Medical Laboratory Technologist

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Medical Laboratory Technologist


Do you have an insatiable curiosity about what goes on under the lens of the microscope? Do amoeba and organisms excite your brain? If so, have you ever considered a career as a medical laboratory technologist? Medical technologists perform a full range of laboratory tests, from the most routine to the most complex, with little or no supervision. They spend the majority of their time working alone in a lab with their microscope. They conduct experiments and analyses to assist in the diagnosis, treatment and prevention of disease.

Technologists' duties vary and may consist of basic medical test including collecting blood samples, preparing chemical solutions, preparing and analyzing sample specimens, analyzing swabs, keeping records of laboratory tests, running and maintaining quality control, troubleshooting instrumentation, and reporting results to head nurses or physicians.

Yet 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 medical laboratory technologist has. Those with university degrees will have the opportunity to go beyond basic research. Most medical laboratory technologists specialize in areas such as clinical chemistry, biochemistry, clinical microbiology, hematology, histotechnology, immunohematology or cytotechnology.

For instance, working in the hematology department, a technologist will analyse cells in the blood and bone marrow in order to diagnose disorders such as leukemia. They study cells under the microscope and report to doctors if they find any abnormal ones. When they do find unusual cells, the must obtain a second opinion from a more senior person, such as a pathologist. Accordingly, a technologist specializing in biochemistry might analyze chemicals in the blood and use high-tech equipment to diagnose a range of diseases such as liver failure and diabetes.

In general, when testing cells, their main goal is to find abnormalities in the tissue. Since the job is not patient based, but laboratory based, technologists must remember that they are dealing with people's lives. Unfortunately, when they find abnormalities in the blood and tissues, it is usually the sign of a tumor, which could be the start of cancer.

Technologists supervise technicians in the testing process ensuring that things are done properly. If a problem arises, they will instruct technicians on how to deal with it. When the blood has been removed or the swab has been swabbed, technologists interpret the results. This process requires an understanding of the biological and chemical processes in science.
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  Average Earnings  
Lowest 10% of Earners:
Median Salary:
Highest 10% of Earners:

  Interests and Skills  
Medical laboratory technologists 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 and alone. Technologists also possess the ability to pay close attention to details when conducting research.

  Typical Tasks  
  • Conduct chemical analyses of blood, urine, cerebro-spinal and other body fluids
  • Study blood cells and other tissue to determine their relation to various physiological and pathological conditions
  • Prepare tissue sections for microscopic examinations using techniques to demonstrate special cellular tissue elements or other characteristics
  • Examine body fluids and tissues for abnormal chemical levels, cells or bacteria
  • Determine blood type for transfusions
  • Establish procedures for the analysis of specimens and for medical laboratory experiments
  • Perform blood group, type and compatibility tests for transfusion purposes
  • Conduct medical research and analyses
  • Participate in quality assurance and quality control activities
  • May supervise and train other medical laboratory technologists and other medical laboratory workers
  • A typical day for a medical laboratory technologist will vary depending on where they work and what they specialize in. Those working with infectious patients and samples and hazardous chemicals must take safety precautions to avoid infection or injury. Again, working hours vary depending on the type of laboratory in which they work. Research laboratories usually operate weekdays only, however, in diagnostic clinical laboratories, technologists work rotating shifts of days, evenings and nights, including weekends and holidays.

  Workplaces, Employers and Industries  
  • Medical laboratory technologists 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.

  Long Term Career Potential  
What does the future hold for medical laboratory technologists? Those with experience may gain higher levels of responsibility and begin performing more advanced experiments. They can also advance to become scientists with further education, quality control technicians, senior supervisors or staff management. Some medical laboratory technologists that take additional training can teach in technical institutes. Others may work as technical writers or as salespersons for scientific apparatus.

  Educational Paths  
Medical laboratory technologists usually require completion of a two- to three-year college program in medical, biochemical or engineering technology. Some technologists also have a bachelor's degree in science. Certification in medical laboratory technology or in a related field is available through associations of technologists and may be required by some employers as a part of the hiring process. Usually, a two-year period of supervised work experience is required before one can become certified as a medical laboratory technologist (MLT).

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-15 Edition,
Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Employment Statistics, 2002,

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