What Does a Lab Technician Do? (With Steps and Skills)

Updated July 7, 2023

A clinical or medical laboratory technician career can be an exciting opportunity for those interested in pursuing a healthcare career that doesn't involve working directly with patients. In this position, you can have a vital role in medicine, supporting physicians, lab managers and other medical personnel to improve patient outcomes. Understanding this career path can help you plan how to pursue it and determine if it's right for you.

In this article, we answer 'What does a lab technician do?', how to become one, the skills to develop, the specializations a lab tech can focus on, what a typical work environment looks like and the average salary and career outlook for this position.

What is a lab technician?

A laboratory technician is a medical expert who works in medical laboratories or other facilities to conduct various experiments and tests for further scientific research. They can perform hands-on experiments and research online and through observations. Overall, the goal is to diagnose, treat and prevent diseases and other health conditions.

Related: What Is a Laboratory Technician

What does a lab technician do?

A lab technician performs highly mechanical, technical or diagnostic tests in a scientific laboratory. They often complete various tasks where they record data, protect the accuracy and efficiency of scientific experiments, maintain equipment and lab tools and keep the lab organized. The work lab technicians do follows strict guidelines and regulations, whether from a government agency, industry organization or internal group.

A lab technician can also:

  • Test and analyze body fluid samples, like blood or tissue

  • Adjust, calibrate and ensure the proper function of laboratory equipment and instruments

  • Operate equipment to examine multiple specimens simultaneously

  • Record data from medical tests and add the results to medical records or databases

  • Discuss results and findings of lab tests and procedures with doctors

  • Disinfect and clean the work area and equipment

  • Wear protective clothing and preventive gear to keep themselves safe and not contaminate samples

  • Prepare catalogs and identify biological samples for storage or examination

  • Order and stock lab supplies

How to become a lab technician

Here are three steps you can follow to pursue this career:

1. Complete an education

Lab technicians often have at least a high school diploma or GED before companies hire them. Many employers prefer candidates with at least an associate degree in laboratory science or a related subject.

If you pursue higher education, you may benefit from earning a degree from an institution the National Accrediting Agency for Clinical Laboratory Sciences authorizes. You can obtain a bachelor's or master's degree in laboratory sciences to gain more knowledge about the field and increase your earning potential.

Related: What Can You Do With a Medical Laboratory Technician Degree?

2. Pursue additional training and education

The type of training lab technicians receive depends on the field. Lab techs can pursue training opportunities from scientific seminars or conferences. There are many conferences lab techs can attend, depending on their fields and specializations, where they can learn more about their fields to help them stay up-to-date with industry trends and scientific discoveries. Many institutions often instruct lab techs on specific laboratory procedures during on-the-job training, which includes learning about particular methods, preparing reports and properly disposing of waste.

Additionally, staying up-to-date regarding industry knowledge and trends may help you excel in this career because of frequent new scientific discoveries. If you earned a lab tech or lab scientist certificate, attend courses or training to maintain your credentials. You also can complete online courses, attend conferences or read scientific journals. This knowledge can help you impress hiring managers or recruiters during the interview process.

Related: 9 Types of Medical Laboratory Jobs (With Primary Duties)

3. Earn certifications

Some employers or states require lab technicians to obtain certifications before completing specific work duties. Review your state's requirements to determine whether to earn a lab technician certificate before applying for jobs. Even if your state doesn't require certification, getting one can showcase your career passion and relevant knowledge.

Some certifications for individuals in this field to pursue include:

Medical Lab Technician (MLT) certification

The American Society of Clinical Pathologists (ASCP) or the American Association of Bioanalysts (AAB) offer MLT certifications, demonstrating a lab tech's ability to work proficiently in a medical laboratory. Many states require an MLT to work as a lab technician in a medical setting. To earn an MLT, licensing boards often expect you to have at least an associate degree and attend a training course, such as:

  • Chemistry

  • Biology

  • Microbiology

  • Medical ethics

  • Lab safety

After meeting the requirements, you can take an exam to earn the certificate. Once you have it, renew the certification every three years by submitting proof of your ongoing training and education.

Related: How To Get a Clinical Lab Certification in 4 Steps

Medical Laboratory Scientist (MLS) certification

An MLS certification, which the ASCP and AAB offer, shows you can perform higher responsibilities in a medical laboratory in another position as a medical lab scientist. To earn this certification, agencies require you to have a bachelor's degree and experience in a lab.

Other requirements include obtaining another relevant certification and completing a training program before passing an exam. To keep your certification current, renew it every three years by submitting proof of your ongoing training and education.

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

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

Skills for lab technicians

Depending on the type and nature of the company, lab technicians often use diverse skills to succeed in their roles. Some skills lab techs have include:

  • Microbiology and chemistry knowledge: As a lab tech, it's vital to have scientific skills, such as an understanding of microbiology and chemistry. This can help you perform experiments and interpret results to write reports and discuss with doctors or other medical specialists.

  • Math skills: Aspiring lab technicians may find it helpful to have a strong background in mathematics, including physics and calculus. These proficiencies can support your research efforts, including biomedical research. 

  • Problem-solving: Lab techs review data and choose an appropriate solution to a medical or scientific challenge. They often use systematic and thorough problem-solving strategies to help find satisfactory results.

  • Analysis: Lab techs gather and analyze large amounts of data and information, so being able to find connections in results by using analytical methods can help them succeed.

  • Organization: Organized records and work environments help lab techs perform their jobs effectively. Lab techs can sort through reports quickly and maintain a tidy work area to follow safety standards.

  • Communication: Lab techs often work closely with teams, so communicating well is essential. They also have strong written communication skills because they compile reports on their findings so others can understand easily.

  • Time management: Lab techs sometimes perform timed tests, so scheduling their days to let them monitor each step of the process is essential. Good time-management skills also help individuals in this role complete many concurrent tasks.

Related: 6 Fundamental Lab Technician Skills (Plus How To Improve)

Lab tech specializations

There are various specializations you can focus on as a lab tech, including:

Medical or clinical lab technician

Medical or clinical laboratory technicians are healthcare specialists who conduct lab tests to help physicians or doctors with diagnoses, treatments and prevention plans for patient care. They can work with body fluids, like blood samples, and examine biological specimens.

Related: Medical Laboratory Technician: Duties, Salary and Skills

Biotechnology lab technician

Biotechnology lab techs are individuals who work with microbiologists or medical scientists. These lab techs can help develop new medicine or treatment. They may also work in private industries or companies to ensure product safety.

Microbiology lab technician

Individuals working as microbiology lab techs assist microbiologists with identifying microorganisms such as bacteria and fungi. They can look for these microorganisms in various substances like blood and water samples. Some other duties include preparing for experiments by gathering test tubes and specimen samples.

Related: 19 Jobs for Microbiologists (With Primary Duties and Salary)

Blood banking lab technician

A blood bank lab tech works with blood samples. They can perform standard tests on samples and identify the type of blood the specimen is and report it to physicians and other medical experts. Individuals in this role can also help with blood transfusion and identify viruses or other harmful elements in blood samples. Additionally, they can register and screen blood donors by gathering medical information, performing blood pressure tests and checking blood count.

Immunology lab technician

This type of lab tech can have a broad overview of job duties, including performing routine and complex procedures for obtaining and testing specimen samples. Often, immunology lab technicians help patients with allergies, autoimmune disorders and immunodeficiencies.

Chemistry lab technician

A chemistry or chemical lab technician oversees chemical processes and tests the product's quality to ensure it meets local, state or federal standards and requirements. Some of their primary duties include setting up and maintaining equipment and troubleshooting issues when they encounter them. They may also prepare chemical solutions for chemists and their experiments.

Molecular biology lab technician

Molecular biology lab techs help prepare and perform molecular diagnostic tests. They collect and test DNA samples and monitor and analyze the test results to compile a report or discuss with colleagues. The experiments and research can help these techs and other medical experts diagnose and treat diseases and other medical conditions, such as cancer and nervous system disorders.

Related: How To Become a Molecular Technologist

Lab technician work environment

Lab techs work primarily in hospitals and medical and diagnostic laboratories, either independently or under the direction of another expert in a lab or field setting. Depending on their specialty, lab technicians may have a designated workspace called a lab bench, where they use various scientific instruments to perform tests and analyze results.

In the pharmaceutical field, lab techs often work in research and development or production and manufacturing. Depending on the setting, lab techs can work assorted hours. Many individuals in this field can work full-time during standard business hours, while some work overtime when conducting extensive research. Some lab techs work occasional nights and weekends when conducting a timed experiment.

Salary and job outlook for lab technicians

The average salary for a lab technician is $61,870 per year. Your earnings can vary based on location, specialty, employer, education and experience. 

The United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) categorizes lab technicians as clinical laboratory technologists and technicians. The agency projects employment for these roles to increase by 7% from 2021 to 2031.

Salary figures reflect data listed on Indeed Salaries at time of writing. Salaries may vary depending on the hiring organization and a candidate’s experience, academic background and location.

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