How to Become a Medical Laboratory Technician

Education, licenses, and other requirements

Medical laboratory technicians, sometimes called lab technicians, perform routine medical laboratory tests that help doctors and other health professionals detect and diagnose diseases, decide what treatments to use and evaluate the efficacy of those treatments. They prepare specimens for examination and analyze tissue and body fluids.

Do You Have What It Takes to Be a Lab Technician?

A lab technician examines a specimen under a microscope.
Lab technician examines specimen using a microscope. Arvid Emtegren/E+/Getty Images

In order to succeed as a medical laboratory technician, you need certain personal characteristics, also called soft skills. This is in addition to the hard skills you will learn through your formal training. Before you decide to pursue this occupation, it is a good idea to evaluate whether you have these qualities.

As a medical laboratory technician, you will work under the supervision of a medical laboratory technologist or manager and have to follow his or her directions. This requires very good listening skills. Likewise, you will need good speaking skills so you can convey information to others. Good reading comprehension skills will allow you understand written instructions. You will also need good problem-solving skills. Your employer will expect you to recognize when a problem exists, and you will have to use critical thinking skills to identify possible solutions and determine which ones will have the best outcome.

Should you become a medical laboratory technician?

Required Education

To become a medical laboratory technician, you will typically have to complete a two-year program in medical or clinical laboratory technology or clinical laboratory science at a community college. Upon graduation, you will receive an associate's degree. If you already have a related degree, you may be able to complete a one-year certificate program, offered by hospitals, instead. The United States Armed Forces also offer training for this occupation.

Many educational programs are accredited by the National Accrediting Agency for Clinical Laboratory Sciences. Some states will only license lab technicians who have attended an accredited program. It is important to find out if the state in which you want to work has that requirement. You can use the Licensed Occupations Tool on CareerOneStop to obtain license information.

Here are some of the classes you can expect to take:

  • Human Anatomy
  • Clinical Hematology
  • Fundamentals of Chemistry
  • Phlebotomy Skills
  • Urinalysis and Body Fluids
  • Medical Lab Fundamentals
  • Microbiology
  • Clinical Biochemistry

How to Get Into a Medical Laboratory Technician Program

Admission requirements and procedures vary by program and therefore you must check with the one you want to attend. In general, to enroll in a two-year program at a community college you need a high school diploma. Given the number of science classes you will have to take, it is a good idea to have a strong background in this subject.

What You Must Do After You Graduate

What you will have to do after you graduate from a medical laboratory technology program depends on where you want to practice your trade. Some states require a license while others do not. Use the Licensed Occupations Tool, mentioned earlier, to learn about the requirements in the state in which you want to work.

Many graduates choose to become certified. While this is voluntary, many employers prefer to hire job candidates who have this credential. One organization that certifies medical lab technicians is the American Society for Clinical Pathology (ASCP). Requirements for certification include a combination of education, experience and passing an examination.

Getting Your First Job

You've completed your training and now it's time to find a job. In addition to your technical skills, what other qualities do employers want entry-level job candidates to have? A look at job announcements published in various sources revealed the following minimum job requirements:

  • "Precise eye/hand coordination and fine motor skills are required to handle specimens correctly and operate equipment used for testing."
  • "Ability to work positively and communicate well with others."
  • "Organized with ability to multi-task in a fast-paced environment."
  • "Positive, can-do attitude."
  • "Must be capable of using effective oral and written communication skills. "
  • "Adopts and consistently exhibits Customer Service Behaviors:  Ownership, Attitude, Teamwork, Communication, Responsiveness, Safety, Privacy, Appearance."