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Working in a Clinical Laboratory

Discover the various jobs that are available in a clinical laboratory. Find out how to become a technologist or technician and what to expect in the workplace.

Technologists and Technicians

A wide range of expertise can be found in a clinical laboratory. Many of the positions are geared toward a specific branch of science. For example, microbiology technologists focus on identifying microorganisms such as bacteria, while a molecular biology technologist will perform protein and DNA testing. Technicians assist technologists in many ways. Phlebotomists collect blood samples and histotechnicians prepare tissue slides for examination by pathologists. The co-operative effort between technologists and technicians ensure an efficient and productive clinical laboratory.

Duties

Clinical laboratory technologists and technicians support doctors in determining a diagnosis and course of treatment for sick patients. This comes in the form of chemical and biological testing of bodily fluids and tissue. Technologists perform analytical tests, make cultures, develop new testing procedures and supervise technicians. Some of the specific functions of a technologist include identifying the type of bacteria or fungus invading a tissue sample, determining whether a cell is cancerous through microscopic examination, calculating the concentration of a specific compound in blood, and preparing test results for doctors. Technicians, working under the supervision of a technologist, prepares specimens and operate automated equipment.

Education

To become a clinical laboratory technologist, a bachelor’s degree in medical technology or in one of the life sciences is required. The curriculum includes chemistry, the biological sciences, microbiology, mathematics and statistics. Clinical laboratory technicians require an associates degree or a certificate from a vocational school. Some technologist positions require a license and registration with the state. Certification from professional organizations such as the American Society for Clinical Pathology is highly recommended.

Skills

To be successful as a clinical laboratory technologist or technician, you should have excellent analytical and problem solving skills. The ability to handle pressure constructively is also important. Attention to detail is also highly desirable. To accurately and safely perform lab tests, manual dexterity and normal color vision is essential. The ability to operate computer programs which run laboratory equipment is also required.

Work Conditions

Clinical laboratory technologists and technicians are exposed to hazardous chemicals and biological samples. To work safely, the proper equipment must be worn. This includes safety gloves, safety glasses, lab coat and mask. The lab itself is ventilated, lighted and generally well-kept. Workers spend most of the day at lab benches performing tests or in front of computer screens analyzing test results.

Salary and Job Outlook

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median wage for a clinical laboratory technologist was $53,500 as of May 2008. The median wage for a clinical laboratory technician was $35,380. Between 2008 and 2018, the number of clinical laboratory workers is expected to increase by 14 percent.

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