The Importance of Laboratory Certifications (And How To Get One)

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published October 21, 2021

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Laboratory work is an important part of the research and development process in many companies. You can find laboratory positions in a variety of industries and that require different specializations. Through a certification program, you can earn an officially recognized specialization to show employers your qualifications. In this article, we discuss why laboratory certifications are important and how to get one.

Related: Lab Skills: Definition and Examples

Why are laboratory certifications important?

Laboratory certifications are important for verifying that you have sufficient knowledge of laboratory practices and regulations to meet care and safety standards for health care facilities. Through certification preparation, training and renewal, you remain updated on new developments for laboratory standards and systems.

You establish connections with program peers and mentors to exchange ideas and build your professional network. Certifications like those offered by the American Society for Clinical Pathology (ASCP) Board of Certification ensure that certified laboratory professionals have a mutual understanding of laboratory terminology, concepts and practices.

Companies may require or prefer to hire those with laboratory certifications to ensure their research teams are highly qualified. They may hire team members who have the same certifications so they can operate with the same foundational knowledge base. Laboratory teams with different certifications can also promote diverse collaborative environments. Having a certification demonstrates that you can work in a laboratory setting effectively, conduct specific procedures and produce accurate results.

Related: 32 Career Paths in the Medical Field To Explore

How to get a laboratory certification

Consider following these steps to get a laboratory certification:

1. Complete a high school diploma or equivalent

To prepare for a laboratory certification course, it's necessary to first get your high school diploma or General Education Development (GED) certificate. You can take electives that offer a laboratory component or enroll in math and science-related courses to build your laboratory knowledge. While completing your secondary education, you can also volunteer or find positions within laboratory settings to gain experience.

2. Get a bachelor's degree

Next, it's essential to earn a bachelor's degree in math, chemistry, biology or another laboratory-related subject. Some specific laboratory certifications require particular degrees, such as one for blood banking specialists, which requires candidates to have a degree with 30 semester or 45 quarter hours in biology and chemistry. You can find specific degree requirements through the certification provider's website or by calling a representative of the certifying organization.

3. Check your state certification and license requirements

To ensure you're ready to apply for a laboratory certification, it's helpful to check that you fulfill all the requirements in your state. You can choose the right certification by evaluating your intended career path and considering what prerequisites you may have already completed. For example, if you want to advance to laboratory supervising roles, you can choose certifications that prepare you to supervise technologists in a particular specialty.

States may also have particular certification requirements for the career you want to pursue. These requirements often include earning additional certifications before or after your laboratory certification. To learn about the specific requirements in your area, you can contact representatives of certifying organizations online or over the phone.

4. Complete an accredited laboratory program

The Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP) and the National Accrediting Agency for Clinical Laboratory Sciences (NAACLS) approve certification programs for laboratory roles. Your specific laboratory certification can require you to complete laboratory programs recognized by these organizations. The ASCP offers certification with accredited programs as a prerequisite for roles, such as:

  • Cytogenetics technologist

  • Cytotechnologist

  • Histotechnologist

  • Medical laboratory assistant

  • Molecular biology technologist

Related: Clinical Laboratory Technologist: Definition, Duties and Skills

5. Get an ASCP or relevant certification

Depending on your intended field, certification providers may require you to earn additional certifications for these specializations:

  • Blood banking specialist

  • Blood banking technologist

  • Chemistry specialist

  • Cytotechnology specialist

  • Hematology specialist

  • Hematology technologist

  • Laboratory management diplomate

  • Microbiology specialist

  • Microbiology technologist

  • Molecular biology specialist

  • Pathologist's assistant

Related: The Difference Between Medical Technologist and Clinical Laboratory Scientist Jobs

6. Gain laboratory experience

Along with accredited education, some certification programs require clinical or medical laboratory experience for these specializations:

  • Chemistry specialist: These professionals need three years of experience to qualify for a certification program.

  • Cytometry specialist: Cytometry specialists need four years of experience to be eligible for a program.

  • Cytotechnology specialist: Professionals like cytotechnology specialists need three years of experience to apply for certification.

  • Hematology specialist: These laboratory scientists need three years of experience to qualify for a program.

  • Laboratory management diplomate: These professionals need four years of laboratory experience to be eligible to apply for certification.

  • Microbiology specialist: These specialists need three years of experience to apply for certification.

  • Molecular biology specialist: Molecular biology specialists need three years of experience to qualify for a certification program.

7. Get a laboratory certification

The ASCP offers a Computer Adaptive Testing (CAT) program that adapts the difficulty of exam questions to your knowledge level, with harder questions providing more points during the scoring process. ASCP certification exams are two and a half hours long and include 100 multiple-choice questions that candidates have five chances to complete.

As you answer the multiple-choice questions, the difficulty level of questions increases when you answer questions correctly and can decrease if you answer incorrectly. To pass the exam, candidates need a score of 400 out of 999.

ASCP offers various online resources to help you prepare for your exams. For example, the organization provides general outlines of the subjects covered, along with a suggested reading list. These reading lists can include laboratory journals that cover relevant and up-to-date laboratory information. You can also research other study materials to help you prepare.

8. Maintain your certification

Laboratory certifications are usually valid for three years unless otherwise stated by certification program providers. Renewing your certification requires maintaining and updating your knowledge of laboratory procedures and regulations. You can renew your certification by offering proof of continued laboratory education or through retaking exams.

FAQs about laboratory certifications

Here are some frequently asked questions and responses about laboratory certifications:

How long does it usually take to earn a laboratory certification?

While the time an exam takes depends on the certification for which you're applying, they typically take about two and a half hours. Some certification programs may require candidates to earn educational achievements or work experience before the exam, each of which may take three to four years to complete. Depending on the specific certification you're pursuing, the average time to complete a laboratory certification is seven years.

How do I maintain my certification?

Each certification program has its own certification renewal process that may involve continued coursework throughout your certification period or require studying completing another exam that focuses on current laboratory information. Certification program providers can advise you on how to maintain your specific certification and update you when it's time to renew. Maintaining your certification through continuous study allows you to remain knowledgeable about laboratory developments.

What are common prerequisites?

While the prerequisites differ for each laboratory certification, common prerequisites include education, experience and other related certifications. Many laboratory certifications require candidates to have a bachelor's degree in a type of math or science and to have completed coursework in laboratory settings. Additionally, certifying organizations often prefer candidates to have formal work experience in clinical or medical laboratories within health care or research facilities.

Please note that none of the companies or certifications mentioned in this article are affiliated with Indeed.

Explore more articles