Medical Lab Assistant Training and Education Options

Medical lab assistants work in clinical laboratories where they prepare and conduct lab tests. Education programs for medical lab assistants are most commonly available at the certificate level and teach students about lab procedures, medical terminology and legal issues. Read on for more information about these programs and learn about opportunities for continuing education and professional certification.

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Essential Information

Certificate programs in medical or clinical lab assisting prepare individuals for entry-level lab positions in hospitals, clinics and other healthcare environments. The coursework emphasizes the skills and knowledge needed for medical tasks such as blood and bodily fluid sample collection, analysis, storage and transportation. In addition to the classroom instruction, individuals may also participate in an internship or clinical experience at an affiliated healthcare institution under direct supervision of other lab workers. Most programs can be completed in a year or less of full-time study, but may be offered on a part-time basis to accommodate working students.

Education Prerequisites

Applicants must submit high school transcripts or GED scores prior to enrollments; transcripts for any and all completed college-level courses are also required. Some institutions require applicants to have a minimum grade point average in their high school and college courses.

Program Coursework

Medical lab assisting certificate programs generally consist of 5-7 courses which focus on the specific skills needed to function successfully as a medical lab assistant. There are usually no elective requirements outside this healthcare focus. Below are listed some general course topics likely to be encountered in this type of certificate program.

  • Medical terminology
  • Legal and ethical issues
  • Lab safety
  • Specimen collection

Employment Outlook and Salary Info

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that employment opportunities for all medical assistants, including clinical assistants working in labs, are expected to increase by 31% between 2010 and 2020 (www.bls.gov). This increase in employment opportunities is a reflection of a number of factors, including an aging population requiring more health treatments and technological advances in the healthcare industry. The BLS also states that the median salary for medical assistants was $29,370, as of May 2012.

Continuing Education and Certification Information

Once employed, medical lab assistants often undergo a considerable on-the-job training regimen. Each healthcare institution has different protocols and policies for things like patient communication and specimen storage. The training programs themselves differ widely between institutions. Some clinics or labs offer formalized training classes while others pair new lab assistants with more experienced workers.

Certification is not required by law for medical lab assistants. However, industry certification may increase employment or advancement opportunities. Trade organizations such as the Association of Medical Technologists and American Association of Medical Assistants both offer relevant, voluntary certification programs.

Individuals interested in continuing their education beyond the certificate level have a host of options. Those interested in advancing in lab work my consider enrolling in a 2-year associate's degree program to prepare them for a job as a medical laboratory technician. Bachelor's degree programs are also available for those who would like to become medical laboratory technologists and advance to management positions within the lab.

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