Step by step guide to becoming a lab technician

The work of the medical laboratory technician is exciting, varied and vital to the quality of a patient’s healthcare. Medical lab technicians (also referred to as medical laboratory scientists/technologists or clinical laboratory science professionals) work behind the scenes as highly skilled scientists to performs tests that detect the absence or presence of disease. Results of the tests performed by these scientists are passed on to physicians so that they can treat patients and manage disease according to the findings.

Laboratory tests ordered for the patients are based on recommendations from doctors and other healthcare providers. Lab technicians usually have no direct interaction with the patients, but rather perform tests on human bodily fluids, tissue samples and cells collected by nurses or other healthcare professionals to determine diagnoses and identify abnormalities. Technicians work with microscopes, computers and other automated laboratory equipment, keeping detailed records of the data they compile.

The duties of a medical laboratory technician can be general in nature or specialized in areas such as immunology, microbiology and clinical chemistry. Both specialized and general roles are important for the medical field as the results of their testing help physicians to accurately diagnose and treat cancer, heart disease, diabetes and other serious health conditions. These tests can also be used for the prevention and management of disease.


What does a lab technician do?

Medical laboratory technicians play an important role in the prevention and diagnosis of diseases, such as cancer, diabetes and AIDS. Medical lab technicians work under the supervision of a physician, lab manager or medical technologist and perform laboratory tests on specimens.

The tests that lab techs conduct assist doctors in verifying the causes of an illness, making medical decisions and determining treatment options. Some of the areas in which medical lab technicians may specialize include:

  • Microbiology
  • Hematology
  • Blood banking
  • Immunology
  • Clinical chemistry
  • Molecular biology
  • Cytotechnology

Medical lab technicians set up and sanitize laboratories, prepare specimens, match blood compatibility for transfusions, analyze fluid chemical content, collect blood samples and examine immune system elements. Technicians are expected to handle sophisticated laboratory equipment, including cell counters, microscopes and automated analyzers. These devices are used to search for parasites, bacteria and other microorganisms. Medical laboratory technicians carry out less complicated procedures and tests than do medical laboratory technologists.

What kind of skills are required?

  • the ability to learn specific, practical techniques and apply this knowledge to solve technical problems
  • good hand and eye coordination and the ability to use technical equipment with accuracy
  • the ability to maintain and calibrate technical equipment
  • time management skills in order to work on several different projects at the same time
  • flexibility in order to work with and provide support for a number of people
  • excellent oral communication skills in order to work effectively with colleagues from all parts of the organisation and to explain complex techniques to interested parties
  • experience in providing demonstrations and writing technical reports;
  • teamwork skills and patience
  • attention to detail

Excellent record-keeping skills are required, along with basic maths and computing. As you progress through your career, you may also need to learn management and leadership skills.

The steps to becoming a lab technician

  1. Earn an Associate’s Degree or certificate
  2. Obtain certification and / or license
  3. Seek opportunities for career enhancements