How to Become a Hospital LabTechnician

Overview

Hospital lab technicians, also known as medical laboratory technicians, collect samples, perform tests, examine bodily fluids and tissues, assess for diseases and develop treatment plans for medical conditions. In order to be a hospital lab technician, you will need a graduate degree in a health-related area. In addition, many employers require that you be certified and licensed before providing services to patients. You will work directly under a laboratory manager or medical laboratory technologist. Your main duty will be to perform the laboratory tests and procedures order by physicians and/or other medical professionals.

Education Requirements

If you want to be a hospital lab technician, you will need to obtain an associate’s degree or a lab technician certificate. It is important to note that some states require that a hospital lab technician be licensed. If you are in high school and interested in pursuing a career in medical laboratory sciences, you should take classes in chemistry, mathematics and biology. A multitude of hospitals, colleges and universities offer a variety of medical technology programs. While enrolled in a program, you should enroll in as many clinical laboratory science and general and specialized science courses as possible.

Many teaching hospitals offer lab technician certificate programs for those who already have a degree in a health-related field like nursing. Vocational and technical schools also offer lab technician certificate programs for those interested in this field. While in your program, your coursework will focus on the practical and theoretical facets of a variety of laboratory fields.

Certificate programs typically take less than a year to complete. The goal of these programs is to teach you how to perform basic hospital laboratory processes (like phlebotomy and urinalyses).  While in your program, you may take the following courses: scientific theories, anatomy, chemistry, physiology, immunology and hematology.

An associate’s (AA) degree program, on-the-other-hand, teaches you how to assess the patient’s immune system, nutritional  and hormones levels and electrolytes through his/her blood test results. An associate’s degree program consists of a multitude of clinical laboratory classes and supervised clinical internships. During this time you receive a combination of practical hands-on experience and theoretical coursework instruction so that you know how to take a patient’s blood, tissue and/or urine sample correctly. You also learn how to test those samples and analyze the results.

Licensure & Certification

As mentioned previously, some states require that hospital lab technicians be licensed before providing services. To be licensed, you will need to first obtain a bachelor’s degree and then pass the licensure exam. Licensure requirements vary from state to state so it is important that you contact your state’s licensing board or department of health for more information. In addition, some states require that hospital lab technicians be certified.

Although certification is not required in all states, many employers prefer that their hospital lab technicians be certified. If you decide to seek certification, you will have a choice of general certification as a medical laboratory technician or specialty certification as a medical biology technician or phlebotomy technician. Most states require that you achieve your education from an accredited training program in order to seek licensure and/or certification. Moreover, you may be required to enroll in continuing education courses every two to three years to maintain your license and certification.

Job Duties

Hospital lab technicians are often on their feet for long periods of time. You may also be forced to breathe in non-toxic fumes from hospital materials, medicines, etc. Your primary responsibilities will be to collect samples and if need be turn and/or lift ill and/or disabled patients. You will be thoroughly trained how to handle infectious materials as to minimize risks.

In addition, you will follow hospital policies and procedures, in regards to sterilizing equipment and controlling infection and disease, so that you will not experience health hazards. For instance, while in the lab and/or collecting specimens, you will wear gloves, protective masks and/or safety goggles. You will more than likely work full-time in a hospital, clinic, independent laboratory or medical facility.

As a hospital lab technician, you may be required to perform the following duties:

  • Collect tissue, blood and urine samples to assess diseases and determine the effectiveness of medications
  • Assess a patient’s immune system function and evaluate his/her hormone levels
  • Analyze blood, urine, tissue and blood samples and document the results
  • Perform lab tests
  • Sterilize medical equipment and instruments
  • Maintain patient laboratory records
  • Operate laboratory equipment
  • Consult with other medical professionals to determine the correct treatment plan for the patient

Salary Prospects

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (2013), in 2010, there were approximately 300,000 hospital lab technician jobs available in the United States. Approximately 50% of hospital lab technicians work in hospitals and the rest work in clinics or independent laboratories. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (2013), you can make $37,000 per year, on average. If you fall in the lower 10%, you can expect to make approximately $25,000 per year, but if you are in the upper 10%, you can expect to earn approximately $57,000 or more per year.

Career Outlook

The career outlook  for jobs is favorable, but not as favorable as in some of the other health-related jobs. These jobs are expected to increase 15% by 2020 (bls.gov). The increase will stem from the continual needs of the aging population. As people age they will need additional health care services to diagnose illnesses and assess their health and well-being. Hospital lab technicians will be needed to collect samples, analyze lab tests and operate medical equipment.

Related Reading

References and Further Readings

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