Female Medical Laboratory Technician at work

How to Become a Medical Laboratory Technician

Duties, Responsibilities, Schooling, Requirements, Certifications, Job Outlook, and Salary

Female Medical Laboratory Technician at work

If you’re excited by the idea of working with cutting-edge lab equipment to help doctors, nurses, and other healthcare professionals diagnose and treat patients, a career as a medical laboratory technician could be your calling. It’s an essential role in just about any healthcare setting with diagnostic equipment.

This career guide will teach you everything you need to know about becoming a medical laboratory technician, including the educational requirements, certifications, day-to-day duties, and how long it generally takes to launch your new career as a medical lab tech.

Not sure if becoming a medical laboratory technician is right for you? Click here to see our full list of the best entry-level medical jobs.

Medical Laboratory Technician Definition

What is a Medical Laboratory Technician?

Medical laboratory technicians are an essential part of keeping patients healthy, both in clinical settings and behind-the-scenes locations like blood banks or diagnostic labs. Medical lab techs collect samples and run tests to determine the presence (or cause) of diseases or to ensure treatments like blood transfusions are properly categorized and safe for patients.

Medical Laboratory Technician: Job Description

What Does a Medical Laboratory Technician Do?

Before any patient can receive medical treatment, it’s critical for their team of healthcare professionals to diagnose their condition accurately—especially since so many different causes of illness can have similar overlapping symptoms. As a medical laboratory technician, you’ll play an essential role in determining the best course of treatment for every patient. You’ll perform crucial sample collection and testing that helps doctors and other healthcare professionals understand the full picture of any patient’s illness or injury.

Medical Laboratory Technician Duties

Some of the day-to-day responsibilities of medical laboratory technicians include:

  • Collecting samples like bodily fluids or tissue samples
  • Analyzing samples and recording normal or abnormal findings
  • Operating sophisticated lab equipment like microscopes or cell counters
  • Accurately logging data into medical records or other databases
  • Discussing test results with physicians or other health professionals

Medical Laboratory Technician Skills

Above all, great medical lab techs have to be detail-oriented. When you’re working with medical samples that can be easily contaminated, staying focused throughout every step is essential to getting accurate results that help treat and protect patients. You’ll also need the manual dexterity to confidently handle needles, pipettes, and other precision laboratory equipment, as well as the physical stamina to work on your feet for hours at a time. Since medical laboratory technicians work with high-tech lab equipment, it’s also a major plus if you’re the type who can learn to use new technologies relatively quickly.

Smiling group of medical professionals

Medical Laboratory Technician Hours & Work Environment

Most medical laboratory technicians work full-time, 40-hour workweeks. Their hours can vary somewhat, as facilities like hospitals open around the clock may require overnight or weekend shifts. There can be some risks associated with the working environment, especially when handing infectious samples or using lab chemicals that may produce fumes. However, all medical lab techs receive extensive training to help minimize any risk of injury or illness and are provided with the proper protective equipment to stay safe on the job.

Medical Laboratory Technician Schooling & Certification

How Long Does it Take to Become a Medical Laboratory Technician?

What Degree Do You Need to be a Medical Laboratory Technician?

To launch your new career as a medical lab tech, you’ll need to complete a Medical Laboratory Technician program from an accredited college or university. Finishing an MLT program means earning an Associate of Applied Science degree, which usually requires around two full years in school. However, accelerated degree programs make it possible for you to earn your degree in as little as 64 weeks.

Like any long-term goal, working toward a new career as a medical laboratory technician seems much more attainable when you break it down into individual steps.

Here’s a step-by-step guide to the education, experience, and certifications you’ll need to become a medical laboratory technician:

1. Enroll in a Medical Laboratory Technician (MLT) Degree Program

The first step toward starting your new career as a medical laboratory technician is enrolling in an MLT associate’s degree program at an accredited institution. Whether you’ve always wanted to work in a lab or you’re ready to switch careers, just about anyone can qualify for an MLT program. For example, admission to the Medical Laboratory Technician program at Brookline College requires just a high school diploma or GED, plus a passing score on the Scholastic Level Exam.

2. Earn Your Medical Laboratory Technician Associate’s Degree

The majority of your degree program will be focused on the knowledge and skills you’ll need to become an expert lab tech. However, you’ll still need to complete some general-education coursework in subjects like Math, English, and Science. These general-ed courses will make you a better critical thinker and communicator and build a solid foundation for the skills you’ll need to succeed as a medical laboratory technician.

Throughout your program-specific studies, you’ll become familiar with the types of tests and samples you’ll be working with and how they fit into the bigger picture of treating patients. Since medical laboratory technicians conduct many different tests and lab tasks, you’ll need to build a baseline knowledge of hematology, chemistry, and microbiology. Not only does this provide a solid starting point for your future career, but it’s also a great way to find out the type of lab work that interests you the most and determine which area you may want to seek out as your specialty.

Before finishing your MLT degree, you’ll also spend time in a real clinical environment performing supervised lab tasks. Plenty of hands-on experience in a controlled setting will ensure you’ve got the skills and confidence to hit the ground running once you land your first job as a medical laboratory technician.

Before enrolling in a medical laboratory technician program, it’s worth considering a school that offers job-placement assistance to its students. Having somebody on your side with plenty of experience navigating the hiring and interview process can give you a leg up on the competition.

3. Get Certified By One of the Major Credentialing Organizations

After earning your MLT associate’s degree from an accredited program, you’ll be qualified to take a certification exam from one of the MLT credentialing organizations. While certification isn’t always required to become a medical laboratory technician, many employers will only hire certified lab techs, so it’s well worth your time to seek certification. The credentialing organizations you’ll want to look into are the American Society for Clinical Pathology and American Medical Technologists. While each organization’s exams differ slightly, you can expect both to have between 100-200 multiple-choice questions and last between two to three hours. Practice exams are available from both organizations, which could be a big help in reducing test anxiety and building the confidence you’ll need to ace the test.

4. Get Licensed On a State-By-State Basis

Many states require laboratory personnel to earn a license, though licensing requirements will differ between different states and lab specialties. To learn specifics about becoming licensed to work as a medical laboratory technician in your state—or another state where you’d like to live and work—you’ll want to check in with that state’s health department or the American Society for Clinical Laboratory Science.

(Click here to read out Medical Laboratory Technician (MLT) Certification Exam & Test-Prep Study Guide)

Smiling woman writing outside

How Much Does it Cost to Earn a Medical Laboratory Technician Degree?

Plenty of colleges and universities charge over $20,000 per semester, not including the cost of lab fees, books, or other required course materials. However, as online education continues to become more popular, millions of people have been able to get a secondary education who otherwise would have never had the opportunity. Online colleges are often both more affordable and more transparent about the actual cost of earning your degree. Wherever you decide to pursue your MLT degree, make sure it’s with a college or university that’s open and honest about what you’re spending.

Medical Laboratory Technician Salary

How Much Do Medical Laboratory Technicians Make?

According to data from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), medical laboratory technicians earn an average of about $55,000 per year. The top 25% of earners among MLTs earn over $68,000 per year. Make it into the top 10% of earners in the career field, and you’re looking at an annual salary* of over $80,000.

Highest Paying Industries for Medical Laboratory Technicians

According to the BLS, these are the industries where you’re most likely to find the top-paying MLT jobs:

Industry Average Hourly Pay Average Salary
Medical Equipment Manufacturing $31.95 $66,450
Specialty Hospitals $30.53 $63,510
General Medical & Surgical Hospitals $27.26 $56,690
Outpatient Care Centers $27.14 $56,460
Medical & Diagnostic Laboratories $25.88 $53,840

Highest Paying States for Medical Laboratory Technicians

According to the BLS, these are the states where MLTs earn the highest average annual wages:

Location Average Hourly Pay Average Salary
Alaska $34.35 $72,690
Rhode Island $32.69 $68,000
Connecticut $32.64 $67,900
New York $31.52 $65,560
Oregon $31.19 $64,880

Highest Paying Cities for Medical Laboratory Technicians

According to the BLS, the following cities pay the highest average salaries for medical laboratory technicians in the US:

Location Average Hourly Pay Average Salary
Vineland, NJ $38.73 $80,560
Carson City, NV $37.69 $78,400
Anchorage, AK $36.72 $76,370
San Luis Obispo, CA $36.14 $75,180
Sacramento, CA $35.35 $73,530
Ventura, CA $35.29 $73,410
Redding, CA $35.02 $72,850
Santa Barbara, CA $34.51 $71,790
Fairbanks, AK $34.46 $71,670
Santa Cruz, CA $34.32 $71,390

Medical Laboratory Technician Job Outlook

What is the Job Outlook for Medical Laboratory Technicians?

Advances in lab technology mean many tasks traditionally reserved for scientists with doctorate degrees can now safely and effectively be carried out by lab techs. When combined with the ongoing increase in demand for overall medical services, that adds up to excellent long-term career prospects for medical laboratory technicians. The BLS projects the overall employment of medical laboratory technicians to grow 7% by 2029, which is nearly double the average growth rate for all jobs across all industries (4%).

Students on their computers

Ready to Start Your Career as a Medical Laboratory Technician?

Suppose you love the idea of working with up-to-date lab equipment and crave the flexibility to specialize in many different areas. In that case, a career as a medical laboratory technician could be right up your alley. It’s a natural fit for observant, detail-oriented people who want to earn a great living while making a positive difference. Learn more about the Medical Laboratory Technician program at Brookline College, and start taking steps toward your new career today.