What Does a Medical Lab Tech Do?

What does a medical lab tech do

You’ve heard about the exciting career opportunity in the healthcare industry, but you don’t exactly picture yourself as a nurse. It’s important to know that not all healthcare careers involve direct patient care. There are in-demand opportunities in the field that allow you to work behind-the-scenes while still having a positive impact on people’s health.

Becoming a medical lab tech (MLT) is one of those opportunities. The bright future of this field is indicated by the 18 percent projected increase in jobs through 2024, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). This is more than twice the average rate for all occupations.

FACT: Medical lab tech jobs are projected to increase 18% through 2024.

That stat alone should pique your interest about this career. But it’s not enough to make up your mind. Before choosing to pursue this profession, you need to be able to answer the following question: What does a medical lab tech do?

So what does a medical lab tech do? They work in laboratory settings that aid in disease and illness diagnosis – but that is merely the tip of the iceberg. The variety of duties that an MLT performs makes it an ever-changing position that demands creativity and problem-solving skills.

But before you can realize you want to become a medical lab technician, you should be able to answer the following question: what does a medical lab technician do, anyway? Keep reading to find your answer!

What role does a medical lab tech play in the healthcare field?

Hospitals and doctors’ offices wouldn’t be the same without medical lab technicians. MLTs are a critical component of a functioning healthcare facility. They work under the supervision of physicians, lab managers or lab technologists to conduct lab tests on specimens. The work they do behind-the-scenes helps doctors detect diseases or illnesses and determine treatment options.

Though you may not frequently come into contact with an MLT as a patient, it doesn’t mean they don’t play a crucial role on the medical team. If you do encounter an MLT, he or she will likely be donning a full lab coat, mask, gloves and goggles while collecting or handling specimens for testing.

Now let’s get into some more specific job duties.

What does a medical lab tech actually do?

You know medical lab techs perform lab tests, but what does that actually mean?

Simply put, these tests are chemical analyses of body fluids – such as blood or urine – using a microscope or automatic analyzer. These tools help MLTs detect abnormalities or diseases, using a computer to enter their findings throughout the process. These chemical analyses are considered to be a core job duty, but MLTs also use mechanical and electrical devices to ensure their test results conform to specifications.

Medical lab technicians are also tasked with the following:

  • Setting up, maintaining, calibrating, cleaning and testing the sterility of medical lab equipment
  • Preparing solutions or reagents to be combined with samples
  • Collecting blood, tissue or other samples from patients

Along with these job duties, MLTs could also be responsible for matching blood compatibility for transfusions, analyzing chemical content of fluids or examining immune system elements.  With sophisticated lab equipment, they search for parasites, bacteria and microorganisms in their samples.

What are some medical lab tech specialties?

The roles mentioned above will likely vary based on the specific area in which you specialize. For example, MLTs focused on phlebotomy will have duties based around collecting and testing blood.

Other specialties include:

  • Microbiology
  • Blood banking
  • Immunology
  • Clinical chemistry
  • Molecular biology

The next question is –what skills are required to work in this field?

What skills & qualities do successful medical lab techs possess?

It should be obvious by now that much of an MLTs work revolves around the laboratory. So it shouldn’t be surprising that the skill employers are seeking most is chemistry.

We used real-time job analysis software from Burning-Glass.com to examine more than 75,000 MLT job postings over the past year.* This data helped us identify the top 10 skills employers are seeking in MLT candidates. Here’s what we found:

  • Chemistry
  • Laboratory testing
  • Phlebotomy
  • Medical technology
  • Lab equipment maintenance
  • Pathology
  • Laboratory procedures
  • Biology
  • Hematology
  • Data entry

Some other important qualities many successful MLTs share are problem-solving, effective communication and the ability to work under pressure. They must also enjoy working independently and be able to withstand long shifts on their feet. Hospitals never sleep, which means some MLTs work a night shift or are on call for emergencies.

Now that you know what a medical lab technician does…

The next time someone asks, “What does a medical lab tech do?” you’ll now be able to answer confidently. You should have a basic understanding of the career to know if it’s something you’re interested in exploring further.

If you like what you’ve heard and can picture yourself in a lab coat and goggles, there’s more to explore about this rewarding healthcare career. Check out this article to get the inside scoop on working in a laboratory: Medics Reveal 7 Surprising Facts About Working in a Lab.


*Burning-Glass.com (analysis of 75,499 medical lab tech job postings, Jul. 1, 2014 – Jun. 30, 2015)

Aaron Lawrence

Aaron is a freelance writer for Collegis education who writes student-focused articles on behalf of Rasmussen College. His interest in writing articles for students stems from his passion for poetry and fiction and the belief that all words can educate.

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