Clinical laboratory technicians, also referred to as medical technologists or clinical laboratory scientists, study and analyze body cells and fluids using laboratory equipment, microscopes, chemicals, and computers. These technicians play an essential role in the detection, diagnosis, and treatment of disease. To become a clinical laboratory technician, a bachelor's degree is required in most cases, with a major in one of the life sciences. A student who strives to become a clinical laboratory technician may qualify for some jobs with a certificate or associate’s degree, however.
A majority of clinical laboratory technicians work in hospitals, but they may also be employed by medical groups, research laboratories, private practices, pharmaceutical companies, and universities. As the use of computer technology has increased, the work of clinical lab technicians has become more analytical and less hands-on. The amount of responsibility technicians assume, level of judgment required, and complexity of procedures performed will greatly depend on the amount of experience and education the technician has. An individual who wants to become a clinical laboratory technician may work in several areas of a lab, or just specialize in one.
An entry-level clinical laboratory technician is generally required to have a bachelor’s degree, with a major in medical technology or one of the other life sciences. It is possible, however, to qualify for some jobs as a clinical lab technician with a combination of on-the-job and specialized training and education. In the US, the Clinical Laboratory Improvement Act requires technicians who perform complex procedures to have an associate’s degree.
A number of hospitals and universities offer programs in medical technology for a student who wants to become a clinical laboratory technician. Undergraduate degree programs often require those who want to become clinical lab techs to take classes in microbiology, chemistry, biological sciences, statistics, and mathematics. Students are also likely to be required to complete course work in specialized topics dedicated to the skills and knowledge used in the clinical laboratory. These degree programs may also offer courses in business, management, and specific computer applications.
Many clinical technicians will also pursue specialized education or graduate studies to advance their careers in microbiology or clinical chemistry. In the US, approximately 470 programs approved for medical and clinical laboratory technicians are fully accredited by The National Accrediting Agency for Clinical Laboratory Sciences (NAACLS). The Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs and the Accrediting Bureau of Health Education Schools are also accredited agencies that provide programs for clinical laboratory technicians in the United States. Educational requirements vary in other countries.
Not every state or region requires laboratory workers to be registered or licensed. For a clinical laboratory technician to be licensed, he or she usually must pass an exam and a have a bachelor’s degree, but requirements vary by laboratory specialty and regional regulations.