lab technician

So You Want to be a Lab Technician: A Guide

You may have heard about the exciting growth in the healthcare industry, but you’re not quite sure if you want to directly be involved in patient care. You can’t picture yourself as a nurse or doctor, or even a medical assistant. Fortunately, the healthcare industry offers many in-demand opportunities that enable you to positively impact the health of patients behind the scenes.

One way to do so is to become a lab technician. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), this field has a bright future ahead with an estimated 11 percent increase in employment through 2028. That is twice the projected average for other occupations in the industry.

If you are interested in becoming a medical lab technician, do your research first. There are so many questions concerning the profession: do you need a college diploma or is a high school degree enough? How much does a lab technician make? What are the qualifications?

Introducing the Lab Technician: What They Do

Laboratory technicians are considered the backbone of medical and scientific research labs. They collect and process specimens, including bodily fluid and skin samples, from patients in a private medical diagnostic laboratory or hospital.

The majority of a lab technician’s work is laboratory-based and technicians can also work as part of a team or on their own. They can work in most areas of science, such as health, manufacturing and forensics.

Lab technicians often work under a lab technologist’s, doctor’s or lab manager’s supervision to conduct analyses of chemicals or specimens. Medical professionals use their analyses to plan treatments and diagnose diseases.

The typical lab technician’s host of jobs includes the following responsibilities:

  • Conducting and supporting scientific experiments and investigations
  • Setting up, planning and undertaking controlled trials and experiments
  • Analyzing and recording data
  • Calibrating, maintaining, cleaning and testing equipment sterility
  • Collecting, preparing and testing samples
  • Supervising the staff
  • Ordering and maintaining resources and stocks
  • Carrying out risk assessments

The roles mentioned above will vary depending on the area you choose to specialize in. For instance, medical lab technicians focused on phlebotomy (aka taking blood) are responsible for testing and collecting blood.

Other lab technician specialties include:

  • Clinical chemistry
  • Blood banking
  • Molecular biology
  • Immunology
  • Microbiology

Lab technicians are well-compensated. According to Indeed, the average base salary of a lab technician in the US is $19.04/hour. Annually, the average base pay is $44,844.

Lab Technicians Are Different from Lab Technologist

lab technician
Photo by National Cancer Institute on Unsplash

Medical laboratory technicians and laboratory technologists are related occupations but they are not the same. The difference lies in the educational requirements and duties. Technologists are required to earn a bachelor’s degree and must undergo extensive training to earn theoretical knowledge.

Technicians, as mentioned, collect, analyze and process specimens, as well as maintain instruments and perform lab procedures. Technologists possess these skills plus other tasks like interpreting and evaluating results.

Required Qualifications and Training for Lab Technicians

In terms of education, lab technicians require a minimum of a high school degree or equivalent to work but most businesses prefer applicants with an Associate’s Degree Laboratory Science. You can also obtain a Master’s or Bachelor’s Degree in Laboratory Sciences or in physics, biology, chemistry and biochemistry.

Apart from educational attainment, some lab technicians must obtain certifications to work. These include the following certifications:

  • Medical Laboratory Scientist
  • Medical Lab Technician

The type of training an aspiring lab technician will receive depends on their field. Medical institutions instruct trainees on specific procedures during their on-the-job training. Most training includes preparation of reports, learning about particular methods and proper waste disposal.

Lab technicians can also receive off-the-job training by participating in scientific conferences and seminars. There are different conferences lab techs can participate in, depending on their specializations and fields. There are also online trainings, which include modules and e-books.

Important Skills for Lab Technicians

Formal training hones your hard skills at the lab. But if you’re starting to apply for jobs, make sure you have the necessary soft skills. These include:

  • Critical thinking. Lab technicians must be able to compare the benefits of different solutions before applying one to a current concern.
  • Active listening. How well do you understand the instructions of your superiors and other medical personnel?
  • Written and verbal communication. Lab technicians regularly write reports that explain the results of their findings.
  • Juggling multiple priorities and tasks requires excellent time management skills and organization.

Is a Lab Technician a Good Career for Me?

How do you know if you’re cut out for the medical laboratory technician job? First, you should love, if not appreciate, science. Most laboratory technicians are fascinated in figuring out the type of organism a patient has and, more importantly, which antibiotic can help them heal. But you don’t have to be a science whiz to become a lab technician. Curiosity and a healthy desire will fuel you through your career.

Also, if you prefer working behind the scenes in the healthcare industry, a lab technician job is for you. You are not required to interact with the patients. Despite the lack of patient interaction, you still play an important role in the healthcare system by taking part in their treatment or diagnosis.

So if everything mentioned above appeals to you, it’s time to start your journey to being a lab technician.

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