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Considering Work as a Clinical Laboratory Technologist or Technician?

Significant Points

Health care is a modern necessity. Nursing and health care technician jobs are often unglamorous, but have the potential to be vastly rewarding in personal, financial, and intellectual ways, providing interesting challenges and opportunities for enthusiastic people. There are numerous degrees available for different types of work in the medical field. One job that is in high demand in hospitals is for clinical laboratory technologists and technicians.

Excellent job opportunities are expected for these careers and while most jobs will remain in hospitals, employment should grow rapidly in other settings. Clinical laboratory technologists usually have a bachelor's degree with a major in medical technology or in one of the life sciences. Clinical laboratory technicians generally need either an associate degree or a certificate.

Nature of Work

Clinical laboratory technologists perform many lab tests involved in the detection, diagnosis and treatment of disease. They analyze body fluids and cells looking for bacteria, parasites, or other microorganisms. They also analyze the chemical content of fluids, match blood for transfusions, and test for drug levels in the blood. Technologists prepare specimens for examination, count cells, and look for abnormal cells in blood and body fluids.

Clinical laboratory technologists are expected to perform more complex tasks than technicians. Technologists working in small laboratories often perform a variety of tests regularly, and technologists in large labs usually specialize in things such as clinical chemistry, microbiology, blood bank work, immunohematology, immunology, cytotechnology, or molecular biology.

Technicians also have the option to generalize or specialize depending upon work environment. Specializations include phlebotomists (who collect blood samples) and histotechnicians (who cut and stain tissue specimens for microscopic examination by pathologists.

Because clinical labs often require work to be done with infectious specimens, this job requires attention to safety, infection control, and sterilization. These jobs involve many hours standing and use of some unsavory solutions and reagents.

Job experience can vary depending upon the size and type of employment setting. Larger hospitals and independent labs that operate continuously generally ask employees to work during the day, evening, or night, as well as weekends and holidays. Small facilities are more likely to schedule workers on rotating shifts rather than on a regular shift.

Education and Training, Qualifications, and Advancement

While technicians usually only need an associate degree or a certificate, technologists generally need a bachelor’s degree in medical technology or in one of the life sciences. Some jobs can be qualified with a combination of education and on-job specialization training. The Clinical Laboratory Improvement Act requires technologists who perform highly complex tests to have at least an associate degree.

People who have good analytical skills and the ability to work under pressure can be good clinical laboratory technologists and technicians. They must pay close attention to detail, and should have good manual dexterity and normal color vision

In 2008, clinical laboratory technologists and technicians held about 328,100 jobs in the U.S. Over half of jobs were in hospitals with the remaining jobs in offices of physicians and in medical and diagnostic laboratories. A small proportion was in educational services and in all other ambulatory healthcare services.

The job outlook is good and while hospitals will remain the major employers, opportunities to work in other settings will increase as well. Employment of clinical laboratory workers is expected to grow by 14 percent between 2008 and 2018, faster than the average for all occupations.

Pay Rate

Median annual wages of medical and clinical laboratory technologists were $53,500 in May 2008. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $36,180, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $74,680. Median annual wages of medical and clinical laboratory technicians were $35,380 in May 2008. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $23,480, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $53,520. For both professions, general medical and surgical hospitals usually offer the highest salaries.

Other medical jobs involving the analysis of body fluids, tissue, and other substances, using a variety of tests include chemists and materials scientists, science technicians, and veterinary technologists and technicians.

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