How to Become a Laboratory Technician

Laboratory technician jobs can offer satisfying and meaningful work. Learn more about how to become a laboratory technician.

portrait of Juliann Scholl, Ph.D.
by Juliann Scholl, Ph.D.

Published on February 25, 2022 · Updated on May 13, 2022

Edited by Madison Hoehn
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How to Become a Laboratory Technician

Laboratory technicians serve an essential role in healthcare delivery and medical advancement, even though most of the public typically does not see the work they do. Surgeons and other physicians rely heavily on lab technicians to provide lab results and diagnostic findings.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects that jobs for clinical laboratory technicians will grow 11% between 2020-2030, compared to 8% for all occupations.

Lab technicians perform various duties, including matching blood for transfusions, analyzing biological samples, performing diagnostic tests, and operating advanced laboratory equipment. Laboratory technicians must follow strict state regulations and workplace guidelines. Many lab technicians enjoy relative job satisfaction, even though their workloads can get heavy.

Laboratory Technician Requirements

When researching how to become a laboratory technician, individuals should become familiar with the job's training and certification requirements. For example, some professionals earn an associate degree while some fulfill their requirements with training in the workplace.

High School Diploma/GED

Individuals need a high school diploma or GED certificate to become a laboratory technician. However, most aspiring professionals need additional education beyond high school. Some companies might hire people with just a high school education if they provide on-the-job training and the new employee obtains proper certification.

Associate Degree

Most employers prefer job seekers with associate degrees in laboratory science or a related field. Professionals who want to advance in their careers, qualify as laboratory technologists, or expand their job prospects might pursue a bachelor's or master's degree.

Regardless of their educational goals, students should enroll in programs that hold accreditation from the National Accrediting Agency for Clinical Laboratory Services (NAACLS).

Certification

Laboratory technicians should prepare to obtain certification, depending on their state or healthcare industry. Regardless of regional or state requirements, certification demonstrates an individual's proficiency and professionalism.

A medical lab technician certification represents a fairly common credential for these professionals, and it requires an associate degree and renewal every three years. Professionals should consult the NAACLS to determine which certifications they might need. They might also find more information about credentialing from the American Medical Technologists and the American Society for Clinical Pathology.

What Does Laboratory Technician Training Look Like?

Most students pursuing laboratory technician careers take courses and practical labs to prepare them for analysis, sample collection, waste disposal, report generation, and other duties. In addition to formal education, most lab technicians require on-the-job training.

Continuous training will remain a requirement throughout a lab technician's career. Professionals can build on their skills by attending conferences and seminars that allow them to stay up-to-date on the latest discoveries in their field. Lab technicians will also need continued training throughout their careers to maintain their certifications.

How Long Does It Take to Become a Laboratory Technician?

A laboratory technician typically completes two years of full-time postsecondary schooling. If students enroll in courses outside of their core curriculum, it might take them longer to graduate. Some employers may hire someone with a high school diploma if they offer on-the-job training.

Laboratory Technician vs. Technologist

Duties, certifications, and educational requirements differ between a laboratory technician and a technologist. Lab technicians typically need only an associate degree in laboratory science or a related major. Generally, coursework often exposes students to practical and theoretical aspects of performing duties in a laboratory.

On the other hand, technologists generally require a bachelor's degree. They also need a background in medical science, technology, biology, or another life science major. Their courses typically cover statistics, math, chemistry, and microbiology. They also need standard laboratory skills and safety training, which often takes place on the job.

Laboratory Technician Salary

According to the BLS, clinical laboratory technicians earned a median salary of $54,180 in 2020. However, compensation can vary depending on the specific industry. For example, the BLS reports that in 2020, lab technicians in outpatient centers and physicians' offices made median salaries of $57,640 and $48,260, respectively.

The job outlook for a laboratory technician looks promising. The BLS projects that jobs in this field will grow 11% between 2020-2030, compared to 8% for all occupations. According to the BLS, about 335,500 lab technicians worked in the U.S. in 2020, with projected employment being about 372,000 in 2030.

Frequently Asked Questions About Laboratory Technicians

What skills does a laboratory technician need to have? true

Laboratory technician skills tend to vary because of the complex work the job requires. For instance, lab technicians need problem-solving proficiencies to arrive at conclusions from the data they collect and analyze. Laboratory technicians also need organization skills to maintain and sort through records to find information quickly. Organizational aptitude also allows these individuals to keep a tidy and efficient workspace.

Strong communication is another essential skill for lab technicians because it enables these professionals to work closely with other colleagues and report their lab findings in written and verbal form. Also, because of the workload, lab technicians need strong time management to work on simultaneous tasks.

Is being a laboratory technician a good career? true

Individuals who do not mind working behind the scenes might find a laboratory technician career rewarding. Many lab technicians view their jobs as meaningful because it allows them to perform crucial roles in healthcare, especially helping physicians and surgeons do their work.

According to an American Association for Clinical Chemistry (AACC) survey of clinical laboratory technicians, most professionals report relatively high job satisfaction, partly due to a sense of accomplishment stemming from their work. The AACC survey also revealed that more than 70% of respondents indicated they perceived that their coworkers valued them as colleagues.

Is laboratory technician a stressful job? true

Despite fairly high levels of job satisfaction among lab technicians, stress and burnout can still occur. According to an AACC survey of clinical lab technicians, over 85% of respondents reported feeling burnout at some point in their careers.

Some technicians' stress stems from high workloads and salaries not proportionate with typical work experience and training. Job applicants might consider working for companies that offer wellness programs that help employees reduce stress and maintain their physical and mental well-being.

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