How Can I Become a Clinical Lab Assistant (CLA)?

Research what it takes to become a clinical lab assistant. Learn about job duties, education requirements, certification and employment outlook 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 is a Clinical Lab Assistant?

Clinical lab assistants, also known as a medical laboratory technicians, collect biological specimens and run tests on them. They write up their results in reports, which can be used by doctors to identify abnormalities and diagnose diseases. Their findings can also be used by academic researchers who are studying a particular disease. In some labs, assistants specialize in a particular lab procedure, such as histology.

The table below provides some basic information for this career:

Degree Required Certificate, associate's degree, or bachelor's degree
Education Field of Study Clinical lab technology or similar field
Key Responsibilities Test tissue and blood samples, use specialized lab equipment, gather and analyze information for diagnosis
Licensure/Certification Licensure required in some states; voluntary certification is available
Job Growth (2014-24) 18%* (for medical and clinical laboratory technicians)
Average Salary (2015) $41,420* (for medical and clinical laboratory technicians)

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

What Would My Duties Be as a Clinical Lab Assistant?

As a clinical lab assistant, you work in a medical laboratory and test tissue and blood samples according to a medical practitioner's instructions. The information you gather and analyze is used in the diagnosis and possible treatment of illness and disease. You use microscopes and other specialized lab equipment to examine cells and bodily fluids for abnormalities. As an assistant, you work under the guidance of a lab technician or technologist.

What Education Do I Need?

Although many lab assistants receive training on the job, you might choose to enroll in a Clinical Assistant Certificate program to gain both classroom and clinical experience. Generally, these programs can be completed in about a year and qualify you for entry into clinical laboratory work. A bachelor's degree program in medical technology could also provide you with the knowledge to work as clinical lab assistant (CLA). The CLA position can also act as the first step to becoming a laboratory technician or technologist.

Do I Need to Be Certified?

Some states require clinical laboratory workers to be licensed, so check with your state for specific requirements. Certification is not required but many employers prefer to hire certified lab assistants. The American Medical Technologists (AMT) offers a Medical Lab Assistant designation that is awarded after you complete 200 hours of didactic laboratory education, 120 hours of clinical laboratory experience, 1,040 hours of lab work experience and an examination. (www.americanmedtechs.org). The National Heathcareer Association (www.nhanow.org) offers the Medical Laboratory Assistant Certification (CMLA), which is you can earn after completing a training program or gaining one year of experience in the field, and receiving a passing score on the examination.

What Is the Job Outlook?

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) notes that job growth and opportunities for clinical laboratory workers are excellent. While the BLS does not track lab assistants specifically, employment for the closely related job of laboratory technician is expected to increase 18% in the 2014-2024 decade (www.bls.gov). PayScale.com reported in January 2017 that lab assistants in the 10th-90th percentile range made an hourly wage of $11.22-$20.10.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

If you want to get a job supporting doctors who are trying to diagnose diseases and injuries, you could also consider becoming a radiologic technologist. In this job, you would use x-rays and other radiation-based equipment to create images that doctors can use for diagnostic purposes and to develop effective treatment strategies. Another diagnostic support career option is a job as a diagnostic medical sonographer, where you would run tests using ultrasound machinery. For either one of these jobs, you need to complete a postsecondary certificate or associate's degree program.

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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