Clinical laboratory technologists are also referred to as clinical laboratory scientists or medical technologists, while clinical laboratory technicians are also known as medical technicians or medical laboratory technicians.
Job description for clinical laboratory technologists. These professionals perform a wide variety of tests and analysis of body fluids and cells. Clinical laboratory technologists conduct complex chemical, biological, immunologic, bacteriological, microscopic, and hematological tests. They also examine blood and other bodily fluids to determine the presence of microorganisms, bacteria, fungi, and parasites that can indicate disease or abnormalities. Other responsibilities include typing and cross-matching blood samples when transfusions are needed, and analyzing blood for chemicals and compounds like glucose and cholesterol.
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Many clinical laboratory technologists evaluate test results, and establish and monitor programs to ensure test accuracy. Clinical laboratory technologists often specialize according to the types of tests they perform, and they frequently supervise clinical laboratory technicians.
Clinical laboratory technicians perform tests that are less complex, such as preparing specimens and operating automated analyzers. They also may specialize in a certain area of testing.
Clinical Laboratory Technicians Job Summary
- According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), excellent job growth is expected for medical and clinical laboratory technologists and technicians.
- Clinical laboratory technologist positions usually require a bachelor’s degree with a major in medical technology.
- Clinical laboratory technicians typically need an associate’s degree or certificate to enter the field.
- Most clinical laboratory technologist and technician jobs are in hospitals; however, employment will increase rapidly in other settings as well.
Work Environment for Clinical Laboratory Technicians and Technologists
Clinical laboratory technologists and technicians work with infectious samples in laboratory settings. Strict adherence to infection control and a sterile environment are the norm, and proper procedures help keep hazards to a minimum. Protective gear is often required.
Some clinical laboratory workers may spend a great deal of time on their feet. Labs are usually well lighted and clean. At times, specimens, solutions, and reagents used in the lab produce fumes.
Hours vary, and clinical laboratory technologists and technicians can work day, evening, or night shifts. Rotating shifts are a possibility, and some technologists and technicians are on call in the evenings and on weekends.
Education, Training, and Licensing
Clinical laboratory technologist jobs generally require a bachelor's degree in medical technology, but it is possible to qualify for some positions with a combination of education and on-the-job training. The Clinical Laboratory Improvement Act requires at least an associate's degree of any technologist performing highly complex tests.
Universities often offer medical technology programs. Courses for bachelor’s degree programs might include chemistry, biology, statistics, microbiology, and math, along with specialized courses that teach the skills needed in a clinical laboratory. Many programs offer courses in management, business, and computer applications, as well.
Clinical laboratory technician jobs usually require an associate’s degree or certificate. Job seekers in the field can pursue an associate’s degree from community colleges, while certificates can be earned through hospitals, vocational and technical schools, or the Armed Forces. Some technicians undergo on-the-job training.
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The National Accrediting Agency for Clinical Laboratory Sciences (NAACLS) accredits about 479 programs in the field of medical and clinical laboratory technology.
Some states require clinical laboratory workers to be licensed or registered, which usually requires a bachelor’s degree and passing an exam that is administered through the state’s Department of Health or Board of Occupational Licensing.
Many employers require their clinical technologists and technicians to be certified by a recognized association, such as the Board of Registry of the American Society for Clinical Pathology, American Medical Technologists, National Credentialing Agency for Laboratory Personnel, or Board of Registry of the American Association of Bioanalysts. Each agency has its own requirements for certification.
Clinical laboratory technologists and technicians also need good analytical judgment, the ability to work under pressure, strong problem-solving skills, and attention to detail. Manual dexterity and the ability to distinguish colors are also very important to be successful in the clinical lab. Computer skills are becoming more valuable as automated laboratory equipment gains wider use.
To advance in this field, additional education and experience may be necessary. Supervisory lab management positions are possible, as are jobs in product development, marketing, and sales for lab equipment and supply companies. Professional certification and an advanced degree in medical technology, chemistry, management, or education can improve opportunities for career advancement.
Employment Figures, Projections, Outlook, and Earnings
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), clinical laboratory technologists and technicians held about 328,100 jobs in 2008. Most of these positions were in hospitals, with the remaining in physicians’ offices and medical/diagnostic laboratories.
The BLS expects employment in this field to grow faster than other occupations, due to technological advances in genomics – the genetic study of cells – and increasingly powerful testing methods, which will encourage additional laboratory testing. However, new technology can also have a negative effect on employment, as non-laboratory personnel are increasingly able to perform simple, routine tests.
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BLS reports from May 2009 indicate that the median annual wage for clinical laboratory technologists was $55,140. The middle 50% earned between $45,810 and $65,050 annually, while the lowest 10% earned approximately $37,540. The highest 10% earned roughly $75,960 annually.
For the same time period, the BLS found that the median annual wage for clinical laboratory technicians was $36,030. The middle 50% earned between $28,770 and $45,240 annually, while the lowest 10% about $23,850. The highest 10% had an annual income of $55,210.