What is a Clinical Lab Technician? A Closer Look at Those Behind the Microscope

Clinical Lab Technician

When you watch shows like CSI, you are always more interested in the forensic side than the criminal side. You eagerly wait for the lab scenes—when they peer into microscopes and identify DNA clues from the smallest sample. The world of chemistry and microbiology are fascinating, and you want in on it.

While you don’t exactly want to be a bigshot scientist, working in a lab appeals to you. A career as a clinical lab technician could be right up your alley. If you’re not sure of what a clinical lab technician is and what they do, then you’ve come to the right place. The short answer is that clinical lab technicians work in labs to analyze human samples—from blood to tissue and everything in between. But that’s not all they do.

We examined this career from all angles to provide you with a comprehensive overview of this booming field. Read on to learn more about this fascinating healthcare career.

What is a clinical lab technician?

Clinical lab technicians are also commonly known as medical lab technicians, laboratory assistants or clinical laboratory scientists. As a clinical lab technician, you would work in a lab to help study and test different samples—whether it’s blood, tissue, urine or other cellular matter. 

This is a great job for those who want to be involved in healthcare but aren’t as comfortable working with patients. There’s no worrying about running around the floor tending to every patient. As a clinical lab tech, you can concentrate on the task at hand to provide timely and accurate results. You will make a difference through your attention to detail and ability to help identify and report abnormalities and diseases.

What does a clinical lab technician do?

Let’s start with the duties of a clinical lab tech. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), clinical lab techs are responsible for many duties including:

  • Performing tests and analyses on human blood, urine, spinal fluid or tissue
  • Collecting and reporting data regarding the test results
  • Operating lab equipment, such as microscopes and cell counters

In addition to these main duties, clinical lab technicians may also choose to pursue specialties. As a clinical lab technician, you may find yourself gravitating towards becoming a cytotechnologist (studying cells and cellular anomalies), a phlebotomist (collects blood for testing), a histotechnician (working with tissue samples) or a microbiology technician (studying bacteria and other microscopic organisms).

What skills do you need to be a clinical lab technician?

An interest in science certainly helps, but that’s not all you will need if you are thinking of becoming a clinical lab technician. We used real-time job analysis software to look at over 90,000 clinical lab technician job postings from the past year and find out what skills employers are seeking.1

The top five technical skills employers want are:

  • Phlebotomy
  • Laboratory equipment operations and maintenance
  • Chemistry
  • Laboratory testing
  • Sample and data labeling

The top five soft skills employers want include:

  • Communication skills
  • Quality assurance and control
  • Computer skills
  • Organizational skills
  • An eye for detail

So while you should have a proclivity towards science, you will learn the majority of those hard skills in school.

What is the career outlook for clinical lab technicians?

If you are trying to determine if a career as a clinical lab technician is a viable option, there are definitely some positive indicators. The BLS projects an 13 percent growth in medical laboratory technician jobs from 2016–2026. This is much faster than the projected average for all occupations, which is seven percent.

Clinical and medical lab technicians will be needed in great demand for several reasons. First, healthcare reform has allowed access to affordable medical testing for more patients. Second, with an aging US population comes a spike in patients who need lab work done. Last, the BLS predicts an increase in prenatal testing for genetic conditions.

What education is needed to become a clinical lab technician?

There’s no denying that careers in healthcare are in demand. With such a promising outlook for clinical lab technicians, why wait? You can become a clinical lab technician in as few as two years. With a Medical Laboratory Technician Associate’s degree, you can graduate in as few as 21 months.2

According to our analysis of clinical lab technician job postings, 43 percent of lab tech positions list a preference for candidates with a college degree. An associate’s degree is the most common preference, with 22 percent of job postings requiring that degree.1

In a medical laboratory technician program, you will take courses such as hematology, phlebotomy, chemistry, medical terminology and clinical microbiology. You will also get hands-on experience working in a student laboratory, so once you graduate, you will not only have the book knowledge but also the clinical skills to match.

It’s time to get started

Clinical lab technicians do much more than just stare into a microscope all day. Their exciting work has them taking a detailed look at the human body and the systems that keep us running every day. Clinical lab techs are on the front lines of medicine by assisting in the diagnoses of different diseases.

Sound exciting? Check out our article “6 Signs a Medical Lab Tech Career is Right for You” to learn more.


1Burning-glass.com (Analysis of 90,275 clinical and medical lab technician jobs Aug. 1, 2016 – Jul. 31, 2017)
2Time to complete is dependent on accepted transfer credits and courses completed each quarter.

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Anna Heinrich

Anna is a Copywriter at Collegis Education who researches and writes student-focused content on behalf of Rasmussen College. She believes the power of the written word can help educate and assist students on their way to a rewarding education. 

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