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Medical Laboratory Technician


Description

Medical laboratory technicians (MLT) play a crucial role in the diagnosis and treatment of disease. Assisting the work of scientists, doctors and engineers, medical laboratory technicians perform routine clinical laboratory tests on blood, urine and body fluids to help in the diagnosis of disease. They set up equipment, prepare and conduct experiments, collect data, calculate or record the results and often make conclusions based on these findings.

Technicians' duties might include collecting blood samples, preparing chemical solutions, preparing and analyzing sample specimens, 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 technician has. However, most technicians tend to perform less complex tests and procedures than technologists. For example, technicians may prepare specimens 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 medical laboratory technician performs tests in all laboratory areas such as blood banking, chemistry, hematology, immunology and microbiology. Working under the supervision of a technologist or pathologist, an MLT 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. Many technicians 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, MLTs 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. 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  
Medical 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 an alone. 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 medical laboratory technicians vary according to the size and type of employment setting. They generally work standard 40-hour 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. Medical 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  
  • Medical 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.

  Long Term Career Potential  
Experienced medical 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 medical 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  
Medical laboratory technicians usually require completion of a one- or two-year college program in medical, biochemical or engineering technology. Certification in medical laboratory technology or in a related field is available through state 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 medical laboratory technician (MLT).
 

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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