Lab Technician Training Programs and Requirements
Lab technicians, also called clinical or medical laboratory technicians, perform a variety of tests used in the detection, diagnosis and treatment of disease. They may work in several areas of a laboratory or specialize in one particular skill. Lab technicians should complete an associate's degree program before entering the field. Many are also professionally certified.
Associate of Applied Science in Laboratory Sciences
At a minimum, laboratory technicians are required to complete an associate of applied science degree program. Some students may pursue a certificate program in a career-specific field or bachelor's degree program in a related scientific field.
The Associate of Applied Science in Laboratory Sciences degree is earned through a 2-year program designed to prepare students for immediate entry into the workforce. In addition to general education courses such as English composition and college math, students may complete courses in topics such as:
- Clinical chemistry
- Medical terminology
Bachelor of Science in Clinical Laboratory Science
These programs can be completed in 2-3 years. They are designed to get students ready for the American Society for Clinical Pathology (ASCP) Board of Certification exam and into careers upon graduation. A bachelor's in clinical lab science may also allow technicians to become technologists as their careers advance. Common courses include:
- Human genetics and diagnosis
- Body fluid chemistry
- Clinical microbiology
- Research in lab science
- Mycology and virology
Job Skills and Experience
Lab technicians need to be flexible. Jobs in the field can come with varied work hours and techs may need to be on-call to come in on short notice. Lab technicians also need skills such as sound judgment, analytical thinking and calm nerves, as their jobs can include the pressure that can accompany potentially life-saving or life-altering discoveries.
Although this is not a strict requirement, many lab technicians gain experience in the field before applying for jobs. Some degree programs offer students the chance to engage in clinical internships with local laboratories. Other students may take part in an apprenticeship or extended training program with the understanding that they will be hired after a particular period of time. Gaining entry-level employment in a non-technician area in a clinical setting may also prove beneficial.
Depending on the state in which a lab technician works, licensing may be necessary. Organizations such as the ASCP offer an official certification process for laboratory personnel. Certification generally involves having a certain amount of experience, often a year or more in the field, and passing a comprehensive examination. In states that don't require certification, lab technicians often obtain voluntary certification due to employer requests and the professional benefits that may come with being certified.
Employment Outlook and Salary Information
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported that medical and clinical laboratory technician positions were projected to grow 15% from 2010-2020, mainly due to the increasing number of older individuals requiring advanced diagnostic testing. In May 2012, medical and clinical laboratory technicians brought home an average annual salary of $39,340, according to the BLS.
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