We all see our fair share of nurses, doctors and medical assistants when we go in for a check-up. But we rarely see what happens to our blood sample after it is carted away.
Or how about the other sample you leave in the mysterious cubby in the bathroom? You know the one we’re talking about, especially if you’ve ever had a baby or applied for a job that required a drug test.
The professionals behind the medical curtain are responsible for analyzing biological material for diseases or abnormalities. They can be called anything from a lab assistant to a medical lab technician (MLT) but they have one thing in common—performing lab tests to find a diagnosis.
The job may sound pretty straightforward at first, but there is actually a lot to lab work beyond beakers and test tubes. We spoke to a few medics working in the field and uncovered seven things about working in a lab that you never would have guessed.
1. Working in a lab requires certification in most states
You’re not going to be a doctor, so you might think you’ll get a healthcare job without all that extra training. While it’s true that you won’t need to spend years in medical school, you’ll still have to pass some tests to get what you want.
One major surprise for people considering working in a lab that examines patient specimens is that they require state certification and even licensure in some instances, says Rachel McLean, clinical laboratory specialist at HealthEast Medical Laboratory. MLT credentialing processes vary by state, but typically include completion of an accredited program and passing of an exam.
2. Doctors rely on your analysis for answers
Contrary to what the stereotypes suggest, not all doctors think they are the only ones with the answers. In fact, more than 70 percent of physician’s decisions are based on laboratory results, according to the American Society for Clinical Pathology.
You can’t have a functioning hospital without a lab, says Laurie Bjerklie, MLT program coordinator at Rasmussen College. They are critical to the medical process.
3. Practically any body fluid or tissue gets processed in a medical lab
The results are virtually endless since all types human samples come through a lab. For example, a blood sample can be analyzed for “cancer tumor markers, blood ABO type, chemistry panels, pregnancy, alcohol and drug levels, bacterial infections, and HIV to name a few,” McLean says.
4. Working in a lab means every day is a surprise
By its very nature, a healthcare job is a little unpredictable. Just like a nurse never knows who’s going to come through the doors of the emergency room, you truly never know what kind of specimen will come through your window. And that is not limited to the aforementioned variety of tissues. Samples will often arrive in an assortment of modalities from mason jars to Kleenex boxes, Bjerklie says.
5. Laboratory support is in demand
MLTs hold one of the most in-demand positions in the healthcare industry. But it’s also a position for which healthcare providers struggle to find suitable candidates. In fact, technicians were listed in Forbes’ 2013 Hardest Jobs to Fill. This is largely due to the lack of appropriately trained applicants, Bjerklie says.
6. Working in a lab is less stressful than other jobs
There’s no doubt that some healthcare jobs are stressful. Sometimes it’s a matter of life or death and split-second decisions must be made. An MLT’s duties are usually not so dramatic. In fact, medical lab technician was found to be the fifth least stressful job of 2013 in a study by Career Cast. While MLTs are integral to the healthcare process, the limited patient interaction can take some of the pressure off employees of this field, Bjerklie says.
7. You don’t need a MLT bachelor degree for a 4-year certification
Job growth and career advancement can be a concern for any industry. Advancement to a managerial position working in a medical lab typically requires a 4-year degree, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).
Many students are surprised that the bachelor degree is not limited to a medical lab specialization. Any bachelor degree combined with a MLT certificate program qualifies students for a 4-year certification, Bjerklie says. So if you started your career in another field, you do not have to spend an entire four more years in school to work in a medical lab.
To sum it up …
When it comes to healthcare, working in a lab is an exciting place to be. There is a lot more to the job than meets the eye, including the opportunity to be a part of a people’s wellbeing without all of the stress that goes along with direct patient care.
If this all sounds good to you, find out whether a career as a medical lab technician matches your future ambitions. Check out Rasmussen College’s School of Health Sciences for more information on the program schedule for medical lab technicians.