How to Become a Laboratory Technician
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Laboratory technicians collect samples on biological tissue and fluids to perform tests. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), laboratory technicians and technologists made a median salary of $54,180 per year in 2020. Lab technicians usually need an associate degree or a postsecondary certificate. You may have to be licensed in your state, as well.
According to the National Center for Education Statistics, the average cost of a bachelor's degree is $28,120 per year and an associate degree is $11,390 per year, so you would end up paying under half of the same tuition if you got an associate degree over a bachelor's degree. You could pay even less if you attend a trade school to earn a postsecondary certificate. Read on to learn how to become a lab tech.
Steps to Becoming a Laboratory Technician
The first step to becoming a laboratory technician is to enter a lab tech training program. These programs are usually offered as two-year associate degrees, often through technical and community colleges. You might also be able to find a certificate program for laboratory technicians, which typically takes around 12 months to complete. Courses cover lab skills, life sciences, and clinical credits.
Your state may require a license to get a job as a laboratory technician. You may have to take an exam to show that you are proficient in the skills technicians use in a lab. These are administered by boards, such as the American Society for Clinical Pathology (ASCP) Board of Certification, which is the oldest and largest certifying board for laboratory professionals. Check with your state for requirements.
After you have completed your education and are certified, you can work on finding a job. Your lab tech program might offer help with your job search.
Although optional, you can also get a bachelor's degree in fields like medical technology, a medical laboratory scientist degree, or a life sciences field like biology. This will open doors so you can work as a clinical or laboratory technologist. Coursework for this program involves more of a focus on life sciences, math, and laboratory management.
Laboratory Technician Salaries and Job Growth
Data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) and Projections Central, a U.S. Department of Labor-sponsored website.
Top 10 States with the Highest Job Growth:
- Utah: 43%
- Arizona: 35.3%
- Colorado: 26.8%
- Tennessee: 24.5%
- Maryland: 20.5%
- New York: 20.2%
- Georgia: 20%
- Virginia: 19.7%
- Nevada: 19.5%
- California: 19.3%
What Does a Laboratory Technician Do?
Laboratory technicians collect samples and run tests on body tissue, fluids, and other matter. These professionals need the skills to analyze bodily fluids and other samples to record their findings. They must know how to use a variety of lab equipment like computerized readers. Technicians typically do the types of tests that are more routine or automated.
Career Paths for Lab Techs
At this level, lab techs usually have completed a certificate or associate degree in a laboratory technician program. They may also be licensed by their state. Laboratory technicians perform more routine or automated tests on biological materials.
Those looking to advance their careers might become medical laboratory scientists, sometimes also called laboratory or clinical technologists. At this level, professionals will have a bachelor's degree in a life science, medical technology, or a more direct medical laboratory scientist degree. These professionals perform more complex tests and procedures in the lab, often requiring more complicated manual manipulation or analysis.
These professionals often prepare human tissue in a lab setting to help a pathologist perform their duties. Pathologist assistants have to take undergraduate courses in life sciences like biology, chemistry, and microbiology.
Pathology assistant programs then take two years to complete after obtaining a bachelor's degree and result in a master's degree. Programs include lectures and clinical experience.
These professionals examine the body and body tissues and perform lab tests to help diagnose different diseases and disorders. A pathologist has completed medical school and has at least three years of residency training.
FAQs on Becoming a Laboratory Technician
How do you become a lab technician?
You will need to complete a laboratory technician program. These are typically offered as a certificate or associate program. Some states also require that you pass a licensing exam.
How much does a laboratory technician make?
The BLS lists laboratory technologists and technicians with a median annual salary of $54,180 in 2020.
How long does it take to become a laboratory technician?
Certificate programs for laboratory technicians can run around one year, while an associate degree typically takes two years.
How much does it cost to become a laboratory technician?
The average associate degree costs $11,390 per year, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. As an example of certificate program costs, the Fox Valley Technical College medical laboratory assistant certificate program costs around $3,000.
Are there laboratory technician programs online?
Yes, you can find a laboratory technician program online.
Lab Tech Training Programs
In your journey on how to become a lab tech, you would enroll in a laboratory technician program. Lab tech training programs typically offer a variety of science courses, like general anatomy and physiology, biochemistry, and microbiology. Students might also take communication courses and psychology courses to help them work in a lab and team environment.
From there, students take courses that teach them skills and other knowledge they'll be using in the lab, like:
- Basic lab skills
- Lab math
- Molecular diagnostics
- Clinical chemistry
A good program will also offer clinical experience credits.
Related Career Options for Laboratory Technicians
Helps with duties in a clinical setting like taking vital signs and maintaining patient records.
Assists in surgeries, which may include responsibilities like sterilizing surgery equipment and keeping the equipment organized.
Provides care to patients, helping them with activities like walking, bathing, or eating.
These professionals assist the medical community by drawing blood.
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