Lab Technician

Career information

Lab tech using micro-pipette
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A lab technician collects and processes specimens, including skin and bodily fluid samples, from patients in a hospital or private medical diagnostic laboratory. He or she works under a laboratory technologist's supervision using procedures that help medical professionals diagnose diseases and, subsequently, plan treatments and ascertain their effectiveness. An alternative title for this career is medical laboratory technician.

Quick Facts

  • Lab technicians earned a median annual salary of $38,970 or hourly wages of $​18.73 in 2015.
  • In 2014, just over 163,000 people worked in this occupation.
  • Employers include hospitals, medical and diagnostic laboratories and physicians' offices.
  • Most jobs are full time and, depending on when facilities are open, may include weekends, evenings and holidays.
  • Lab technicians have an excellent good job outlook. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that employment will grow much faster than the average for all occupations through 2024, and they, therefore, classify it as a "bright outlook occupation."

A Day in a Lab Technician's Life

These are some typical job duties we took from online ads for lab technician jobs found on Indeed.com:

  • "Perform select procedures on blood and/or other body fluids or specimens, involving manual techniques or the use of laboratory instruments and information systems"
  • "Perform venous, arterial and capillary punctures on patients"
  • "Identify and label all samples collected with correct patient information"
  • "Prepare the specimen and decide the suitability of the specimen for the requested test"
  • "Follow proper guidelines for safe handling of blood, body fluids and hazardous chemicals"
  • "Report laboratory test results"
  • "Maintain close supervision over the retention and disposal of specimens, reagents, slides, etc."
  • "Interact with all laboratory customers courteously and professionally"

Workplace Problems

  • Lab technicians come into contact with infectious specimens and toxic chemicals; they must take the proper precautions, including wearing protective clothing and eyewear, to decrease their risk of exposure to these dangerous substances.
  • They spend a lot of time on their feet.

How to Become a Lab Technician

To work in this occupation, you can complete an associate degree program in clinical laboratory science at a community college. This will take approximately two years. Alternatively, you can earn a one-year certificate from a hospital or a vocational or technical school. The Armed Forces also offer training for lab technicians. Some states may require a professional license. You can use the Licensed Occupations Tool from CareerOneStop to learn about the requirements in the state in which you plan to work.

What Soft Skills Do You Need?

You will acquire the hard skills that allow you to do your job through your formal training, but lab technicians also need certain soft skills or personal qualities.

They are:

  • Physical Strength and Stamina: You must be able to lift and turn patients who have disabilities that limit their movement.
  • Listening Skills: The ability to understand laboratory technologists' instructions and patients' concerns is essential.
  • Reading Comprehension: Lab technicians must be able to read and understand instructions.
  • Critical Thinking: You must be able to compare the benefits of different solutions to problems before choosing the best one.

What Will Employers Expect From You?

In addition to skills and experience, what qualities do employers look for when they hire employees? Here are some requirements from actual job announcements found on Indeed.com:

  • "Must have great attention to detail"
  • "Ability to see clearly at 20 inches or less"
  • "Must be able to adapt and work in a collaborative fashion with all hospital departments and customers"
  • "Must be patient service oriented"
  • "Computer skill preferred"

Is This Occupation a Good Fit for You?

  • Holland Code: IRC (Investigative, Realistic, Conventional)
  • MBTI Personality Types: ISFJ (Tieger, Paul D., Barron, Barbara, and Tieger, Kelly. (2014) Do What You Are. NY: Hatchette Book Group.)

Occupations With Related Activities and Tasks

 DescriptionMedian Annual Wage (2015)Minimum Required Education/Training
Laboratory TechnologistPerforms complex tests in a medical laboratory

$60,520

Bachelor's Degree
PathologistUses lab techniques to analyze specimens for presence and stage of diseases$187,200Doctoral Degree
PhlebotomistDraws blood for laboratory tests and donations$31,630Post-secondary Training
Cardiovascular TechnologistUses invasive and non-invasive procedures to help doctors diagnose cardiac and vascular disease.$54,880Associate Degree

Sources:

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor​ Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2016-17

Employment and Training Administration, U.S. Department of Labor, O*NET Online