Prepare for a Fast-Paced Health Career
Blood samples, microscopic cells, and spinal fluid: That’s just a regular day at the lab for a medical technologist or technician.
Sound interesting? To work in this fast-paced and evolving field, you’ll need a passion for science and strong analytical skills. If this describes you, consider taking the next step and enrolling in one of the many medical technologist programs across the country.
Medical lab techs, surgical techs, and other types of med techs, are required to hold an associate’s degree (or more) related to the field. Shorter certificate programs are offered by community colleges and vocational schools, but these usually require past healthcare training or experience. However, some may only require a high school diploma to enroll.
Medical Technologist Programs
A medical technology degree is a requirement if you want to work in the field. You have two options to choose from: An associate or bachelor’s degree in medical technology.
Each medical technology degree has its benefits. Compare the differences to decide which one fits your goals.
Certificates and Diplomas
Certificate and diploma programs can last from a few weeks to a year. Courses are crafted in a way that students focus only on the medical technician career and building their skill set in a particular area.
Example of Phlebotomy Certificate Courses
Certificate and diploma programs cover a lot of territory in a short amount of time. As an example of course work for a phlebotomy program, Bunker Hill Community College offers the following classes:
In addition to these main courses, you’ll participate in a practicum and take basic computer or office administration courses.
An associate degree program, which takes about two years, will cover not only the medical technician specialization, but also provide a liberal arts education. So why choose a longer program over the certificate option?
If you think you may return to school at a later date to earn a bachelor’s degree to become a medical laboratory technologist, having the liberal arts background will save you time and money when you enroll in the undergraduate program.
The first year of study includes math, English, and introductory science courses (anatomy and chemistry). You’ll also delve into blood sample collection and body fluid analysis.
Here’s a look at other courses included in a medical technology program:
Once you complete your associate degree requirements, you’ll be prepared to take a professional certification exam.
A bachelor’s degree in medical technology takes four years to complete, but may present more paths to advancement. With the additional time in school, you’ll be immersed in more hands-on experience. Your coursework will also cover higher level topics such as management, leadership, and complex issues in medical technology.
Your course list will look similar to that of an associate degree program, but you’ll also learn about:
If you’re interested in specializing in a certain area, some schools offer tracks such as public health.
Upon completing your degree, you’ll be qualified to work as a medical technologist.
What Accreditation is There for My Program?
Accreditation is the best way to know if a program meets nationally recognized standards for medical tech education. Independent accrediting organizations register schools once they’ve undergone a rigorous application process.
Aspiring medical techs should also take care to attend an accredited school for a few other reasons:
These accreditation organizations give their stamp of approval:
Programs which are accredited by one of the six regional accreditation bodies or organizations accredited for continuing education or career schools are also valid.
What’s the Difference Between a Medical Technician and Technologist?
Medical technologists and technicians have related job duties, such as performing tests for health care professionals, but the level of complexity differs between the jobs. Both medical technologists and technicians are responsible for analyzing body fluids to check for abnormalities. Technicians are often responsible for the data entry of the findings. Technicians interact with patients by collecting blood samples.
A technologist may also do the same, but their job goes a step further. They’re tasked with analyzing the samples, determining the blood group and type and weighing in on whether blood is compatible for transfusions. Medical technicians set up, maintain and clean equipment. This isn’t a main responsibility for a technologist. Another difference? Medical technologists perform manual tests while a technician will conduct tests using an automated process.
As you think about your career path, consider the type of workplaces you’d be interested in.
An Average Day
When they’re not interacting with patients, medical technologists and technicians are handling the flood of orders coming into the lab. The main goal is to get accurate results as soon as possible, but it doesn’t stop there. Medical technologists need to review the results and make a judgment call on when to alert doctors and medical staff. For example, they might input non-serious test results into the computer system for doctors to review later. On the other hand, a medical technologist or technician will contact medical staff directly if the results require immediate action.
Medical technologists and technicians often say strong organizational skills are the key to success. Some lab work can be done quickly, while other samples need to time to culture. It’s no small feat to keep track of the many samples that need to be tested and reviewed.
Workplaces of Medical Technologists & Technicians
Outpatient Care Centers
Note: Working in a hospital may require you to work nights, weekends or holidays, whereas a doctor’s office usually has regular hours.
Medical Tech Salaries
With an undergraduate education, medical technologists may earn the following median annual salary. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’ 2020 Occupational Occupational Outlook Handbook, medical technologists earn a median annual salary of $57,800.
Various factors—geographic location, education, and experience level, to name a few—contribute to salaries you can earn as a medical technologist. As an example of this, the lowest 10% of medical technologists earned less than $30,280 and the top 10% earned more than $79,340, says the BLS.
Medical Technology Professional Certification
Professional certification is an important piece of any medical technologist’s career. A medical technology certification program evaluates your skill level and abilities as a medical technologist. Many employers require or prefer that medical technologists and technicians have certification.
The American Medical Technologists (AMT) is the certification agency that administers the exam to test your knowledge and skills. There are three different routes to become certified as medical technologist.
The process is similar for medical technicians, but check with AMT for exact eligibility criteria.
Twelve states require medical lab techs be licensed, according to the American Society for Clinical Laboratory Science. These states are California, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Louisiana, Montana, Nevada, New York, North Dakota, Rhode Island, Tennessee and West Virginia.
Medical Technologist Programs Online
Medical technology relies heavily on in-person lab work, but if you’re looking for a medical technology program online, there are some options.
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 crafted for students who already have an associate’s degree in medical technology and looking to advance in their career.
How Medical Technology Online Programs Work
If you enroll in a program that requires that you already work in a lab or hospital, your hands-on work will be conducted there. Your didactic courses will be available online in the form of lecture notes, videos and other methods.
Bachelor’s degree programs follow a similar format—lectures are done online while hands-on experience is conducted in a lab or clinic. The school will work with you to find an appropriate location to conduct your clinical experiences, usually in your city or town.
The courses you’ll take in a distance learning program won’t differ from an on-campus curriculum, but here are a few examples of the classes you’ll actually take online:
You’re choosing a great time to consider a medical technology degree. More patients have access to health care and an increased number of conditions are being evaluated in a lab. Your work may be primarily behind the scenes, but you’ll be an important asset in the medical field.