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Laboratory Technician


Description

Laboratory technicians play a crucial role in the detection, diagnosis, and treatment of disease. Assisting the work of scientists, doctors and engineers, laboratory technicians help carry out scientific research and solve technical problems using learned principles of scientific-related disciplines. They build or set up equipment, prepare and conduct experiments, collect data, calculate or record the results and often make conclusions based on these findings. They may also help make prototype versions of newly designed equipment or at least assist in design work.

The complexity of tests performed, the level of judgment needed, and the amount of responsibility workers assume depend largely on the amount of education and experience a laboratory technician has. However, laboratory technicians, in general, perform less complex tests and laboratory procedures than technologists. For example, technicians may prepare specimens and operate automated analyzers, or perform manual tests following detailed instructions. Like technologists, they may work in several areas of the clinical laboratory or specialize in just one.

A laboratory technician performs tests in all laboratory areas such as blood banking, chemistry, hematology, immunology and microbiology. Working under the supervision of a technologist, a laboratory technician hunts for clues to the absence, presence, extent, and causes of diseases.

Laboratory technicians keep detailed logs of all their work-related activities. As laboratory instrumentation and procedures have become more complex in recent years, the role of lab technicians has expanded. In addition to performing standard tasks, many technicians also develop and adapt laboratory procedures to achieve the best results, interpret data, and devise solutions to problems, under the direction of scientists. Moreover, laboratory technicians must master lab equipment, so they can adjust settings when necessary, and recognize when equipment is malfunctioning.

Accordingly, laboratory technicians may also be in charge of maintaining equipment in a laboratory. It is up to them to decide if new equipment is needed, or if it would be possible to fix old equipment. During experiments, laboratory technicians often work with dangerous materials and supervise factory workers exposed to dangerous chemicals. Therefore, they must implement safety standards among workers (and themselves) and ensure that proper equipment and clothing is worn.
 
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  Average Earnings  
Lowest 10% of Earners:
$19,070
 
Median Salary:
$29,040
 
Highest 10% of Earners:
$43,960

  Interests and Skills  
Laboratory technicians are analytical, creative and innovative thinkers with excellent problem solving skills. They have a natural affinity and aptitude for mathematics and science and can often visualize complex processes and design on computers. They possess excellent communication skills, both written and oral, and have the ability to work well in teams with people from various disciplines and backgrounds. They also possess the ability to pay close attention to details when conducting research.
 

  Typical Tasks  
  • Assist in setting up and conducting laboratory experiments, tests and analyses
  • Operate and maintain laboratory equipment and apparatus and prepare solution and sample formulations
  • Collect blood tissue and other samples from patients
  • Log patient samples and prepare them for testing
  • Assist in developing and conducting programs of sampling and analysis to maintain quality standards
  • Test products and record results and write reports
  • Set up medical laboratory equipment
  • Conduct routine laboratory tests and sample analyses
  • Clean and maintain medical laboratory and medical laboratory equipment
  • Hours and other working conditions of laboratory technicians vary according to the size and type of employment setting. They generally work standard workweeks, either doing shift work or on a regular schedule. In some facilities, laboratory personnel are on call several nights a week or on weekends, in case of an emergency. Laboratory technicians are trained to work with infectious specimens and must therefore take proper safety and health precautions, including protective clothing and in some cases, vaccinations.

  Workplaces, Employers and Industries  
  • Laboratory technicians are employed by hospitals, research and development laboratories, consulting engineering companies, in chemical, petrochemical, pharmaceutical and a variety of other manufacturing and processing industries. They can also be found in the health sector, researching and teaching in the education field or working in all levels of the government as laboratory technicians.

  Long Term Career Potential  
Experienced laboratory technicians may gain higher levels of responsibility and begin performing more advanced experiments. They can also advance to become technologists, quality control technicians, senior technical supervisors or staff supervisory positions. Some laboratory technicians that take additional training can teach in technical institutes. Others may work as technical writers or as salespersons for scientific apparatus.
 

  Educational Paths  
Laboratory technicians usually require completion of a one- or two-year college program in medical, biochemical or engineering technology. Certification in laboratory technology or engineering technology or in a related field is available through associations of technicians and may be required by some employers. Usually, a two-year period of supervised work experience is required before one can become certified as a laboratory technician.
 

Sources:
Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-15 Edition, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/
Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Employment Statistics, 2002, http://www.bls.gov/oes/2002/oes_nat.htm

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