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Hospital Lab Technician Education Requirements and Career Info

Hospital lab technicians process tests on body fluid specimens such as urine, blood and stool samples. These are often used to screen patients for disease or determine an appropriate course of medical treatment for a specific illness. A postsecondary degree is almost always mandatory for hospital lab technicians; many states and individual employers also require licensure and certification, respectively.

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Hospital Lab Technician Education Requirements

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that some form of postsecondary education is almost always required for an entry-level employment as a hospital lab technician (www.bls.gov). The National Accrediting Agency for Clinical Laboratory Sciences (NAACLS) grants accreditation to 205 institutions offering certificate or degree programs for clinical or medical laboratory technicians (www.naacls.org). Many of these institutions offer certificates and associate's degrees.

Certificate programs, which generally require a year or less of full-time study, teach students how to perform basic hospital laboratory procedures, such as urinalysis and bloodletting (which is also known as phlebotomy). Students are also educated in relevant scientific theories through required courses in anatomy and physiology, chemistry, hematology and immunology.

Associate's degree programs teach students about various techniques used to analyze blood, immune system health, nutritional levels, hormones and electrolytes. Most curricula also feature numerous required clinical laboratory units. This combination of theoretical instruction and hands-on experience allows students to become well-versed in the proper procedures for taking patient samples and conducting laboratory testing, analysis and equipment maintenance.

In addition to completing one of the educational programs detailed above, students can earn certification as a Medical Laboratory Technician (MLT) through the American Society for Clinical Pathology (ASCP) Board of Certification. Specialty certifications in areas such as chemistry, laboratory safety and hematology are also available. Students must pass an ASCP Board of Certification exam to become certified. Some states mandate that hospital lab technicians obtain licensure before entering the workforce. Exact licensing requirements in these states vary; however, New York and California both accept ASCP certification as adequate preparation for licensure (www.ascp.org).

Career Information

Hospital lab technicians are responsible for administering tests on patients and may also personally collect samples before processing, recording and analyzing the results in hospital laboratories. These procedures are collectively conducted to diagnose illnesses or disorders in various parts of the human body, such as the immune, digestive and reproductive systems. Hospital lab technicians may perform general laboratory work or specialize in one area of medicine, such as immunology or phlebotomy.

Hospital lab technicians work in hospitals and hospital-affiliated research laboratories. In order to produce accurate test readings, they must be aware of and compliant with all laboratory health and safety standards and procedures. Because they communicate test results to physicians, technicians may also benefit from strong interpersonal skills. Entry-level technicians generally work under the supervision of senior technicians or lab technologists. Increased experience can lead to a position as a technologist or laboratory manager; however, career advancement may require additional education.

According to the BLS, the job market for hospital lab technicians is strong, with more positions available than technicians qualified to fill them. As of 2008, the BLS predicted hospital lab technician employment would grow at an above-average rate for the decade between 2008 and 2018 (www.bls.gov).

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