How Can I Become a Medical Laboratory Technologist?

Research what it takes to become a medical laboratory technologist. Learn about job duties, education requirements, certification and salary 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 Medical Laboratory Technologist?

A medical laboratory technologist is a science tech who specializes in the collection and analysis of blood samples, tissue sample and body fluids. Using high-tech lab equipment, they run tests and prepare reports that can be used by doctors for diagnostic purposes. As upper-level workers, they're able to administer detailed manual tests rather than automated routine tests. They may also train and oversee lower-level lab technicians. These professionals work in a variety of settings, including hospitals, diagnostic labs, and doctor's offices. Take a look at the following chart for an overview of how to enter this field.

Degree Required Bachelor's degree
Education Field of Study Medical technology, medical laboratory science
Key Responsibilities Use sophisticated equipment to test & analyze biological specimens; keep test records; follow sterile protocols; maintain lab & equipment
Licensure/Certification License &/or certification are required by some states; specifics vary by state
Job Growth (2014-2024) 14%*
Average Salary (2015) $61,860*

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

What Would I Do as a Medical Laboratory Technologist?

Medical laboratory technologists, also known as clinical laboratory technologists, work to prepare and analyze blood, tissue and other specimens from patients in order to provide doctors with diagnostic information. You would work in a laboratory with sophisticated equipment to determine any abnormalities in the samples you are given. You would clean and maintain lab equipment and the laboratory itself, keeping a sterile environment in order to avoid contamination. You would analyze test results and enter them into the computer. As a medical laboratory technologist, you might also be responsible for supervising the work of medical laboratory technicians.

What Education or Training Do I Need?

Most medical laboratory technologists have a bachelor's degree in medical technology or a related field, but you may be able to work in a laboratory with an associate's degree after completing specific on-the-job training. The National Accrediting Agency for Clinical Laboratory Sciences accredits associate's and bachelor's degree programs for medical laboratory personnel, including technologists. These programs use both classroom lectures and clinical experience to teach you the knowledge and skills you need in the lab. Most associate's degree programs focus on the medical laboratory technician career path, while bachelor's degree programs are for medical laboratory technologists.

Could I Have a Specialization?

The medical laboratory technologist title is a general one, but specializations are available. You could choose to focus on cytotechnology and examine cells under a microscope to look for signs of disease, or you could focus on hematology and work at a blood bank where you would collect and type blood samples. Additional areas of specialization include histotechnology, which involves the preparation, staining and examination of tissues, and molecular biology, which deals with the study of nucleic acids and proteins. Though you may learn the basics of these in a medical laboratory technology program, specific training programs are available for each of these specializations.

Do I Need to Be Certified?

Although certification is not strictly required, most employers prefer candidates with professional credentials, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (www.bls.gov). The American Society for Clinical Pathology (www.ascp.org) offers certifications for medical laboratory personnel, including Medical Laboratory Scientist (MLS), Cytotechnologist (CT), Histotechnologist (HTL) and Hematology (H). After you have met the educational and experiential requirements and passed the examination, you are awarded the professional designation.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

Another career you might want to consider is a job as a forensic science technician. In this job, rather than analyzing biological specimens for diagnostic purposes, you would be evaluating many different types of evidence (including body fluids) for criminal investigations. The job usually requires a bachelor's degree. Alternatively, if you are interested in clinical diagnosis, you might want to become a nuclear medicine technologist. These professionals prepare radiopharmaceuticals, administer them to patients and then run tests that can be used to detect abnormalities and identify diseases. To work as a nuclear medicine technologist, you need an associate's degree.

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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