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What is a Medical Laboratory Technologist?
A medical laboratory technologist (MLT), also known as a medical laboratory technician or clinical lab technician, is a healthcare professional who performs analytical tests on body fluids such as blood and urine in order to diagnose diseases, monitor treatment, and prevent disease outbreaks.
Medical laboratory technologists operate complex electronic equipment, computers, and precision instruments to run tests on samples from patients. They analyze the chemical content of fluids, match blood for transfusions, and test for drug levels in the blood to show how a patient is responding to treatment.
In addition to running tests, medical laboratory technicians also interpret test results, verify the accuracy of findings, and consult with physicians to provide the information needed for patient diagnosis and treatment. They are a vital part of the healthcare team.
What Does a Medical Laboratory Technologist Do?
The primary job responsibilities of a medical laboratory technicians include:
- Collecting and preparing biological specimens such as blood, urine, sputum, stool, cerebrospinal fluid, and tissue samples for testing. This involves ensuring proper collection techniques are followed and samples are correctly labelled and processed. Medical Lab Technicians often collect samples themselves or provide instructions to patients and doctors for the proper collection, handling and labelling of specimens to avoid complications in testing procedures.
- Performing complex chemical, biological, hematological, immunologic, microscopic, and bacteriological tests on body fluids. This includes operating sophisticated laboratory equipment and instrumentation like automated chemistry analyzers, differential cell counters, and ELISA plate readers. Medical Laboratory Technicians need specialized knowledge to perform testing in areas including:
- Clinical chemistry – test blood and other fluids for levels of enzymes, sugars, fats, minerals, proteins and other biomarkers.
- Hematology – examine composition and function of blood cells and detect disorders like anaemia.
- Microbiology – grow, identify and analyze bacteria that can cause infections.
- Immunology – identify antibodies and analyze the immune system function.
- Analyzing test results and verifying results to determine their validity. MLTs must be meticulous in detecting any abnormalities or inconsistencies in test results for review by the pathologist. Knowledge of quality control measures and potential interferences is critical.
- Interpreting and reporting laboratory findings to pathologists and other physicians to aid in patient diagnosis and treatment. MLTs play a key role in consulting with medical staff to explain the implications of lab test findings in relation to the patient’s symptoms and clinical presentation.
- Monitoring and evaluating quality control within the laboratory. This involves running quality control checks on equipment and reagents, as well as documenting and troubleshooting any issues. MLTs must be able to recognize testing irregularities and implement corrective actions to maintain accuracy.
- Providing technical and administrative oversight. This can include managing workflow and personnel, as well as maintaining inventory and procuring laboratory supplies and equipment. Senior MLTs often oversee quality management systems.
- Adhering to safety procedures and protocols. Medical lab technologists handle biohazardous materials and can be exposed to infectious diseases. Strict safety standards must be followed to avoid contamination of specimens, prevent infections, and avoid chemical or biological hazards.
In summary, medical laboratory technologists play a critical behind-the-scenes role in healthcare, performing the complex testing needed to uncover disease processes and guide patient care. Their meticulous work impacts diagnosis, treatment and long-term health outcomes.
How to Become a Medical Laboratory Technologist
Becoming a medical laboratory technician requires completion of an accredited training program and obtaining professional certification. Here are the key steps:
Prerequisites to Become a Medical Laboratory Technologist
- High school diploma or equivalent
- Coursework in biology, chemistry, mathematics, and other science-related subjects. Science and lab classes help build the foundational knowledge needed for the MLT curriculum.
- Strong computer and technology skills. MLTs work with sophisticated laboratory information systems, instrumentation and automation.
- Attention to detail and organizational skills. Must be meticulous in following protocols and procedures.
- Critical thinking and analytical skills. Needed to assess test results, troubleshoot issues, and evaluate quality control.
Education Required to Become a Medical Laboratory Technologist
There are three main educational options to become an Medical Laboratory Technologist:
- Associate’s degree (2 years): Most common pathway. Many community colleges and vocational schools offer MLT associate’s degree programs. Includes both classroom learning and hands-on clinical training. Graduates are eligible to sit for the MLT certification exam.
- Bachelor’s degree (4 years): Offered through colleges and universities. Includes broader coursework beyond lab sciences like communications, management, and education/supervision courses. Graduates can become certified as MLS/CLS.
- Certificate program (1 year): For those who already have a science-related bachelor’s degree. Provides concentrated lab training. Leads to MLT certification.
When researching programs, look for ones accredited by the National Accrediting Agency for Clinical Laboratory Sciences (NAACLS) to ensure quality standards.
What Degree Do I Need to Become a Medical Laboratory Technologist?
The minimum requirement is an associate’s degree from an accredited MLT training program. However, those with a bachelor’s degree qualify for the title of medical laboratory scientist (MLS) and have access to more advanced certifications and specialties.
Steps to Become a Medical Laboratory Technologist
- Earn an associate’s or bachelor’s degree in medical laboratory technology/science from an accredited program.
- Complete hands-on clinical training during your program. This provides real-world experience in a healthcare lab.
- Apply to take the ASCP or AMT certification exam for medical laboratory technicians.
- Pass the exam to receive your official certification.
- Seek employment and obtain your state license if required. Requirements vary by state.
- Consider obtaining further specialized certifications once you are established in your career.
How Long Does it Take to Become a Medical Laboratory Technologist?
The full training time ranges from 2-4 years depending on your educational path:
- Associate’s degree: 2 years
- Bachelor’s degree: 4 years
- Certificate for existing bachelor’s grads: 1 year
Some programs allow earning an associate’s first and then transitioning directly into a bachelor’s program for completion in about 3 years total.
Medical Laboratory Technologist Salary and Job Outlook
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average annual salary for medical laboratory technologists and technicians is $57,800 as of latest. However, salaries can range significantly.
The job outlook for Medical Lab Technicians is also strong. Employment of clinical lab technologists and technicians is projected to grow by 7% from 2021 to 2031, faster than the average for all occupations. An aging population and advances in technology will drive demand.
Here are some key points about the MLT salary and outlook:
- Entry-level MLTs – Average starting salary around $41,400. New graduates can expect salaries ranging from $35,000 to $45,000 depending on location and employer.
- Experienced MLTs – Salaries from $60,000 up to $80,000 per year for MLTs with years of experience and specialized certifications. Senior management roles can exceed $100k.
- Highest 10% of earners – $83,160 annual salary. MLTs in leadership positions in major labs and hospitals achieve the top pay.
- By state – Highest average salaries in California ($77,080), Washington ($76,500), Alaska ($75,280), Nevada ($73,530), and Oregon ($71,680).
- By industry – Highest salaries in medical/diagnostic labs ($61,070), hospitals ($58,500), and physician offices ($57,690).
- Job growth – Employment for medical lab technologists is projected to grow 7% through 2031, faster than the average across all occupations.
In summary, Medical Laboratory Technologists can expect competitive starting pay with potential for significant salary growth over their career, along with excellent job prospects.
Medical Laboratory Technician Schools
There are over 200 accredited MLT training programs across the United States. The following are some of the top-rated medical laboratory technology schools based on factors like cost, reputation, and program outcomes:
|Name of School||Location||Program Offered|
|University of Nebraska Medical Center||Omaha, NE||Offers a Bachelor’s degree in Medical Laboratory Science with extensive clinical rotations through the medical center. Graduates consistently post high certification exam pass rates.|
|Rush University||Chicago, IL||Bachelor’s Degree in Medical Laboratory Science. Bachelor’s degree program focused on hands-on learning and work experience. Rotations are conducted at Rush University Medical Center. Extensive preceptor program.|
|University of North Dakota||Grand Forks, ND||Bachelor’s Degree in Medical Laboratory Science. Bachelor of Science program accredited since 1937. Offers rotations at large regional medical centers. Graduates highly recruited.|
|University of Cincinnati||Cincinnati, OH||Bachelor’s Degree in Medical Laboratory Science. Longstanding CLS program with 450+ clinical rotation sites. Features simulated lab learning. Also offers online degree options.|
|Weber State University||Ogden, UT||Offers both Associate’s and Bachelor’s degrees in Medical Laboratory Technician/Scientist. Hands-on training labs. High certification exam pass rate.|
|San Joaquin Delta College||Stockton, CA||Associate’s Degree in Medical Laboratory Technician. Associate’s degree program focused on training for real-world application. Robust biotechnology and molecular diagnostics training.|
|Bucks County Community College||Newtown, PA||Associate’s Degree in Medical Laboratory Technician. Competitive medical lab technician associate’s degree program with paid internship opportunities. License isn’t required in PA.|
|Pima Medical Institute||Multiple Locations||Associate’s Degree in Medical Laboratory Technician. Associate’s degree program with emphasis on hands-on practice. Offers flexible schedule options for working students.|
|Saint Paul College||Saint Paul, MN||Associate’s Degree in Medical Laboratory Technician. Associate in Applied Science program provides broad exposure to all major laboratory disciplines. Small class sizes.|
All of the above programs are fully accredited by the National Accrediting Agency for Clinical Laboratory Sciences (NAACLS). Choosing an NAACLS-approved school is highly recommended to ensure a quality education.
When selecting a medical laboratory science school, you should consider location, cost, reputation, availability of financial aid, program curriculum, hands-on training opportunities, certification exam pass rates, and job placement rates for graduates.
Medical Laboratory Technologist Colleges
Many community and technical colleges offer associate’s degree programs to become a certified Medical Lab Technician. Here are some of the top-ranked community college MLT programs in the United States:
|Name of College||Location||Program Offered|
|Santa Barbara City College||Santa Barbara, CA||Associate of Science in Medical Laboratory Technician. Highly selective competitive admission. Graduates consistently earn 100% pass rate on the ASCP exam.|
|College of the Canyons||Santa Clarita, CA||Associate of Science in Clinical Laboratory Science. Hands-on training in state-of-the-art lab. Partners with 200+ clinical sites for rotations. Top pass rates on licensing exams.|
|Johnson County Community College||Overland Park, KS||Associate of Applied Science in Medical Laboratory Technician. Affordable program with all classes held during the day for full-time students|
|Ivy Tech Community College||Multiple Locations, IN||Associate of Science in Medical Laboratory Technology. The largest accredited MLT program in Indiana. Partners with 200+ healthcare facilities to provide clinical experience across the state.|
|Middlesex Community College||Bedford, MA||Associate of Science in Medical Laboratory Technician. Offers a CLS/MLT track and biotechnology track. Hands-on training includes molecular diagnostics. High job placement.|
|Austin Community College||Austin, TX||Associate of Applied Science in Medical Laboratory Technology. Selective admission. Connects students with externships at major medical centers and labs in the Austin area.|
|Shoreline Community College||Shoreline, WA||Associate in Applied Science in Medical Laboratory Technology. Features state-of-the-art technology and instrumentation in the training labs. Strong hiring network in Seattle area.|
|Bunker Hill Community College||Boston, MA||Associate in Science in Medical Laboratory Technician. High-tech simulators and instruments create hospital lab environment. Close industry partnerships for clinicals at Boston hospitals.|
|Northeastern Technical College||Cheraw, SC||Associate in Applied Science in Medical Laboratory Technology. Competitive admission. Located within a major regional medical center which serves as the site for clinical training.|
These accredited college programs provide an affordable and direct path to starting your medical laboratory career in just 2 years.
Medical Laboratory Technician Associate’s Degree Programs
An associate’s degree is one of the most common educational paths to becoming an Medical Laboratory Technologist. Here’s what you need to know:
- Duration is typically 2 years for a full-time student
- Prerequisites include high school biology, chemistry, algebra
- Courses cover laboratory skills, clinical techniques, instrumentation
- Includes hands-on clinical rotations
- Leads to eligibility for MLT certification
Some examples of typical courses include:
- Medical Terminology
- Anatomy and Physiology
- Clinical Microbiology
- Clinical Chemistry
- Hematology and Hemostasis
- Clinical Immunology
- Clinical Practicum
With focused lab training, an MLT associate’s degree allows you to start your career faster than a 4-year bachelor’s program. Graduates have a strong credential for entry-level MLT positions.
Online Schools for Medical Laboratory Technologists
While traditional classroom programs are still most common, it is possible to become a medical laboratory technologist through online education. Some of the top online schools include:
- University of Cincinnati – Offers a full online Bachelor’s degree in Clinical Laboratory Science. Includes virtual lab simulations using Labster. Graduates work at major hospitals.
- Weber State University – Provides both an online Associate’s degree and Bachelor’s degree option in Medical Laboratory Technician/Scientist. Find local labs for hands-on training.
- Rasmussen University – Medical Laboratory Technician Associate’s degree available fully online. Partner with local labs like Quest Diagnostics for clinicals.
- George Washington University – Online post-baccalaureate Bachelor’s degree in Medical Laboratory Science for those who already hold a Bachelor’s degree.
The online classroom learning must be combined with in-person clinical rotations at a local lab to gain hands-on skills experience and competency. Contact prospective online programs to ask about arranging sites for this critical component near your location.
While completing MLT prerequisites and coursework online is now possible, admissions to these programs remains competitive. On-campus hands-on centered programs are still the most accessible path to launch your MLT career initially.
Conclusion: A Rewarding Career Saving Lives Behind the Scenes
Becoming a certified medical laboratory technologist provides you with the opportunity to play a critical role in the healthcare field without extensive direct patient contact. For those interested in science and medicine, it offers diverse job prospects with room for specialization and advancement.
With an associate’s or bachelor’s degree from an accredited program, proper certification, and a state license, you’ll be ready to start a career as an Medical Lab Technician performing essential diagnostic tests that aid in early detection and treatment of disease.
Expect competitive starting pay around $40,000, with potential to earn over $80,000 annually as you gain experience. Now that you know how to become a medical laboratory technologist, you can start researching accredited training programs and take steps towards this promising and stable healthcare career path.