.

Step 1: Earn Your High School Diploma

A high school diploma or its equivalent is required for acceptance into a postsecondary program in clinical laboratory science or medical laboratory technology. High school courses in mathematics and the laboratory sciences can prepare you for college-level coursework. You can also consider shadowing a clinical lab technician to see what he or she does during a regular work day.

Step 2: Graduate from an Associate Degree Program

Associate degree programs in medical laboratory technology or clinical laboratory science provide a mix of classroom instruction and clinical experiences. Classes may include anatomy, physiology, chemistry, hematology, immunology, mathematics, and microbiology. Certificate programs in clinical laboratory science are also an option if you already have a degree in a related area. When looking for programs, consider those approved by your state of residence or the National Accrediting Agency for Clinical Laboratory Sciences (NAACLS), since a school's status might be a prerequisite for licensure or certification.

Step 3: Get Licensed or Certified

In some states, clinical lab technicians must apply for a license. In addition to meeting education requirements, applicants usually need to pass a written exam administered by a nationally recognized certification agency, such as the American Society of Bioanalysts or the American Society for Clinical Pathology (ASCP).

Even if you plan on working in a state that doesn't require licensure, you might still consider taking one of these organization's certification exams. Some employers prefer to hire clinical lab technicians who've completed a credentialing process.

Step 4: Fulfill Continuing Education Requirements

To maintain your license, you'll need to complete around 20 hours of credit or non-credit coursework on an annual or biannual basis. Continuing education credits are also required to maintain professional certification. Courses and training are offered by institutions like the ASCP, state health departments, colleges, and universities.

Step 5: Consider Advancing Your Career

An associate degree program in clinical laboratory science can prepare you to enter a bachelor's degree program in this field and pursue a career as a clinical lab technologist. Coursework covers microbiology, genetics, organic chemistry, parasitology, and advanced clinical practices. A clinical component is coupled with classroom instruction to prepare you for the advanced job duties and responsibilities associated with one of these technologist positions.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

For those interested in pursuing other career options, you may want to look into chemical technicians and veterinary technologists and technicians. All of these positions require an associate's degree. Chemical technicians also work in a laboratory setting, but under the supervision of a chemist or chemical engineer. They work to help develop and test chemical products. Veterinary technologists and technicians work with veterinarians. They also conduct medical tests in a lab, but for the purpose of helping diagnose and treat conditions of animals.

To continue researching, browse degree options below for course curriculum, prerequisites and financial aid information. Or, learn more about the subject by reading the related articles below:

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