Laboratory Assistant Training Programs and Requirements

A clinical laboratory performs experiments and research to diagnose and treat disease. A laboratory assistant is trained to complete a variety of tasks, including operating equipment, processing samples and tracking patient records. Laboratory training programs are available for high school graduates in community colleges, medical training schools and some universities.

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Training Requirements and Recommendations

The majority of laboratory assistant training programs require applicants to be high school graduates with extensive coursework in biology, algebra, English and chemistry. Some prospective laboratory assistants gain experience in high school science laboratories and knowledge of basic equipment use and medical terminology. Employers seek applicants who have demonstrated success in performing basic and complex laboratory tasks, as well as knowledge of laboratory procedures and operations, excellent communications skills and computer literacy. Previous volunteer or work experience in a laboratory is preferred.

Formal Education

Individuals with formal training in biology or medicine may consider a career as a laboratory assistant. This type of education provides hands-on experience working with physicians, patients and other medical professionals in detecting and treating illnesses.

Certificate of Completion

The certificate program discusses the role of the laboratory assistant and provides them with basic knowledge of equipment, laboratory procedures, materials, sterilization and safety practices. Instructors introduce students to the laws governing clinical laboratory operation, including those on patient confidentiality, data storage, sanitation, chemical handling and quality control. For students with medical training, some training programs waive some of the required program prerequisites.

Since phlebotomy is one of the duties of a laboratory assistant, students work with their teachers in a laboratory setting to understand basic techniques, like capillary puncture and venipuncture. Students also learn about blood borne pathogens, bodily fluids, blood exposure and specimen collection and transporting.

Job Experience

While some lab assistants are entering the field for the first time, some have their associate's or bachelor's degree and are working in the position to gain experience before enrolling into a graduate program. Doctor's offices, testing laboratories, clinics, hospitals and research institutions often utilize an entry-level lab assistant to gather data, file, label and store specimens, document progress and prepare smears for analyzing.

Under the supervision of a scientist, researcher or technician, entry-level employees may begin work by assisting with blood draws, cleaning equipment, ordering supplies and collecting specimens. A laboratory assistant may also perform administrative duties, like billing, computer work or filing.

Licenses and Certifications

According to the American Medical Technologists, (www.amt1.com), the requirement for licensure and certification for laboratory assistants varies by state, so students should research licensing requirements on their state's department of health website. Most employers seek candidates who hold a national certification by a professional certifying organization and a phlebotomy certification.

Certified Medical Laboratory Assistant

Laboratory assistant certification requires documented academic experience and typically a specific number of didactic and clinical laboratory hours, along with a computer-based examination testing areas, such as microbiology, phlebotomy, quality control, hematology and ethics. An application with the candidate's basic information, work experience and academic recommendation must be completed, along with the appropriate testing fee. Candidates must not have a prior criminal history with a felony conviction.

Certified Phlebotomist

Laboratory assistants have several professional organizations that offer certification as a phlebotomist, including the American Society for Clinical Pathology, the National Phlebotomy Association and the American Certification Agency. High school graduates with transcripts from a medical training program, at least once year of phlebotomy experience and proof of clinical, dermal and venipuncture hours (hours vary per certifying agency) are eligible for the phlebotomy examination. Students should expect a computer-based test and practical examination of basic information, such as vein sites, equipment, safety, anatomy, physiology and overall blood collection.

Workshops and Seminars

Graduates of the laboratory assistant training program have several opportunities to stay informed in their field. The American Society for Clinical Laboratory Science, (www.ascls.org), offers a wealth of material on their website regarding scholarships, news, career opportunities, web courses and continuing education. The American Medical Technologists, (www.amt1.com), hosts a national conference providing workshops and lectures to enhance professional development and provide continuing education.

Additional Professional Development

Earning a certificate of completion in the clinical laboratory assistant program prepares graduates for entry-level positions and may be a stepping-stone to other medical positions. For example, a lab assistant graduate with an interest in research may seek a position as a laboratory technician, which involves more research-based work with scientists. The position requires an associate's degree and, after completion of the degree program, a technician may advance to a laboratory supervisor or manager with experience.

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