What is Medical Technology?
Phlebotomist. Medical Lab Technician. Histotechnician. These are just a few of the jobs that fall under the medical technician umbrella. Most medical technology careers allow you to work directly with patients although some jobs will require you to spend most of your time in the lab.
Medical technology is also known as clinical laboratory science. Many areas of healthcare, such as public health and the pharmaceutical industry, rely on technicians or technologists to help treat patients, test results or compound medications. If you’re thinking about a career in medical technology, consider the type of path you want to take. Medical technologists often have a specialization, conduct more complex lab tests, oversee technicians and earn a higher salary. A bachelor’s degree is usually required for this role. A medical technician reports to a technologist and may not be permitted to complete certain tasks. An associate’s degree or certificate is typically required to work as a technician. For those looking to enter the field quickly, becoming a technician can be a great place to start.
Although the job can be stressful at times, medical technicians get the reward of knowing they’re a part of health research, treatment and disease prevention.
What You Can Do with a Medical Technology Degree
Med techs, as they’re often called, are experts in their specialization and trained to operate sophisticated equipment, analyze blood and other body fluids and ensure a sterile working environment.
If you prefer to interact with patients on a regular basis, here are some of the potential career paths to consider:
- Phlebotomists interact with patients when drawing blood for tests, transfusions and donations. They explain the process and calm any fears a patient may have.
- Surgical technicians prepare operating rooms, set up equipment and prepare patients for surgery.
- MRI technologists explain the MRI scanning process to patients, position the patient in the machine and take images that will be analyzed.
Interested in working behind the scenes? Consider these roles in the lab:
- Cytotechnologists examine slides of body cells to identify abnormalities that could lead to cancer.
- Dental lab technicians construct, fit and repair dental devices such as dentures.
Clinical lab technologist or technicians collect samples of body fluids and tissues and perform testing. They are on the lookout for abnormalities in the samples.
Medical Technology History
Medical technology has a long and fascinating history. Early inventions, such as the magnifying glass and X-rays, helped advance healthcare to where we are today.
One of the earliest innovations in medical technology occurred in 1250 when a magnifying glass was created for scientific purposes. In 1895, x-rays were discovered and are still used in hospitals and doctors’ offices throughout the world.
The early 1900s saw the discovery of electrocardiograms and electroencephalograms. By mid-century, medical technology inventions included fetal ultrasounds and research would later lead to the creation of MRI machines.
In the last several decades, medical technology discoveries have become more advanced with inventions like the automated DNA sequencing technique and the Human Genome Project.
Medical Technology Programs
Medical technology programs are offered at several different levels. You can earn an associate’s degree, bachelor’s degree or certificate. Consider the type of career path you’re interested in when choosing a program.
Medical technicians must complete a 2-year associate’s degree that focuses on practical skills. If you already have a degree, you may be able to take a certificate program to meet licensing and job requirements.
If you’re interested in become a medical technologist, you’ll need to earn a 4-year bachelor’s degree in medical technology. It’s common for technologists to advance their career by completing a specialized certificate program.
Since medical technology is a hands-on career, you’ll find many programs that require you to attend classes and labs in person. However, there are some schools that offer online programs.
Medical technology online programs are designed for students who have an existing background in the field. Some schools only accept students into their distance learning medical technology program if they are currently employed in a hospital or lab. Other online bachelor’s programs are intended for students who already have an associate’s degree in medical technology and looking to move up in their career.
Medical Technology Courses
If you plan to earn an associate’s degree or certificate in medical technology, you can expect to take courses such as statistics, math, biology, microbiology and chemistry. Depending on your program, you’ll also be required to take the following courses:
- Introduction to Clinical Laboratory Sciences
- Basics of Anatomy and Physiology
- Urinalysis and Body Fluids
- Medical Microbiology
- Hematology and Coagulation
- Clinical Chemistry
If you earn a specialized certificate, your coursework will be tailored to fit that focus area, such as in phlebotomy. Classes may include phlebotomy theory and lab, medical terminology and communication skills for health care.
No matter which path you choose, you can expect to learn a wide range of skills. Medical technology courses focus heavily on clinical procedures, safety, lab testing, computer technology, professional ethics and equipment operation.
Medical Technology Careers
As you consider the type of medical technology career you want to have, think about the work environment you’d thrive in. For example, if you prefer working on a close-knit team where you are relied on to complete tasks in a fast-paced environment, a surgical tech position in a hospital could be for you.
Medical technicians can also enjoy an upward career trajectory. Earning a bachelor’s degree to become a medical technologist is one way to advance.
Most medical technicians work in hospitals, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Laboratories and doctors’ offices are other common work environments for medical technicians. If you plan to work as a phlebotomist, your career path may lead you to a hospital, lab or donation facility. Some phlebotomists also travel to see patients.
Operating and delivery rooms at hospitals are where most surgical techs are necessary, but your career path may also lead you to outpatient care facilities or working with a surgeon who performs specialized surgeries.
Medical Technology Job Description
Medical technicians are responsible for a variety of tasks. Depending on the medical technician career path you follow, your duties may vary slightly.
- Draw blood
- Perform lab tests
- Collect blood and tissue samples
- Properly dispose of needles and other sharps
- Make sure needles and syringes are sterile and ready for first-time use
- Explain procedure to patients
- Match blood for transfusions
- Analyze test results
- Dye cells to find abnormalities
- Work under the supervision of a medical technologist
Medical Technology Salary
Annual Median Salary
Medical and Clinical Lab Technicians
Medical and Clinical Lab Technologists
According to The Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual salary for medical and clinical lab technologists and technicians is $51,770.
Several factors can influence salary including work environment and the type of medical technician you are. For example, a biology technician earns a median annual salary of $43,800 whereas a phlebotomist earns $33,670.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, medical laboratory technicians earn more working at a college, university or professional school. Here’s a comparison of salaries by work environment.
- Colleges, universities and professional schools: $49,370
- Hospitals; state, local and private: $54,670
- Offices of physicians: $49,380
- Medical and diagnostic laboratories: $49,600
Pursuing a specific medical technology career? Here’s a list of median annual wages:
- Histology technician: $62,440
- Cytotechnologist: $72,268
- Surgical technologist: $46,310
How to Get Started
Earning your associate’s degree or certificate in medical technology is the first step toward pursuing a career as a technician. If you hope to become a medical technologist, you’ll need to earn your bachelor’s degree.
It’s also a good idea to check with your state’s board of health to learn about any licensing requirements. Some states will look for certification as part of their licensing criteria.
Once you’ve completed your foundational education, you can go on to earn certification in a specialty area such as medical biology or cytotechnology.
Before you enroll in school, it’s a good idea to consider the traits and skills required of a medical technician or technologist. These roles require physical stamina and, of course, the ability to use complex technology. Here’s a look at the other important traits you’ll need.
- A clear communicator
- Good decision-making skills
- Interest in helping others
- High stress tolerance
- Attention to detail
- Good time-management skills
If this sounds like you, start your search for a medical technology education program.