How to Become a Certified Lab Technician in 5 Steps

Explore the career requirements for certified lab technicians. Get the facts about education and licensure requirements, salary and potential job growth 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?

Certified lab technicians are specialists who have obtained a credential demonstrating their knowledge and competence to provide lab services, primarily in support of the work of medical professionals. Certified lab technicians perform a varied array of lab-related functions that involve testing bodily samples for diseases. Some states require lab technicians to be certified, while in other areas it may be the preference of the lab rather than a requirement by the state. General certifications are available, as well as specialized certifications that focus on a particular field, such as cytotechnology or medical biology.

See the table below for more information about this career option:

Degree RequiredAssociate's (2-year) degree (most common),
Bachelor's degree
Education Field of StudyClinical Lab Technician,
Medical Lab Technician
Key ResponsibilitiesCollect fluid and tissue samples from patients,
Analyze bodily fluids and cell tissues,
Identify disease-carrying organisms and diseased or damaged cells,
Record test results and maintain records,
Maintain lab equipment
Licensure/CertificationLicensure required by some states,
Certification is not required but may enhance employment prospects
Job Growth (2014-2024)18% (for all medical and clinical laboratory technicians)*
Mean Salary (2015)$41,420 (for all medical and clinical laboratory technicians)*

Source:*U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

What Does a Certified Lab Technician Do?

Your specific duties as a technician include collecting fluid and tissue samples; analyzing the composition and content of blood, urine and other fluids; staining and examining cell tissue; identifying disease-carrying organisms and diseased or damaged cells; and recording test results. You also maintain records of lab tests and set up, calibrate and maintain lab equipment.

Step 1: Earn a High School Diploma

High school courses in algebra, chemistry, physics and computers can help you to acquire basic technical competencies that prepare you for college courses or for work in a lab. Courses in English and speech are also helpful for developing your communication skills in preparation for the career.

Step 2: Earn an Associate's Degree

A 2-year clinical lab technician or medical lab technician associate's degree is the minimum level of education you need to become a lab technician. Associate's degree programs in laboratory technology use a combination of classroom study and practical instruction in a simulated lab to prepare you for work in a professional lab. Many programs also feature a clinical internship. Course topics address bacteriology, hematology, microbiology, lab procedures and lab safety.

Step 3: Obtain Certification

It isn't required, but you can improve your prospects for employment and advancement if you have certification. Two industry organizations that offer a Medical Lab Technician credential are the American Society for Clinical Pathology (ASCP) and the American Association of Bioanalysts (ABB).

To be eligible for the ABB certification exam you need at least one year of full time lab experience and either an associate's degree or completion of a 50-week military medical lab technician course (www.abb.org). ASCP certification requires an associate's degree and either three years of experience or completion of a 50-week military lab tech training program (www.ascp.org). Both exams test your knowledge of chemistry, hematology, immunology and microbiology.

Step 4: Obtain a Job

Hospitals, medical labs and physicians' offices are the leading prospects for employment, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (www.bls.gov). Ambulatory health care services and postsecondary schools also provide a small number of opportunities.

From 2014 to 2024, employment was projected to grow 18% to about 192,400 for medical and clinical lab techs, a rate that is faster than average and that suggests job prospects will be good. The mean annual salary was $41,420 as of May 2015.

In some states, you need a license to work as a lab technician. Licensure usually entails passing an exam and holding a bachelor's degree.

Step 5: Advance Your Career

With a bachelor's degree and further experience, you can become a lab technologist and then potentially a lab manager or supervisor. A post-baccalaureate certificate or graduate degree in a relevant subject, such as management, the biological sciences or medical technology, can improve your chances for promotion. You could also transition into a marketing or product development position with a lab equipment manufacturer. A doctorate would enable you to become a lab director.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

A few careers you may also consider are chemical technician, biological technician and veterinary technician. In order to work as a chemical or veterinary technician, you'll need to obtain an associate's degree, while a bachelor's degree is needed to become a biological technician. Chemical technicians work primarily with chemists developing and studying chemicals and their reactions. Biological technicians assist biologists in biology-specific lab procedures. Veterinary technicians work in animal clinics or hospitals under the supervision of a veterinarian and are responsible for testing and handling samples that come from 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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