Making the decision to take on a new career can be difficult, especially if you’re seeking to enter a completely new field. How can you know you’re ready for a specific career? Well, for starters, earning a degree in your field is a good indicator of both interest and competence.
But what if you need a little more confidence? Knowing the skills you’ll need to be successful in your chosen career can help.
If you’re interested in healthcare, there are many options available to you. One career path that is an integral part of the medical team is that of the medical lab tech.
Throughout the course of your medical laboratory technician (MLT) career, you’ll monitor treatments, help diagnose diseases, test samples, study blood cells and enter test results into patients’ records. You’ll use computers, microscopes and other lab equipment on a daily basis to accomplish these tasks.
But enough of the technical stuff. Aside from earning a degree and performing all of the aforementioned duties to the best of your ability, there are also some important personality traits that will help you become a successful MLT.
Do you think you have what it takes? Find out the answer to that question with tips from Tammy Renner, Rasmussen College’s national MLT program director and 31-year MLT veteran.
You might be ready for an MLT career if …
1. You want a healthcare career with little patient contact
Medical lab techs work mainly, but not completely, behind-the-scenes.
You’ll obviously have close patient contact when you’re collecting samples, including urine and blood, Renner says. But apart from that, you’re in the lab analyzing and testing fluids and tissues trying to determine the cause of a patient’s illness.
And limited patient contact doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll work traditional workdays. According to Renner, MLTs are needed at all hours of the day in all types of medical facilities.
“Patients are there 24/7,” she says. “They don’t get well on the weekends, and they don’t get well when you want to go home.”
2. You’re flexible and good at multi-tasking
On any given day you’ll run multiple tests on multiple machines for multiple patients. Based on what the doctor requests, you might: check someone’s white blood count, run a pregnancy test, conduct a urinalysis, look for elevated enzymes after a heart attack or any of the other things that are within your scope of practice.
“Whether it’s in an emergency room [or] whether it’s in a clinic, you will continually run those samples until the end of the day,” Renner says.
Of course, your daily duties will depend somewhat on the facility in which you’re employed. For instance, smaller hospitals will definitely test your multi-tasking skills thanks to fewer employees.
“You are the med tech, you are the phlebotomist and you might even learn how to do other things, like X-rays,” Renner says.
3. You have strong communication skills
MLTs need excellent communication skills, Renner says. Even though the majority of your work will be completed in a lab, you’re still part of a medical team. This will require you to consult with a variety of people throughout the course of your day. Whether you’re working with patients, explaining procedures to their families, comparing notes with your colleagues or reporting test results to doctors, strong communication skills are paramount in this profession.
It is particularly important that you convey accurate results to doctors. Miscommunication can result in a misdiagnosis, which is inconvenient at best and a malpractice lawsuit at worst.
4. You’re interested in science
MLTs usually have a strong background in chemistry, biology and physiology. Specifically, knowledge of tissues and cells is required, as is an expert understanding of chemical compositions and interactions.
For people who want to be an MLT, this kind of knowledge is exciting. Renner says most want to know what type of organism has infected a person and, more importantly, which antibiotic will help destroy it.
But don’t worry, you’re not expected to be a science expert right away – that’s why you’ll take classes focusing on these issues.
It can be hard to know when you’re ready to enter a new field, but if you can relate to the above characteristics, you might be ready to take on a medical laboratory technician career. But the first step is an MLT associate’s degree or certificate, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
If you’re still exploring your options in the world of medicine, check out our “Healthcare Job Outlook” eBook for specific information about this and other healthcare fields.