What's the Job Description of a Medical Lab Assistant?

Medical lab assistants analyze biological samples to determine the presence of diseases, disorders, and drugs. With the lab results, physicians can correctly diagnose and treat their patients. Schools offering Clinical Laboratory Science degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

Career Overview

Medical lab assistants, also called medical laboratory technicians, perform laboratory analyses in order to diagnose, prevent, or cure diseases. You'll work under the supervision of a medical laboratory technologist to run tests on blood, tissue, and other body fluid samples. You'll prepare the samples for computer testing and may perform any manual tests yourself. You'll make sure that specimens are correctly collected and labeled. You'll also ensure proper sterile techniques to prevent extraneous bacteria from damaging the tests.

Depending upon the size of the hospital or laboratory where you work, you may perform a wide range of tests or specialize in only one area. Areas of specialty include chemistry, hematology, immunology, immunohematology, and microbiology. In the area of chemistry, your tests may analyze the presence of drugs or biological chemicals in the blood. Your findings may confirm a doctor's diagnosis, or they may disclose an unsuspected condition such as pregnancy or high cholesterol. As a hematologist, you'll run analyses on blood samples. You may perform tests to determine diseases such as anemia or leukemia. You might even look for the presence of abnormal cells, as in sickle-cell anemia or cancer. If you work in immunohematology, you may run tests to discover abnormal antibodies or to match blood types.

Important Facts About This Occupation

Key Skills Technological savvy, detail oriented, and dexterity
Similar Occupations Biological Technician, Chemical Technician, Veterinary Assistant
Work Environment Typically full-time, with lots of moving patients, walking, and standing
On-the-Job Training Typically involves training with infectious specimens and proper sterilization/safety techniques

Employers

Places you might work include hospitals, medical laboratories, and clinics. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), general medical and surgical hospitals employ the most medical lab technicians and technologists. According to BLS statistics, hospitals provided jobs to about 50% of all medical and clinical lab technicians and technologists working in May 2014. Medical and diagnostic laboratories employ the next highest number, and physicians' offices rank third (www.bls.gov).

Educational Requirements

According to ExploreHealthCareers.org, to work as a medical lab assistant, you must typically earn an associate's degree in medical laboratory technology. In this program, you'll learn medical terminology and laboratory techniques. Topics you will cover include hematology, immunohematology, bacteriology, and phlebotomy. The BLS states that some entry-level positions require a baccalaureate degree.

Some states require you to be licensed before you may work in a laboratory. Usually this entails completing an associate's degree in clinical laboratory science and passing a state licensure examination.

Salary Info and Job Outlook

According to the BLS, the employment of medical and clinical laboratory technologists and technicians is expected to grow by 22% between 2012 and 2022. The BLS also reported the median annual salary earned by technicians as $38,370 in May 2014; technologists in the same field earned median salaries of $59,430 in May 2014, per the BLS.

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