Are you interested in fields of science that research and study the human body? Do you enjoy a challenge and want a career that encourages you to think critically? If so, then becoming a medical laboratory professional might be right for you.
Working in a medical lab, you will most often be involved in collecting and testing medical data to help diagnose and care for sick or hurt patients, monitor chronic conditions or find abnormalities. You can find a variety of different types of medical laboratories, including pathology, histotechnology, virology or cytology, to name a few. Medical laboratories can be found in many different settings, such as hospitals, physicians' offices or private laboratories. Technologists and technicians who are trained through specialized programs staff these labs.
One career path you might choose to take is to become a pathologist or pathologists' assistant (PA). A pathologist is a physician who analyzes different biological samples and interprets laboratory tests, ensuring their accuracy. As a PA, you would essentially be the pathologist's right hand. Pathologists' assistants often review tests and samples first, before the pathologist looks everything over and makes a final diagnosis.
Phlebotomy is another profession in the medical laboratory field. Phlebotomists are laboratory professionals that draw blood and other samples from patients to be used for tests or transfusions.
A more generalized career option is to become a medical laboratory technician or technologist. Specialization isn't required in this medical laboratory career, allowing you to work in different settings. Both medical laboratory technicians and medical laboratory technologists perform tests to help diagnose, treat and prevent illnesses and other medical conditions. As a medical laboratory technologist, you might also be tasked with supervisor responsibilities.
Rapid growth is expected in all medical lab fields and professions according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), and positions should continue to be readily available, especially in hospital settings (www.bls.gov). Employment of clinical laboratory workers was expected to increase 14% from 2008-2018.
As of September 2011, the median annual salary for pathologists was approximately $247,408, according to Salary.com. According to a salary survey conducted by the American Society for Clinical Pathology in 2010, staff pathologists' assistants earned an average salary of $74,922 and supervisory PAs earned $77,376 per year (www.ascp.org). The ASCP survey also reported that the average annual salary for phlebotomists was $28,080 for staff positions. Clinical laboratory technologists earned a median salary of $56,130 per year while clinical laboratory technicians earned $36,280 annually, as of May 2010, the BLS reported.
The exact requirements to work in this field are dependent on the specific position you seek. In order to become a pathologist; for example, you need to first obtain a bachelor's degree in a major related to pathology. You then go to medical school and complete a residency program before becoming licensed by sitting for and passing the medical board exam. Pathology assistants, on the other hand, have a minimum education requirement of a bachelor's degree in pathology, while medical laboratory technologists need a bachelor's degree in a subject like medical lab technology.
If you are considering becoming a phlebotomist, most potential employers look for candidates that have completed a phlebotomy training program. These programs are often offered through community colleges and vocational schools. If you are interested in becoming a medical laboratory technician, you need a minimum of an associate's degree in medical laboratory technology or a related field. In these programs, you can study chemistry, mathematics, laboratory procedure, hygiene and safety, epidemiology, human anatomy and more.
In addition to completing these programs, most lab professionals must also be certified by a professional licensing board and continue their education to keep up with the latest advances in technologies and techniques.