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What is a Lab Tech?

A laboratory technician, otherwise known as a lab tech, is a medical professional who works in a laboratory, studying and testing samples from patients.  These samples may include blood, urine, cell, and tissue specimens. Lab techs have an important job because accurate test results are crucial for quality patient care and for diagnosing and treating many diseases. Laboratory technicians are also commonly referred to as clinical or medical laboratory technicians, in addition to lab techs. 

Most lab technicians work in hospitals, doctor’s offices, or diagnostic laboratories. Laboratories inside hospitals must run 24 hours a day, requiring lab technicians to work nights and weekends. They are trained to use sophisticated equipment in the lab to run tests on patient samples. Some of the specimens they test may be infectious, so they wear protective clothing and follow safety protocols.

There is a difference between a lab technician and a lab technologist, though the words are often used interchangeably. Both titles are often shortened and referred to as “lab tech.”

This guide refers to a laboratory technician, or lab tech, as a professional holding an associate’s degree or a certificate from a technical school. A laboratory technologist has earned a bachelor’s degree in the laboratory science field. 

What does a Lab Tech Do?

When a physician orders a test for their patient, a lab technician runs the test. Lab techs typically run tests that are routine or automated. Throughout the day, medical lab technicians typically do the following work:

  • Operate sophisticated equipment such as cell counters and microscopes.
  • Analyze bodily fluids and record findings.
  • Record test results and other lab data in the patient’s medical record.
  • Use computerized and automated equipment to run different tests simultaneously.
  • Discuss the results of laboratory tests with the patient’s physician.

In small laboratories, lab techs will run many different types of tests throughout the day. In bigger laboratories, they often specialize. For example, a histotechnician is a specialized lab technician who works with tissue specimens and prepares microscopic slides for evaluation by a pathologist. Other technicians may specialize in specific types of lab tests or equipment.  

What skills does a Lab Tech need?

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What skills does a Lab Tech need?

The primary skills a lab technician needs revolve around the ability to perform tests accurately each time. Becoming familiar with the different types of laboratory equipment used to perform tests and procedures is essential. Necessary skills for lab techs include:

  • Being detail-oriented: The instructions and protocols must be followed perfectly for test results to be accurate.
  • Being proficient with technology: Lab techs must fully understand the computerized laboratory equipment they are using.
  • Dexterity: Lab techs work closely with precision equipment. They must be able to handle them effectively.
  • Physical stamina: Lab techs typically work on their feet for long hours.

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Lab Techs

Work settings for Lab Techs

Most lab techs work in: 

  • Hospitals
  • Diagnostic laboratories
  • Outpatient care centers
  • Physician offices
  • Urgent care centers 

Wherever laboratory tests are being done, lab techs are needed. Most lab techs work full-time hours, but part-time positions can be an option. Some technicians work nights and weekends, depending on the laboratory's hours. Lab techs commonly work on their feet all day and suit up in protective equipment such as goggles, gloves, and masks.

Common Cases Lab Techs Encounter

Lab technicians test for a wide range of health issues. The common cases they encounter can include:

  • Testing blood, urine, stool, or other tissue samples for abnormalities.
  • Testing urine or blood for the presence of drugs.
  • Monitoring blood counts and electrolyte levels.
  • Testing blood, sputum, urine, or samples from a wound for bacteria or other infections.
  • Testing body fluids for cell counts, glucose, cholesterol, or other biometric markers.

How to Become A Lab Tech

A lab technician needs a high school diploma and a formal education in laboratory science. Laboratory technician associate degree programs are typically two years in length. Certificate programs in medical lab sciences are available through vocational and technical schools. A certificate takes the least time to achieve and will prepare you for an entry-level career as a lab technician.   

For more information, The American Society for Clinical Laboratory Science specifies the latest lab technician educational requirements. Currently, ten states require lab techs to be licensed.

To become a lab technician, the following steps are encouraged:

  1. Complete an NAACLS accredited program for laboratory technicians.
  2. Completing an accredited program is sufficient for entry-level lab technician jobs. 
  3. However, different employers may require specific certificates, degrees, certifications, licenses, or experience. If you know you are interested in a specific lab technician work environment, research what potential employers may require. 

For more education and accreditation information, visit the National Accrediting Agency for Clinical Laboratory Sciences website. ‍

How to Advance Your Career As A Lab Tech

Some lab techs advance their careers by specializing in an area of laboratory science, such as histology. Work experience, additional education, and certification can lead to specialization. Lab technicians can also advance to become lab technologists by continuing their education and gaining more experience.

Education Requirements & Helpful Certification

Lab technicians need an associate degree or certificate. A lab technician’s education will have chemistry, math, biology, and microbiology classes, as well as hands-on clinical training in a laboratory.

A national certification is a great way to show your dedication to your career. To become a certified Medical Lab Technician (MLT), you will need to apply for and pass an American Society of Clinical Pathology (ASCP) certification exam. Certification is a great way to stand out in a competitive job market and open up more employment and advancement opportunities.  

Average Salary For Lab Techs

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average lab technician salary is $57,800 per year or $27.80 per hour. Lab techs working in inpatient care centers earned the most, with the lowest wage earned by lab techs working in doctor’s offices. 

Specializing in a specific area or working as a traveling lab technician can also increase your earning potential. Compensation is important, and we take pride in being transparent in our pay practices at Trusted Health. We want our allied health travelers to be aware of and empowered by the value, skill, and expertise they bring to their patients and to the healthcare system. 

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What is a Lab Tech?

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