How to Become a Medical Lab Technician in 4 Important Steps

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You don’t have to be sewing up sutures or harvesting organs to help save lives. A medical lab technician (MLT) may work behind the scenes, but with their knowledge and expertise, they play an integral role in helping doctors first identify the root condition that needs to be treated.

Working under the supervision of lab technologists, medical lab techs perform tests, analyze body fluids and work with sophisticated laboratory equipment in order to help doctors and surgeons determine the best course of action for their patients.

But how do you become a medical lab technician, exactly? As someone who is passionate about healthcare, you’re itching to enter the field and start earning a paycheck while helping to save lives. If you’re looking for the simple, straightforward path to get there, we’ve got it here! Learn more about these four steps to learn how to become a medical lab technician.

4 Straightforward steps to become a medical lab technician

Instead of scouring the web for bits and pieces of information, we compiled a variety of information to provide you with this outline of how to become a medical lab tech.

1. Get educated

Though you may be in a hurry, you won’t be able to bypass the medical lab technician education requirements. You’ll most likely need an Associate’s degree to land a job, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).1 You’ll be happy to hear that these programs typically last fewer than two years – the Rasmussen University program can be completed in as few as 21 months.2

MLT programs will cover comprehensive courses that help students understand diagnostic testing, blood work safety standards and equipment and technology. Take a look at some of the courses included in the Rasmussen University program.

Medical lab technician courses:

  • Clinical chemistry
  • Microbiology
  • Hematology
  • Phlebotomy
  • Transfusion medicine.

Additionally, when searching for a quality MLT Associate’s degree program, it’s important to be sure it’s accredited by the National Accrediting Agency for Clinical Laboratory Sciences (NAACLS).

2. Take the ASCP certification exam

Upon completion of an accredited program, you should be eligible to sit for the American Society of Clinical Pathology (ASCP) exam to acquire certification. Think of certification as sort of like your driver’s license. It’s the proof that signifies you really do know what you’re doing. This evidence of your competence in the medical lab field just puts you another step closer to landing your first job.

The Rasmussen University MLT program prepares graduates to take the ASCP certification exam – the application fee for each qualified student’s first exam attempt is even included in the program costs.3 It's true that not all employers require certification, but job prospects will be best for MLT candidates who acquire professional certification, according to the BLS.1

3. Look into licensure

Medical lab technician requirements will vary by state. The BLS states that some areas may require that lab personnel get licensed. To find your local requirements, check with your state’s department of health, board of occupational licensing or visit the American Society for Clinical Laboratory Science (ASCLS) website to learn more.

4. Brush up on in-demand MLT skills

Before you begin applying for medical lab technician jobs, it’s helpful to know exactly what employers are looking for so you can be prepared and put your best foot forward. Working in a medical lab requires a unique blend of hard and soft skills.

We used real-time job analysis software to examine more than 110,000 MLT jobs posted over the past year.4 This data helped us identify the top hard and soft skills employers are seeking in potential lab technicians. Here’s what we found:

Top technical skills for MLTs:

  • Quality assurance and control
  • Chemistry
  • Phlebotomy
  • Laboratory testing
  • Patient care
  • Customer service
  • Laboratory equipment
  • Data entry
  • Microbiology
  • Occupational health and safety

These skills may seem intimidating at first glance, but rest assured that these are precisely the types of skills taught in a Medical Laboratory Technician program. But in addition to this technical training, there are some transferable skills that many successful MLTs share.

Top transferable skills for MLTs:

  • Communication
  • Organization
  • Attention to detail
  • Research
  • Problem solving

If you can identify with some of the traits above, you may be a natural fit for the field. Your medical lab technician education will help you round out your skills so you’re equipped to work in the medical lab.

Why now is the time to launch your MLT career

Now that you have a good understanding of the path towards pursuing a medical lab technician position, there are a few important career facts that might help solidify your interest in this field.

Medical lab technician job outlook

The first thing worth knowing is that opportunities are on the rise. The BLS projects MLT jobs to increase 11 percent through 2028, which is more than twice the average for all occupations.1 This spike has been spurred by the aging Baby Boomer population’s needs, such as using medical procedures to diagnose diabetes, cancer and other medical conditions. Additionally, prenatal testing for various conditions has become more common, and healthcare reform has enabled more and more people to seek out lab tests that were previously unaffordable.

Medical lab technician salary

Not only are qualified medical lab technicians in demand, they’re also well compensated. The BLS reports the 2018 median annual salary for MLT professionals was $52,330.1 Compare that to the $38,640 median annual salary for all occupations and you see why it’s favorable.

The MLT salary potential can fluctuate depending on several factors like experience, education, geographic area and the healthcare setting in which they’re employed. Those who work in hospitals tend to have the highest compensation levels, according to the BLS.1

Take the first step towards a rewarding MLT career

Now that you know how to become a medical lab technician and why the timing is right—what are you waiting for? Get started on those steps today by learning more about how our Medical Lab Technician Program can help equip you with the practical knowledge and hands on training you need to succeed in the field.

1Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, [career information accessed February 2020]. This represents national, averaged data for the occupations listed and includes workers at all levels of education and experience. Employment conditions in your area may vary.
2Time to completion is dependent on accepted transfer credits and courses completed each quarter. (analysis of 112,973 MLT jobs posted, Mar. 01, 2019 – Feb. 29, 2020).

EDITOR’S NOTE: This article was originally published in 2017. It has since been updated to include information relevant to 2020.

About the author

Callie Malvik

Callie is the Content Manager at Collegis Education, overseeing blog content on behalf of Rasmussen University. She is passionate about creating quality resources that empower others to improve their lives through education.

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