10 Insights You Won’t Find in the Medical Lab Technician Job Description
“Hey, nobody ever told me that!”
In nearly any role, it’s practically inevitable that you’ll experience things on the job that never appeared in the job posting—and that definitely holds true for medical lab technician job descriptions. It’s not that employers are trying to hide something or pull a fast one on applicants. It’s just that some things are typically learned by doing.
But if you’re thinking of pursuing a medical lab technician career, it’s always good to learn as much as you can about the role. To help with this, we compiled a list of insider tips and insight from the medical lab professionals who know there’s more to the job than what you’ll find in a help wanted ad.
Beyond the medical lab technician job description
Want the full picture of what it’s like to work as a medical lab technician? Here’s what you likely won’t find scouring online job boards.
1. The type of person best suited for the profession
Most job descriptions list technical skills, yet there is no doubt that personality traits play a role in job success and satisfaction. So who fits the bill?
“A person who wants to help patients in a medical setting, yet really loves and understands science and how it relates to the human body,” explains Tammy Renner, Rasmussen College School of Health Sciences Department Chair.
2. Hours can be varied, including evening, overnights, weekends and holidays
Most medical lab technicians work in hospitals, which are 24/7 operations. The need for healthcare professionals knows no off hours. As the new kid on the block, entry-level employees typically get a greater share of the shifts outside of traditional work hours.
Even when you become a more senior medical lab technician, you may find yourself working nights and weekends. That’s because the hospital may need flexibility with staffing to cover shifts for sick time or vacations. It’s also common for medical lab technicians to be on call at times.
If working nights and weekends is a concern, you could also pursue a lab position in a doctor’s office or medical clinic that tends to have more routine daytime hours.
3. Medical lab technicians are behind-the-scenes players
Think of this analogy: Doctors and nurses are like the actors on stage, and medical lab technicians are like the stage crew behind the scenes. But that doesn’t lessen the importance of the role you’d have. Without medical lab technicians, the important role of helping and healing patients doesn’t happen. Doctors and nurses depend on the findings from the work you do.
4. Medical lab technicians handle potentially hazardous materials
Your duties as a medical lab technician will involve handling biohazardous substances such as blood, urine and tissue samples. Handling these materials requires a high level of care to prevent contamination to yourself and others. But don’t worry—with modern day safety equipment and following best practices for handling, you should be perfectly safe while on the job.
5. It’s important to keep strict confidentiality
Because you’re dealing with very private issues related to people’s health, it’s imperative that you keep your work confidential. You might think to yourself: “If I’m working behind the scenes and not seeing the patients directly, how could this be an issue?”
As you are handling and labeling samples, there is always a chance you could notice the name of someone noteworthy, such as a politician, prominent business person or someone else newsworthy in your community. You might be tempted to tell just a few friends—but that’s absolutely unacceptable. It’s not ethical or professional to do so, and it’s a violation of HIPAA privacy rules.
6. It’s an extremely technical job
As the name suggests, the job is quite technical in nature, so you need to have a comfort level with that. The job involves working with sophisticated diagnostic equipment. As medical knowledge advances, that trend is expected to increase. You’ll need to expect that the profession will change with the times and there may be a need for frequent retraining on new equipment.
The tasks you’ll perform are varied and depend on the size of the laboratory and medical facility you’re working in. “You could perform electrocardiograms, arterial blood gases, blood pressure readings or start IVs,” Renner explains.
7. Attention to detail is key
Science-based work comes with a lot of focus on details, and being a medical lab technician is no different. You’ll deal with countless precise measurements and data.
“Laboratory professionals need a keen eye for details. Sometimes the smallest abnormality leads to a specific diagnosis,” Renner says.
After you collect the data, you’ll need to log it into medical records, which also requires an eye for detail—a measurement is worthless if the results are incorrectly logged.
8. It’s a problem-solving job
During a work shift, you’ll encounter challenges. It’s important to have an agile mind that can work through difficulties when they occur. A good medical lab technician is a level-headed, calm person who approaches work thoughtfully and methodically.
9. There’s stress with the job, yet a lot of satisfaction
As a medical lab technician, you’re dealing with people’s lives, so the job comes with real pressure.
“Emergency, ICUs and operating rooms can be stressful situations due to the critical nature of the environment and patient situations,” explains Renner. “Medical lab technicians need to remain calm and perform testing quickly and accurately.”
It may be intense, but these high-pressure situations mean you’re playing a critical role in diagnosing and treating patients whose lives may be at stake—and that’s something to be proud of.
10. A pathway for career advancement exists
Being a medical lab technician is a solid job that’s in demand, stable and professionally satisfying. But like with any position, you may want to keep growing professionally. One common next step for medical lab technicians is to become a medical lab technologist. These positions may require additional education or training, but it’s good to know that you’re not locked in to a medical laboratory technician role if you reach the point where you’d like a new challenge.
Now you know
Whenever considering a new career path, it’s wise to consider whether the job is what you really want. That’s why we’ve shared some insights rarely brought up in a medical lab technician job description.
If this sneak peek has you thinking this is a profession you’d like to pursue, learn more about the path that lies ahead of you in our article, “How to Become a Medical Lab Technician in 4 Important Steps.”