What you'll do: You'll work under the supervision of a medical technologist or physician to perform tests that help physicians diagnose and treat diseases. Medical lab technicians prepare samples for analysis, use equipment to locate microorganisms, monitor tests and procedures, analyze the chemical content of fluids, match blood for transfusions, and test for drug levels in the blood.
Where you'll work: Hospitals, clinics, private laboratories, public health organizations, research and development departments of pharmaceutical companies.
Degree you'll need to practice: Associate's degree or postsecondary certificate
Median annual salary: $38,370*
Medical technologists act as supervisors for medical technicians, who perform many of the same duties in a physician's office or lab. On the job, you'll collect and analyze body fluids, tissue and other substances to determine normal or abnormal findings. You'll operate sophisticated equipment and instruments to identify the results.
Both technicians and technologists perform tests and procedures that physicians or other healthcare personnel order. However, technologists perform more complex tests and laboratory procedures than technicians do. In these roles, you'll work side by side in doctor's offices, clinics, diagnostic labs and research environments.
Medical laboratory technicians often wear eye shields, gloves and other gear to prevent the spread of infection and to protect themselves from solutions and reagents used in testing.
If you'd like to advance and gain more responsibility and autonomy in the field, you can move into a medical technologist position. There, you can specialize in a variety of areas such as:
- Blood bank technology (immunohematology)
- Clinical chemistry technology
- Molecular biology
Certification of medical laboratory technologists and technicians is required for licensure in some states and by some individual employers. Although certification isn't required to enter the occupation in all cases, earning it indicates your dedication to employers, and your commitment to high standards and continued improvement.
If required for advancement, credentialing agencies include:
- The American Society for Clinical Pathology (ASCP) and American Medical Technologists, offering national testing for the title of Certified Medical Laboratory Technician (MLT)
- The National Credentialing Agency for Laboratory Personnel, offering the Clinical Laboratory Technician (CLT) certification
Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics 2016-17 Occupational Outlook Handbook; Medical and Clinical Laboratory Technologists and Technicians.
*The salary information listed is based on a national average, unless noted. Actual salaries may vary greatly based on specialization within the field, location, years of experience and other factors. National long-term projections of employment growth may not reflect local and/or short-term economic or job conditions, and do not guarantee actual job growth.