What Is a Lab Technician?

Career information

Lab tech using micro-pipette
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A lab technician collects and processes specimens, including skin and bodily fluid samples, from patients in a hospital or private medical diagnostic laboratory. They work under a laboratory technologist's supervision using procedures that help medical professionals diagnose diseases, plan treatments, and ascertain their effectiveness. An alternative title for this career is medical laboratory technician.

Quick Facts

  • Lab technicians earned a median annual salary of $52,330 in 2018.*
  • Roughly 332,000 people worked as lab technicians in 2018.
  • Job outlook for the profession is bright, with an 11% growth expected from 2018-2028.
  • Employers include hospitals, medical and diagnostic laboratories, and physicians' offices.
  • Most jobs are full-time and, depending on when facilities are open, may include weekends, evenings, and holidays.

Workplace Challenges

  • Lab technicians come into contact with infectious specimens and toxic chemicals, so they must take the proper precautions, including wearing protective clothing and eyewear, to decrease their risk of exposure to these dangerous substances.
  • They spend a lot of time on their feet.
  • Accuracy and attention to detail are extremely important in this work, so those who lack these strengths should pursue a different career path.

How to Become a Lab Technician

To work in this occupation, you can complete an associate's degree program in clinical laboratory science at a community college. This will take about two years. Alternatively, you can earn a one-year certificate from a hospital or a vocational or technical school. The armed forces also offer training for lab technicians.

Some states may require a professional license. You can use the Licensed Occupations Tool from CareerOneStop to learn about the requirements in the state in which you plan to work.

What Soft Skills Do You Need?

You will acquire the hard skills that allow you to do your job through your formal training, but lab technicians also need certain soft skills or personal qualities. They include:

  • Physical strength and stamina: You must be able to lift and turn patients who have disabilities that limit their movement.
  • Listening skills: The ability to understand laboratory technologists' instructions and patients' concerns is essential.
  • Reading comprehension: Lab technicians must be able to read and understand instructions.
  • Critical thinking: You must be able to compare the benefits of different solutions to problems before choosing the best one.

Is This Occupation a Good Fit for You?

It's always important to conduct a self-assessment before choosing any career. Finding a good match for your personality, interest, and values will ensure a good fit.

  • Interests (Holland Code): RIC (Realistic, Investigative, Conventional)
  • Personality Type (MBTI Personality Types): ISTJ, ISFJ, INTJ
  • Work-related values: Support, Relationships, Independence

Differences Between a Laboratory Technologist and a Laboratory Technician

Medical laboratory technologist and laboratory technician are related occupations that are easily confused. However, educational prep and duties differer considerably for these two jobs. Technologists must earn a bachelor's degree and therefore have a more extensive training and theoretical knowledge base than technicians, who need only an associate degree. 

Technicians collect, process, and analyze specimens. They perform lab procedures and maintain instruments. In addition to these procedures, technologists execute sophisticated analyses—evaluating and interpreting results, conducting research, developing new methods, and supervising technicians.

Related Occupations

Title Description Median Annual Wage (2018) Minimum Required Education/Training
Medical Laboratory Technologist Perform complex tests that help other healthcare professionals such as physicians detect, diagnose, and treat diseases $52,330* Bachelor's degree in medical laboratory technology or life sciences
Cardiovascular Technologists and Technicians Run tests on patient pulmonary and cardiovascular systems $56,850 Associate degree
Diagnostic Medical Sonographers Create ultrasonic recordings of patient internal organs $72,510 Associate degree
Respiratory Therapy Technicians Provide patients with respiratory care (with direction from therapists and physicians) $51,210 Associate degree

*U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics Data aggregates lab technicians and technologists into one data set.

Article Sources

  1. U.S. Department of Labor, Employment & Training Administration. O*Net Online, Accessed on Oct. 24, 2019.