Advantages and Disadvantages of Being a Medical Lab Technician

by Karen Farnen

Medical lab technicians provide indispensable services in hospitals and laboratories. Working under the supervision of technologists or lab managers, they prepare specimens and conduct tests to help physicians diagnose diseases. The required training is relatively brief, and the work can bring a deep sense of satisfaction to those who enjoy science and helping others. However, a career as a medical lab technician has both advantages and disadvantages.

Training Requirements

It takes only two years of training or less to prepare as a medical lab technician. Students usually learn in associate degree programs in technical schools or community colleges, where they study science subjects and get hands-on lab experience. Certificate programs are also available in the armed services, vocational schools and some hospitals. A hospital certificate usually takes only one year for students with prior education in another health field. The United States Bureau of Labor Statistics notes that in some states, medical lab technicians must be licensed or certified. To gain certification, you must complete accredited training and pass an exam from a professional association, such as American Medical Technologists.

Range of Choices

Most medical lab technicians work in hospitals, but the field offers many opportunities for variety or specialization. Technicians in small labs typically do many different types of tasks, while those in larger labs specialize in particular areas, such as immunology. For example, some lab techs work as phlebotomists, collecting blood samples, while others work as histotechnicians, preparing tissues for study by pathologists. In addition to general certification, specialty certifications in phlebotomy and other disciplines are also available.

Favorable Opportunities

Because an aging U.S. population needs more medical tests, the number of jobs for lab technicians is expected to increase by 15 percent from 2010 to 2020, according to the BLS, compared to 14 percent on average for all jobs. American Medical Technologists predicts that additional positions will open up because technicians will retire or transfer to other work. For example, some will advance to supervisory jobs as they gain seniority or receive more education. A technician who completes a bachelor's degree in medical lab technology can qualify for promotion to medical lab technologist.

Difficult Conditions

Medical technicians work under the stress of maintaining constant attention to accuracy and detail because a false test result could harm a patient. Technicians sometimes handle diseased specimens and harmful chemicals, so they must take strict safety measures and wear protective goggles, gloves and masks. Standing for many hours and lifting heavy patients who can't move themselves are other difficult aspects of the job. Because hospitals and some labs are always open, night and weekend hours are common.

Mediocre Pay

Despite the importance of the job, a medical lab tech earns less on average than the typical two-year college graduate. The average annual wage of all medical and clinical lab technicians was $39,340 in 2012, according to the BLS. Those working in hospitals averaged $40,050 annually, but those in medical and diagnostic labs averaged just $37,670 per year. By way of comparison, the average annual wage for any associate degree was $40,820 in 2012, according to the BLS.

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