How to Become a Certified Lab Technician in 5 Steps
Read about what lab technicians do and how you can become one. Find out the requirements for certification in this field. Explore degree options, the job outlook, typical earnings and advancement opportunities for certified lab technicians. Schools offering Medical Laboratory Professions degrees can also be found in these popular choices.
What Is a Certified Lab Technician?
A certified lab technician is a specialist who has obtained a credential demonstrating his or her knowledge and competence to provide lab services, primarily in support of the work of medical professionals. 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 2008-2018, employment was projected to grow 16% to about 180,700 for medical and clinical lab techs. As of May 2010, around 156,480 technicians were employed, excluding those who were self-employed. The median annual salary was $36,280, as of May 2010,.
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.
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