How to Become a Medical Technician
Few roles in healthcare are more important than that of the medical technician. Medical technicians operate the equipment that provides the latest life-saving medical treatments to patients in need. From microscopes to centrifuges to dialysis equipment, the machinery of healthcare could not be run without the expertise of these professionals. In addition to their responsibilities running medical machinery, med techs (as they're commonly called) also perform administrative duties that include organizing patient charts and making sure records are accurate and up to date.
Some medical technicians specialize as cardiovascular, dialysis, radiology, surgical or ultrasound technicians. As specialists, they interact with patients to either perform tests for review by doctors or to treat patients directly. Another specialization is that of the emergency medical technician (EMT) who travels by ambulance to respond to accidents and other medical emergencies. EMTs help stabilize patients for transport to the hospital for emergency care. With so many different specialization options, an aspiring medical technician can find a position well suited to his interests and abilities.
Due to the broad range of positions that medical technicians occupy, work environments vary widely. Those who administer direct patient care work in doctor’s offices, hospital operating rooms, rehabilitation facilities and other healthcare settings. Those who work in hospitals will have the opportunity to have a varied schedule that includes evenings, nights, weekends and on-call shifts. Medical technicians who work in clinical laboratories will be in hospitals, physician offices, private medical diagnostic labs, government agencies and blood banks.
Most medical technicians work under supervision. Those who work in labs do so under the supervision of medical technologists while those who work in direct patient care do so under the supervision of doctors, nurses and other healthcare providers.
Medical technicians need at least an associate’s degree from an accredited school, and some have bachelor’s degrees. The coursework may cover microbiology, hematology, phlebotomy, immunology, biology, chemistry and anatomy. High school students interested in becoming medical technicians should have high school coursework in the sciences, including biology, chemistry, math and computer science.
Further training and skills are usually learned on the job after completing education. Professional conferences and continuing education courses provided by professional organizations also offer additional education and training. Some hospitals provide further training on site.
Licensing and/or Certification
Some states require medical technicians to be certified. Many types of certifications exist, and these vary by field. Information about certification can be obtained from the National Accrediting Agency for Clinical Laboratory Sciences or the American Medical Technologists. Certification must be maintained and updated periodically, usually every three years.
Necessary Skills and Qualities
Medical technicians need to have an aptitude for and an interest in science. Those who work in direct patient care usually have a desire to help people and should exhibit emotional maturity in order to be effective. Those involved in direct patient care must also use good judgment to know when a patient is having problems that are beyond their capabilities and training.
Laboratory technicians need to have manual dexterity to handle complex laboratory equipment as well as good analytical skills. EMTs need to be able to make quick, decisive judgments in emergency situations. They should be able to function well in high-pressure environments and be in good physical shape so as to transport patients and perform procedures such as CPR. Teamwork skills are essential for all medical technicians as they interact with doctors and other healthcare providers.
Opportunities for Advancement
Medical technicians who pursue further training and certification can specialize in fields such as analysis of skin samples for cancer or vascular ultrasound. Specialization is one way to increase marketability in the work force as well as the rate of compensation. Certification and educational requirements vary based on the field of specialization.
Some medical technicians go on to become medical technologists by completing a four-year undergraduate program in medical technology or a related field. They may also decide to pursue higher degrees in the sciences such as a master’s or doctoral degree. Others might even go on to medical school. Having work experience in medical laboratories or patient care is a good steppingstone toward advanced careers in the healthcare field.
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According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics, medical technicians made a median annual salary of $36,280 in 2010. Salaries vary widely, though, based on the nature of the work. For example, medical technicians who work in labs tend to earn higher salaries. Obtaining certification or specializations can lead to higher salaries, which also grow with increasing experience. Salaries also vary by geographic location, with medical technicians in California earning the highest compensation.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics, job growth from 2010-2020 for medical technicians working in labs is expected to be 15%, about the same as the overall job growth rate. Otherwise, medical technician job growth rates vary depending on the field and location. Medical technicians involved in direct patient care can expect job stability, as demand for healthcare generally remains steady even when other sectors of the economy experience a downturn.