Young woman looking through a microscope

Step-by-Step Guide to Operating Laboratory Equipment

Learn the basics of the laboratory equipment used by medical laboratory technicians.

Young woman looking through a microscope

A medical laboratory technician is one of the best-entry-level medical jobs, and they play a vital role in the diagnostic process, running tests on blood and other bodily fluids as ordered by doctors. Our body fluids hold clues about what’s going on with our health. In many cases, the best option for diagnosing a patient’s illness or disease lies in examining their blood, urine, or tissue.

Medical laboratory technicians manage bodily fluid samples and run diagnostic tests ordered by the doctor. The medical laboratory technician’s responsibility is to ensure the accuracy of those tests.

(Click here to review our complete list of medical lab tech duties & responsibilities)

Medical laboratory technicians use an assortment of lab equipment to analyze samples. In this article, we’ll delve into the most common laboratory equipment used.

What Are the Common Duties Performed by a Medical Laboratory Technician?

These are the typical duties performed by a medical laboratory technician:

  • Analyze various body fluids and record the findings.
  • Study blood samples to identify blood type and compatibility for transfusion
  • Operate laboratory analyzers in various departments, such as hematology, clinical chemistry, hemostasis, and immunohematology
  • Use of a Laboratory Information System (LIS) to record clinical tests performed on patient samples.
  • Provide immediately to the medical provider any patient critical values

If you’re interested in this high-demand field, you can learn more about how to become a medical laboratory technician.

What Is the Role of the Medical Laboratory Technician?

Medical laboratory technicians are at the forefront of the diagnostic area of healthcare. Our body fluids contain clues to what’s going on with our health, often when there may not be any outward signs to aid in diagnosis. In many cases, the best option for diagnosing a patient’s illness or disease lies in their blood, urine, or various other fluids.

The medical laboratory technician takes these samples and runs clinical tests ordered by the doctor. It’s up to the laboratory technician to ensure the reliability of the tests.

Once the medical laboratory technician completes their testing, any abnormal results are passed on to the doctor by the medical laboratory scientist.

What Laboratory Equipment Is Used by a Medical Laboratory Technician?

Medical labs have different testing equipment depending on areas of specialization. However, there are a few pieces of lab equipment that you’ll find in just about any medical or research laboratory. Some common laboratory equipment is:

Microscopes — Microscopes use magnification to enable medical laboratory technicians to inspect aspects of the sample that cannot be seen with the naked eye. Microscopes can be to:

  • View different types of blood cells for counting and categorization.
  • Identify different types of microorganisms, such as bacteria or parasites that cannot be seen with the naked eye.
  • Check for abnormalities, such as finding white blood cells or bacteria in urine.

Scientist examining test samples

Hematology Analyzer — Hematology is the area of medical science that deals with blood and blood-forming organs. Hematology analyzers are used to count and identify blood cells with a high level of accuracy. Hematology analyzers are fully automated and contain computer processors. This intricate piece of equipment employs different techniques for cell counting, such as flow cytometry, light scatter method, fluorescent dye, radiofrequency waves, and electrical impedance. Hematology analyzers are used for:

  • Complete blood cell counts, which include white blood cell count, red blood cell count, and platelet.
  • Differential- separates the white blood cell types(neutrophils, lymphocytes, monocytes, eosinophils, and basophils).
  • Reticulocyte analysis

Blood Gas Analyzer — Blood gas analyzers use electrodes to determine the partial pressure of gases such as carbon dioxide and oxygen in a patient’s blood and help detect abnormal acid/base balance. They are also used to determine the concentrations of ions such as sodium, potassium, or chloride.

Clinical Centrifuge — Centrifuges play a vital role in any lab. They are used to separate different parts of a liquid through relative densities, insoluble particles, sediment-suspended solids, blood, and immiscible liquids. Centrifuges are equipped with a rapidly spinning inner container that holds the samples. The centrifuge uses centrifugal force to separate different liquid components when loaded and started.

The five most common centrifuges found in medical and research laboratories are:

  • Benchtop centrifuges
  • Refrigerated benchtop centrifuges
  • Clinical benchtop centrifuges
  • Microcentrifuges
  • Vacuum centrifuges/Concentrators

Incubator — Incubators are environmentally controlled chambers where temperature, humidity, and carbon dioxide levels can be precisely maintained. The environment created in the incubator promotes the growth of cells and tissue cultures. Most incubators are used for microbiological purposes, such as:

  • Growing and storing bacterial cultures or cell cultures
  • Maintaining cultures for later use
  • Increasing the growth rate of organisms through optimal environmental conditions
  • Reproducing microbial colonies
  • Storing samples in the lab before they can be processed

Numerous other pieces of equipment are used in a medical laboratory, and you may encounter laboratory equipment not mentioned depending on the type of tests your lab routinely performs.

How Long Does It Take a Medical Laboratory Technician to Perform Tests with Lab Equipment?

With most common blood and urine tests, the results from the medical laboratory technician are usually delivered to the doctor within 24 hours. Results could take even more time to process for microbiology testing.

What Training is Required to Work with Laboratory Equipment?

To work as a medical laboratory technician, a person needs to earn a Medical Laboratory Technician associate degree from an accredited institution.

Training with laboratory equipment begins in the medical laboratory programs and is reiterated during a clinical externship.

Once you have your degree, you are qualified to become certified by one of two major credentialing organizations, ASCP Board of Certification or American Medical Technologists.

Female scientist looking in a microscope

Ready to Become a Medical Laboratory Technician?

As a medical laboratory technician, you’ll work with the above-mentioned lab equipment and more. It’s interesting, engaging work that makes a real difference in patient health and successful outcomes. Through your testing and analysis, you’ll provide the diagnostic information needed for the doctor to proceed with treatment.

At Brookline College, you can earn the necessary Associate of Applied Science degree in as little as 64 weeks with our Medical Laboratory Technician program. Since this field is growing in demand, now is a great time to get started on the path toward your new career as a medical laboratory technician.