How to Become a Medical Laboratory Technician

What Does a Medical Laboratory Technician Do?

medical lab technicians at work in a lab

The work of a medical laboratory technician is exciting, varied and vital to the quality of a patient’s healthcare. Medical lab technicians (also referred to as MLTs, medical laboratory scientists/technologists or clinical laboratory science professionals) work behind the scenes as highly skilled scientists, performing tests that detect the absence or presence of disease. Results of the tests performed by these scientists are passed on to physicians so that they can treat patients and manage disease according to the findings.

Laboratory tests ordered for the patients are based on recommendations from doctors and other healthcare providers. Lab technicians usually have no direct interaction with the patients, but rather perform tests on human bodily fluids, tissue samples and cells collected by nurses or other healthcare professionals to determine diagnoses and identify abnormalities. Technicians work with microscopes, computers and other automated laboratory equipment, keeping detailed records of the data they compile.

The duties of a medical laboratory technician can be general in nature or specialized in areas such as immunology, microbiology and clinical chemistry. Both specialized and general roles are important for the medical field as the results of their testing help physicians to accurately diagnose and treat cancer, heart disease, diabetes and other serious health conditions. These tests can also be used for the prevention and management of disease.

Workplace Details

About half of medical laboratory technicians work in hospitals, while the rest work in specialized medical or diagnostic laboratories; in physician and dentist offices; and in state or federal agencies. Some of the work can involve contact with infectious materials or hazardous agents, but technicians are always properly trained and protected, wearing goggles, gloves or masks for much of their workday. Safety training occurs regularly to prevent accidents.

The work hours provide a great degree of flexibility because most facilities require medical laboratory technicians on staff 24 hours a day. Hours may be normal business hours, evenings, nights, weekends, and some holidays, as needed by the hospitals and other 24-hour facilities.

Salary and Job Outlook

State
Average Wage
California
$47610
Texas
$40060
New York
$48470
Pennsylvania
$41950
Tennessee
$37210

Hover over any state to explore local income and job growth data.

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ALABAMA
Median Salary: 
$34,500
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $22,000
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $51,400

2014-2024 Job Growth: 19%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 100

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Birmingham$25,040$37,740$55,280
Huntsville$24,740$34,680$48,230

ALASKA
Median Salary: 
$45,100
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $33,900
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $71,300

2014-2024 Job Growth: 16%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 10

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Anchorage$34,030$44,660$80,590
Fairbanks$35,750$51,290$60,510

ARIZONA
Median Salary: 
$37,300
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $26,700
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $62,300

2014-2024 Job Growth: 22%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 170

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Phoenix$26,440$37,290$60,560
Tuscon$27,940$37,490$71,340

ARKANSAS
Median Salary: 
$35,500
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $21,100
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $53,700

2014-2024 Job Growth: 20%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 70

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Little Rock$19,030$34,350$51,420
Fort Smith$24,340$35,350$45,120

CALIFORNIA
Median Salary: 
$45,800
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $29,000
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $68,200

2014-2024 Job Growth: 23%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 830

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Los Angeles$27,810$41,480$66,100
San Francisco Bay$38,330$55,940$74,460
San Diego$27,480$46,850$64,830
Sacramento$30,280$50,850$64,530

COLORADO
Median Salary: 
$38,300
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $26,200
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $59,100

2014-2024 Job Growth: 42%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 120

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Denver$26,350$38,490$59,190
Colorado Springs$22,860$35,530$59,940

CONNECTICUT
Median Salary: 
$46,900
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $31,500
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $74,300

2014-2024 Job Growth: 8%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 60

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Hartford$35,210$53,710$74,620
Bridgeport$22,950$45,000$87,750
New Haven$29,460$38,450$59,370

DELAWARE
Median Salary: 
$42,700
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $30,000
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $60,200

2014-2024 Job Growth: 14%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 10

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Wilmington$31,550$44,310$61,900

DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA
Median Salary: 
$40,500
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $32,500
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $69,600

2014-2024 Job Growth: 12%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 20

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Washington DC$29,030$43,360$67,230

FLORIDA
Median Salary: 
$35,500
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $24,700
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $54,400

2014-2024 Job Growth: 29%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 320

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Miami$25,220$34,890$50,250
Orlando$25,700$34,530$53,690
Tampa$24,230$35,940$56,360
Jacksonville$20,440$34,160$54,230

GEORGIA
Median Salary: 
$34,800
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $23,700
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $57,700

2014-2024 Job Growth: 23%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 250

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Atlanta$26,000$36,090$60,710
Augusta$21,390$35,710$56,440

HAWAII
Median Salary: 
$45,800
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $36,800
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $59,300

2014-2024 Job Growth: 10%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 20

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Honolulu$36,650$45,870$59,780

IDAHO
Median Salary: 
$30,600
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $23,300
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $48,000

2014-2024 Job Growth: 17%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 230

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Boise$22,080$29,860$48,200

ILLINOIS
Median Salary: 
$44,300
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $27,000
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $69,200

2014-2024 Job Growth: 8%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 220

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Chicago$28,030$45,230$72,070
Rockford$32,170$47,350$68,560

INDIANA
Median Salary: 
$34,900
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $25,100
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $54,100

2014-2024 Job Growth: 20%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 180

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Indianapolis$25,690$34,620$49,990
South Bend$17,690$32,400$46,500
Fort Wayne$25,840$33,270$54,300

IOWA
Median Salary: 
$41,600
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $28,100
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $58,600

2014-2024 Job Growth: 15%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 60

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Des Moines$27,550$39,330$55,570
Cedar Rapids$28,720$43,060$69,700

KANSAS
Median Salary: 
$36,300
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $25,600
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $52,200

2014-2024 Job Growth: 17%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 70

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Wichita$27,390$38,220$50,930
Kansas City$26,050$36,150$64,160

KENTUCKY
Median Salary: 
$39,400
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $27,100
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $56,300

2014-2024 Job Growth: 30%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 120

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Louisville$26,570$39,430$59,230
Lexington$25,600$36,160$51,430

LOUISIANA
Median Salary: 
$31,900
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $21,400
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $49,500

2014-2024 Job Growth: 13%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 90

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
New Orleans$21,400$31,080$41,450
Baton Rouge$23,460$38,330$58,060
Lafayette$21,270$28,820$42,500

MAINE
Median Salary: 
$37,700
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $26,000
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $58,300

2014-2024 Job Growth: 8%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 20

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Portland$23,470$34,630$48,400

MARYLAND
Median Salary: 
$38,500
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $27,000
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $61,000

2014-2024 Job Growth: 26%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 400

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Baltimore$26,450$35,490$51,250
Frederick$34,540$51,380$73,450

MASSACHUSETTS
Median Salary: 
$40,300
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $29,500
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $60,900

2014-2024 Job Growth: 8%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 190

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Boston$30,690$39,000$59,940
Worcester$30,740$43,380$61,400
Springfield$29,720$43,190$58,970

MICHIGAN
Median Salary: 
$32,300
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $22,900
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $54,800

2014-2024 Job Growth: 10%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 230

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Detroit$24,740$32,860$55,260
Grand Rapids$25,570$29,910$41,710

MINNESOTA
Median Salary: 
$44,400
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $33,100
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $59,600

2014-2024 Job Growth: 15%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 120

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Minneapolis - St. Paul$32,510$44,250$59,200

MISSISSIPPI
Median Salary: 
$34,800
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $21,900
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $50,100

2014-2024 Job Growth: 13%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 70

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Jackson$21,370$35,330$52,690
Gulfport$23,300$35,970$49,710

MISSOURI
Median Salary: 
$32,900
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $22,300
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $62,900

2014-2024 Job Growth: 13%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 150

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
St. Louis$24,050$34,050$60,880
Kansas City$26,050$36,150$64,160

MONTANA
Median Salary: 
$39,400
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $25,600
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $66,000

Job Growth Data Not Available

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Billings$27,550$36,600$60,250
Missoula$27,690$49,590$76,070

NEBRASKA
Median Salary: 
$38,100
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $25,500
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $53,700

2014-2024 Job Growth: 15%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 60

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Omaha$26,740$41,090$55,960
Lincoln$22,070$33,230$47,620

NEVADA
Median Salary: 
$38,000
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $28,400
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $60,900

2014-2024 Job Growth: 26%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 40

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Las Vegas$27,650$37,130$59,860

NEW HAMPSHIRE
Median Salary: 
$39,300
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $28,100
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $57,800

2014-2024 Job Growth: 9%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 20

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Manchester$30,060$43,560$58,900

NEW JERSEY
Median Salary: 
$48,200
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $32,400
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $64,200

2014-2024 Job Growth: 15%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 110

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Newark$35,880$49,840$64,620
Trenton$33,810$47,860$62,720

NEW MEXICO
Median Salary: 
$38,500
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $27,000
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $59,500

2014-2024 Job Growth: 17%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 30

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Albuquerque$27,040$37,270$54,300
Las Cruces$24,150$40,420$69,990

NEW YORK
Median Salary: 
$46,000
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $28,900
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $67,400

2014-2024 Job Growth: 16%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 360

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
New York City$31,830$47,450$69,780
Buffalo$33,320$46,450$60,670
Rochester$23,930$34,600$49,340
Albany$26,010$38,590$52,370

NORTH CAROLINA
Median Salary: 
$38,900
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $29,300
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $53,200

2014-2024 Job Growth: 29%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 410

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Charlotte$26,320$39,590$63,050
Raleigh$28,900$40,350$56,810
Greensboro$27,480$38,660$49,630
Winston - Salem$29,360$42,600$56,200

NORTH DAKOTA
Median Salary: 
$40,300
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $31,900
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $53,600

2014-2024 Job Growth: 22%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 10

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Fargo$31,290$37,260$51,400

OHIO
Median Salary: 
$41,800
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $28,800
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $59,200

2014-2024 Job Growth: 14%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 230

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Cleveland$31,290$44,170$60,710
Columbus$26,400$40,190$57,560
Cincinnati$28,480$38,670$59,630
Dayton$26,520$39,060$55,280

OKLAHOMA
Median Salary: 
$30,900
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $20,100
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $49,900

2014-2024 Job Growth: 14%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 80

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Oklahoma City$20,030$30,810$49,220
Tulsa$23,830$30,750$48,300

OREGON
Median Salary: 
$40,400
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $27,600
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $60,100

2014-2024 Job Growth: 18%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 60

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Portland$26,880$41,700$61,420
Salem$24,270$43,260$57,370

PENNSYLVANIA
Median Salary: 
$38,500
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $26,400
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $61,800

2014-2024 Job Growth: 12%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 350

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Philadelphia$28,790$43,050$71,690
Pittsburgh$25,010$35,340$52,480
Harrisburg$27,160$39,220$60,150
Allentown$29,980$41,370$65,370

RHODE ISLAND
Median Salary: 
$58,300
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $42,800
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $77,300

2014-2024 Job Growth: 15%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 30

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Providence$34,980$54,420$76,990

SOUTH CAROLINA
Median Salary: 
$35,900
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $21,800
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $56,400

2014-2024 Job Growth: 15%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 70

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Greenville$18,980$31,400$46,310
Columbia$20,090$36,680$60,720
Charleston$25,290$39,420$55,960

SOUTH DAKOTA
Median Salary: 
$35,300
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $25,000
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $47,200

2014-2024 Job Growth: 10%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 10

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Sioux Falls$22,830$34,310$47,060
Rapid City$25,650$39,780$48,150

TENNESSEE
Median Salary: 
$35,800
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $23,200
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $51,200

2014-2024 Job Growth: 34%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 390

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Nashville$25,880$36,140$51,130
Memphis$25,700$39,150$55,720
Knoxville$20,080$29,990$48,400
Chattanooga$19,090$32,930$52,400

TEXAS
Median Salary: 
$37,000
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $25,100
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $57,700

2014-2024 Job Growth: 31%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 630

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Dallas - Ft. Worth$25,960$36,860$58,700
Houston$26,300$38,410$58,030
San Antonio$24,750$35,570$54,980
Austin$26,580$40,530$61,040

UTAH
Median Salary: 
$31,000
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $22,600
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $48,800

2014-2024 Job Growth: 38%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 130

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Salt Lake City$22,840$30,720$47,270
Ogden$20,190$32,510$65,340

VERMONT
Median Salary: 
$55,400
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $39,200
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $73,400

2014-2024 Job Growth: 8%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 10

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Burlington$36,520$55,520$73,950

VIRGINIA
Median Salary: 
$37,000
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $25,300
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $57,600

2014-2024 Job Growth: 24%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 180

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Virginia Beach$24,430$37,110$52,430
Richmond$23,850$35,670$54,900

WASHINGTON
Median Salary: 
$44,100
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $30,500
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $63,300

2014-2024 Job Growth: 21%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 150

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Seattle$31,480$42,920$61,740
Spokane$26,730$47,890$63,190

WEST VIRGINIA
Median Salary: 
$36,600
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $22,900
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $57,600

2014-2024 Job Growth: 13%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 30

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Huntington$24,610$37,120$58,100
Charleston$24,040$34,200$64,700

WISCONSIN
Median Salary: 
$44,000
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $31,500
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $66,800

2014-2024 Job Growth: 7%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 80

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Milwaukee$31,340$44,290$84,350
Madison$33,520$45,890$66,370

WYOMING
Median Salary: 
$40,700
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $28,400
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $60,700

2014-2024 Job Growth: 21%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 10

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Cheyenne$26,690$34,980$52,900
Casper$25,900$40,670$48,010

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual wage for medical laboratory technicians is $38,970, while for a medical laboratory technologist it is $60,520. Outpatient facilities paid the highest, followed by hospitals, physician offices, and medical and diagnostic laboratories.

The job outlook for MLTs is positive. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, medical laboratory technician employment is projected to grow by 18% between 2014 and 2024, which is much faster than the average job growth. The picture is similarly promising for medical lab technologists, who will see jobs grow by 14% during that same period. This predicted increase is due to the anticipated healthcare needs of the aging U.S. population, which will require laboratory testing for conditions such as diabetes and cancer. In addition, it is expected that workers with experience in a number of specialties will have the greatest chance for employment.

Compare Salaries by City

Los Angeles CA Median Pay

$41480 Per Year

$19.94 Per Hour

New York City NY Median Pay

$47450 Per Year

$22.81 Per Hour

Steps to Become a Medical Laboratory Technician

1

Earn an associate degree.

To hold the title of a medical laboratory technician or a clinical laboratory technician, a two-year associate degree is required. A job with the title medical laboratory scientist/technologist requires a bachelor’s degree. Candidates must obtain this education through a program accredited by the American Society for Clinical Laboratory Science (ASCLS). Programs are available all over the country and are specific to the degree desired. The courses in these programs tend to be science-oriented, focusing on general laboratory knowledge. Finding an accredited program is beneficial for better job opportunities, and the National Accrediting Agency for Clinical Laboratory Sciences has a list of accredited educational programs.

Show Me Schools »

Note that if you already have an associate or bachelor’s degree, you may be able to enroll in a certificate program through a university rather than obtaining an additional degree.

2

Gain on-the-job training.

After you have attained training in the classroom, a medical laboratory technologist or senior technician will provide on-the-job training to you. In some cases, a healthcare or medical professional is the primary trainer. Duration of training depends on the employer’s policies and a technician’s previous experience.

3

Get nationally certified.

National certification isn’t universally required, though some states do require it for licensure. Even in states that do not require certification or licensure, getting certified will help you get a job; many employers require their lab employees to be certified, while others show a strong preference for hiring certified technicians. Several organizations certify MLTs. To determine which ones make sense for you, check your state licensing requirements and also the preferences of local employers.

MLT certifying organizations include:

Technicians keep their certification current by taking advantage of continuing education classes, available through professional associations or employers.

4

Become licensed in your state.

In most states, medical laboratory technicians must have a license or be registered to work. Licensure often involves passing an exam or undergoing a certification process. Sometimes an internship or trainee position is required before obtaining a license. Requirements vary by state, so it’s best to check your local state board or department of health for details.

5

Enroll in continuing education courses.

All jobs in this field require continuing education in order to stay up-to-date with the latest technologies. Most employees pay for all or part of the continuing education.

6

Consider opportunities for advancement.

Laboratory technicians often continue their education to become medical laboratory technologists. Technicians also have a good knowledge base to become scientists or researchers, or even transition into a senior or administrative role. As a medical laboratory technologist, there is more room to advance into management positions.

Explore Degree Paths

ASSOCIATE DEGREE

2 years

The vast majority of medical laboratory technicians enter the field after completing an associate-level training program. Program names vary, but the most common are “Medical Laboratory Technician” and “Clinical Laboratory Technician.” Most MLT/CLT programs lead to an Associate of Applied Science (AAS) or Associate of Science (AS) degree.

MLT training programs can be found at universities, community colleges, and career and vocational schools. When choosing a program, look for one accredited by the National Accrediting Agency for Clinical Laboratory Sciences (NAACLS). Credits earned through such programs can often be applied toward a bachelor’s degree in medical laboratory science if you wish to pursue one later. NAACLS accreditation is generally respected by employers and licensing bodies.

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In addition to math, science, and general education courses, MLT associate degree students take courses in:

Hematology

Covers the procedures, tests, and instrumentation used to sample and study human blood. Advanced courses may include information on blood chemistry and biology as well as blood disorders.

Urinalysis

Provides an overview of the urinary system and an introduction to the collection, examination, and interpretation of urine samples.

Microbiology

Introduces students to the structure, biology, and reproduction cycle of microorganisms such as bacteria and viruses. Lab tests for isolating and identifying disease-causing organisms are also explored.

Clinical chemistry

Students learn to evaluate lab results and relate them to body systems and disease processes.

Students at the associate level also complete extensive fieldwork, usually in the form of multiple internships, during their training.

BACHELOR'S DEGREE

4 years

Aspiring medical laboratory technologists must complete a four-year bachelor’s degree. The medical lab science degree offers students similar coursework to the MLT associate degree path, but with the addition of courses in the humanities and social sciences intended to bolster critical thinking, communication and leadership skills. Students also typically enjoy a broader foundation of study in the sciences by going this route, as compared to the briefer associate degree path. Later in their undergraduate study, the students acquire considerable hands-on lab experience.

In addition to the coursework of an associate degree, common subjects include:

Bioethics

Gain an appreciation for the complicated ethical concerns in health care and medical research. By the end, you will be fluent enough to advocate for solid ethical practices and solutions in real situations.

Laboratory management

Study management concepts and learn the techniques that would enable you to manage a laboratory skillfully and with the respect of your fellow scientists. Part of this course involves self-examination as well; you cannot be a great leader without first knowing your own strengths and limitations.

Immunohematology

This will be a meaningful introduction to immunology, spending particular time and focus on agglutination and other reactions that occur between antigens and antibodies.

POST-SECONDARY CERTIFICATE

1 year

It’s worth noting that some universities offer MLT certificate programs for students who already hold an associate or bachelor’s degree in a related field.

Certificate programs for MLTs without a degree are rare but can still be found at a few hospitals, within the armed forces, and at a handful of vocational and technical schools.

Before committing to an MLT certificate program, research the following questions:

  • Will this level of training allow me to become licensed in the state where I wish to practice?
  • Can the training credits be transferred into college credits, allowing me to advance my education without repeating coursework?
  • How do employers feel about this particular certificate program? By taking this route, will I limit my future job prospects?
  • Will I need to meet any additional requirements (for example, work experience) in order to be eligible for MLT certification?
  • Which organization regulates or accredits the training program? Does the accreditor have a positive reputation among employers and licensing bodies?

Certificate program curricula vary. Some look like accelerated associate degree programs while others focus on the hands-on aspects of running a lab. Certificate students generally learn the foundations of hematology, immunology, urinalysis, and microbiology and gain supervised clinical experience.

Keys to Success as a Medical Lab Tech

Necessary Skills and Qualities

Technical skills

Medical laboratory technicians should have the ability to understand and operate sophisticated biomedical instruments and collect and analyze data.

Attention to detail

A medical laboratory technician must have an eye for detail and follow directions very well. The accuracy of the test results is vitally important to the patient and doctors, and thus, medical laboratory technicians must strive to perform the tests very precisely to obtain the most accurate results.

Physical stamina

In order to conduct the tests, good manual dexterity is required. Often it is necessary to spend an extended amount of time sitting and analyzing a specimen. At other times, a test can require the lab technician to be on his or her feet for long periods during the workday, requiring stamina and patience.

Effective communication

Medical lab technicians must work well with colleagues, which means the ability to communicate is fundamentally important.

Ability to multitask

Medical lab techs often have several tasks occurring at once.

Mary Ziegler

Mary Ziegler received her B.A. in Molecular Cellular and Developmental Biology from the University of Colorado at Boulder. She attended the University of California Los Angeles for graduate school and received a Ph.D. in Cellular and Molecular Pathology. Mary has over eighteen years of laboratory experience and has published fifteen journal articles. She is currently finishing her postdoctoral work at the University of California Irvine, where she studies tumor angiogenesis.

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