Lab Technician: Career and Salary Facts

Explore the career requirements for lab technicians. Get the facts about job duties, education requirements, employment outlook 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 Lab Technician?

Lab technicians, also known as medical and/or clinical lab technicians, perform tests and procedures on biological tissues, blood samples and body fluids. Based on their results, they write reports that doctors can use to help with the diagnosis of medical conditions and diseases, or academic researchers can use to learn more about particular diseases and biological phenomena. In large labs, technicians may work under the supervision of laboratory technologists.

Check out the following chart for an overview of what you need to know about entering this profession.

Required Education or Training Certificate, associate's degree or hospital training program
Education Field of Study Laboratory technology
Key Responsibilities Collect & analyze specimens using specialized equipment; keep records; maintain safe environment
Licensure/Certification License &/or certification required in some states; employers prefer certification
Job Growth (2014-2024 ) 18%*
Average Salary (2015) $41,420*

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

What Responsibilities Would I Have as a Lab Technician?

Lab technicians in clinical laboratories collect samples, perform tests, prepare specimens and operate lab equipment. They often assist lab technologists in advanced testing and analysis. You might work in a hospital, medical office, diagnostic laboratory or a bioscience facility. Most technicians perform general duties, but some specialize in certain areas such as histotechnology or phlebotomy, and you may help manufacture equipment, including eyeglasses or dental appliances.

You need to be able to maintain a safe working environment and apply specialized knowledge. Record-keeping and laboratory clean-up are other important daily duties. Additionally, you need to be able to precisely measure various substances and perform detailed work.

What Degrees, Credentials and Training Do I Need?

Most clinical laboratory technician positions require an associate's degree or a certificate, but you may be able to learn through experience. These programs can include student placement in a medical laboratory combined with training in clinical procedures and core coursework in areas such as chemistry and biology. Some states also require licensing or registration, and you can earn professional credentials through national organizations, including the National Credentialing Agency for Laboratory Personnel, American Medical Technologists and the Board of Registry of the American Society for Clinical Pathology.

For many ophthalmic or dental laboratory technician positions, you need a high-school diploma and will receive training on the job. Many community colleges and vocational schools also offer training programs for dental lab technicians. Some states require that dental laboratories employ at least one dental technician with a minimum certification and level of continuing education. Certification is through the National Board for Certification in Dental Laboratory Technology.

What's the Job Outlook?

For the decade from 2014-2024, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects much-faster-than-average job growth at 18% for medical and clinical laboratory technicians (www.bls.gov). Some of this increase is due to the aging U.S. population and, thus, the greater need for diagnostic tests. In addition, recent federal health legislation provides greater access to healthcare for more people.

What Could I Expect to Earn?

The BLS reports that the average annual salary for clinical laboratory technicians in May 2015 was $41,420, with about 157,610 lab technicians working in the U.S. General and surgical hospitals employed about 42% of these workers. With experience, you might advance to a supervisory position and earn a greater salary. You could also work as a clinical lab technologist after completing a bachelor's degree program; these workers earned an average salary of $61,860 in May 2015.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

If you want to pursue a career that involves running tests that can help doctors make medical diagnoses, you might also want to think about a job as a diagnostic medical sonographer. In this job, you would utilize ultrasound technology to create diagnostic images. You could also become a cardiovascular technician, where you would run tests that specifically measure heart conditions. For either of these jobs, you would need to complete a postsecondary certificate or associate's degree.

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