How to Become a Laboratory Technician

Want to land a fascinating healthcare job in as few as two years? Here's a play-by-play for becoming a lab tech ASAP.
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  • A two-year associate degree can prepare you for a job as a laboratory technician.
  • Some states also require certification and licensure.
  • Lab techs earn above-average salaries and play an important role in patient care.

Lab techs are the folks we'll all turn to for answers when the zombie apocalypse finally hits. It's their job to collect and analyze samples — like blood, tissue, and urine — in order to detect abnormalities, diseases, or infections. They play a crucial, behind-the-scenes role in the process of diagnosing and treating patients.

It's a fascinating job, says laboratory technician Kimberly Shaw. "Every day is different, and there is always something new to learn. I love that my work has a direct impact on patient care. Without accurate and timely lab results, doctors can't make the best decisions for their patients." is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

Ready to Start Your Journey?

With the demand for skilled healthcare workers on the rise, now is the time to pursue your own career as a lab technician. Follow these steps, and in no time you'll be the one saving the day in a white coat.

Education and Certification

High School Diploma/GED Certificate

The minimum education requirement to become a lab technician is a high school diploma or GED certificate combined with on-the-job training and required certification.

"I recommend that students who are thinking of working in this industry get as much hands-on experience in a lab setting as they can because it makes it easier to get a job or apply for further education programs," said California lab technician Genevieve Gerdts.

Associate Degree

Many employers prefer candidates with additional training — which is why you should consider getting your associate degree in laboratory science from an accredited program.

Advanced Degree

A bachelor's or a master's degree can give you even more upward mobility in the field and help you qualify for more complex and supervisory roles, like clinical lab technologist or laboratory manager.

According to Payscale, the average base salary for a laboratory manager is $74,246 a year. And the top 10% of lab managers earned up to $112,000 a year.

Certification and Licensure

Depending on your state or healthcare industry, you'll probably also need to obtain certification as a medical lab technician. Some states may require you to get licensed as well.

These resources can help you figure out what certifications and credentials you might need:

Even if your state doesn't require certification, getting certified will help you be a more proficient and effective technician — and sends a signal to employers that you're the real deal.

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.

"The coursework in my medical laboratory technology program was challenging, but I found it fascinating. I learned about everything from hematology to microbiology to clinical chemistry," said lab technician Kimberly Shaw.

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.

"The hands-on experience in the lab was an especially rewarding part of my training, as I could apply what I learned in class to real-life scenarios."

Kimberly Shaw, laboratory technician

Typically, maintaining certification throughout your career will also require you to keep your training up-to-date with continuing education. In addition, attending conferences and seminars can help you stay abreast of the latest discoveries and advances in medical laboratory science.

How Long Does It Take to Become a Laboratory Technician?

It takes two years to get an associate degree in medical laboratory science. There are many online programs that can give you additional flexibility and freedom to pursue your degree at your own pace.

Some employers who offer on-the-job training may hire someone with a high school diploma.

Laboratory Technician Salary

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), clinical laboratory technicians earned a median salary of $57,800 a year in 2021.

However, compensation can vary depending on the specific industry. For example, the BLS reports that in 2021, lab technicians in outpatient centers and physicians' offices made median annual salaries of $60,110 and $59,930, respectively.

The BLS projects that jobs in this field will grow 7% between 2021-2031, which tracks with the average growth for all occupations.

Frequently Asked Questions About Laboratory Technicians

What does a laboratory technician do?

In a normal day, laboratory technicians will:

  • Collect samples from patients (like blood, urine, tissue, and other bodily fluids)
  • Use laboratory technology to study and analyze those samples
  • Produce reports and discuss findings with physicians
  • Help maintain and care for laboratory equipment

What skills does a laboratory technician need to have?

In addition to technical and analytical skills, great laboratory technicians also need a number of so-called "soft skills", like communication, time management, problem-solving, and collaboration.

"Most laboratorians are introverts who prefer to work quietly and independently but still have a strong desire to help people," said Jennifer England, MS, MLS (ASCP). "This profession allows for both of those things to come together."

What's the difference between a lab technician and a lab technologist?

Primary differences between lab technicians and technologists center around education and on-the-job duties.

Technicians work under the supervision of technologists or laboratory managers. They collect samples from patients and perform routine testing. They typically need only an associate degree in laboratory science or a related major.

Technologists often fill supervisory roles, perform more complicated research and testing, and interpret test results. They may choose to specialize in specific areas of practice. Technologists generally require a bachelor's degree in medical science, technology, biology, or another life science major.

Is laboratory technician a stressful job?

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.

"One of the biggest challenges is the pressure to produce accurate results quickly," explained Shaw. "It can be stressful sometimes. And working in a lab can be isolating, so it's important to have good communication and teamwork skills."

"One downside of the profession is that because not many people know it exists, there is a severe technician shortage. With a shortage comes short staffing and downward-trending morale," said England. is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

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