How to Become a Lab Assistant: Step-by-Step Career Guide
Learn how to become a lab assistant. Research the job description and the education and licensing requirements and find out how to start a career in the medical field.
Requirements for Lab Assistants
Lab assistants work under the guidance of lab technicians and other laboratory professionals. Common duties of lab assistants include collecting specimens, recording results and sanitizing laboratory equipment. This entry-level position allows individuals to gain experience in a lab. Some lab assistants may choose to further their education to become laboratory technicians.
Lab assistants must hold a high school diploma or equivalent. Individuals may be taught necessary skills through on-the-job training or by completing a clinical laboratory assistant program. Read the following table to have a general idea of what's required to become a lab assistant:
|Degree Level||High school diploma or equivalent required*|
|Licensure and Certification||Certain states may require lab assistants to be licensed; certification is not required but is preferred by many employers**|
|Experience||One year of experience is preferred*|
|Key Skills||Strong attention to detail, excellent manual dexterity, good analytical judgment**|
Sources: *Healthcaresource.com job posting July 2012, **American Medical Technologists.
Step 1: Complete a Clinical Laboratory Assistant Certificate Program
Although some lab assistants may be trained on the job, many employers prefer applicants who have completed a laboratory assistant training program. Several community and technical colleges offer 1-year certificate of completion programs, which train students for entry-level lab positions. Candidates may be required to pass a criminal background check, drug test and complete a cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) or first aid course. Classes taken in a certificate program may include medical terminology, phlebotomy, urinalysis, specimen processing and professional laboratory standards.
- Complete a laboratory internship. Students may need to complete internship hours under the direct supervision of senior laboratory staff. Interns may perform such tasks as cleaning laboratory equipment, data entry, receiving and storing medical samples and sending out patient information.
- Take computer classes. Students may benefit from taking basic computer classes to become proficient in programs like Microsoft Word and Excel. Many employers prefer candidates who have experience using a variety of computer programs like these.
Step 2: Pass a Certification Exam
Graduates may be eligible to take one or more of the national certification exams administered by the Board of Registry of the American Society for Clinical Pathology, the American Medical Technologists or the National Accrediting Agency for Clinical Laboratory Sciences. Other credentialing organizations include the National Credentialing Agency for Laboratory Personnel and the Board of Registry of the American Association of Bioanalysts. Each organization maintains individual certification requirements.
- Prepare for the exam. Students planning on taking any of the certification exams should obtain the recommended reading materials, study guides and practice exams.
Step 3: Obtain State Licensing
Some states may require laboratory assistants to become licensed or registered prior to obtaining employment. Licensing requirements may include passing a state-administered exam, providing proof of having completed an accredited program and paying the licensing fees. License renewal may be required every two to three years and may include the submission of continuing education credits.
Step 4: Pursue Career Advancement Opportunities
Lab assistants can continue their education to become laboratory technicians. Laboratory technicians hold a bachelor's degree and are usually responsible for supervising lab assistants and performing more complex laboratory tasks.
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