Many people think of the medical industry as a field where patients are dealt with on a personal basis, but it is important to remember that the field is actually much bigger than what you see in a hospital. Behind the scenes, thousands of technicians, assistants and scientists work in laboratories to test new medicines, develop vaccines and study new treatments to find out how to best help patients.
This science-based work is integral to the medical industry, and it can be a potentially exciting career path for the right candidates. If you enjoyed science classes in high school and you want to pursue a career that puts you on the forefront of the medical industry, then consider earning an online degree in medical laboratory technology or medical laboratory assisting.
The Role of a Medical Laboratory Technician
A medical laboratory technician, who might also be called a medical laboratory technologist or even a medical laboratory scientist, is tasked with analyzing samples to determine whether they are worth flagging for treatment or study. This typically takes place in a medical laboratory within a hospital or a research facility, but some medical laboratory technicians also work in universities or even insurance companies.
The work involves collecting and then analyzing samples of blood, fluid and even human tissue. To analyze these samples, it is vital that medical laboratory technicians know how to operate cell counters and microscopes as well as maintain these machines if necessary. After determining their findings, a medical laboratory technician may need to collect the data, enter it into an electronic database or just transcribe it into a patient’s medical record.
Many medical laboratory technicians have a niche area that they focus on. For example, a cytotechnologist will be primarily responsible for looking for cell abnormalities that could indicate cancer while a blood bank technologist will be primarily focused on collecting and then classifying blood to use for transfusions.
The Role of a Medical Laboratory Assistant
In many ways, a medical laboratory assistant has a similar job to the one outlined above. However, the difference is that the assistant will generally have less responsibility than the medical laboratory technician or technologist. Instead, the assistant will take on some of the less-vital tasks that need to be done. For example, a medical laboratory assistant might be tasked with collecting blood samples, entering data findings into a database after a medical scientist has tested all the samples or just cleaning and maintaining the microscopes, petri dishes and test tubes needed in the process.
Many lab assistants start out with this position while they pursue a college degree, or a more advanced degree than they currently hold, and then move on to working as a medical scientist or laboratory technician. Just like technicians and technologists, medical laboratory assistants tend to work in hospitals, universities and other research facilities.
Choosing a Degree Level That’s Right For You
If you have the desire to work in a medical laboratory, you will almost certainly need to earn some kind of certification or college degree in order to become a potential candidate for employers. Ultimately, the degree level that works best for you will depend on what career you choose to pursue. If you are content to be a medical laboratory assistant, and you are eager to begin working as quickly as possible, then an associate degree may be sufficient.
This degree program tends to take two years for students to complete, although some online students find that the convenient approach makes it easier for them to get through the program in less time. If you would like to become either a medical laboratory technician or technologist, then a full bachelor’s degree will be the better degree choice for you. Although a bachelor’s degree in medical laboratory technology can take four years to complete, it will do an excellent job of preparing you for your future career as well as the potential for advanced study at the graduate level, should that be something you are interested in one day.
Typical Curriculum for Degrees in Medical Technology
Whether you opt to earn a bachelor’s degree or an associate degree in medical laboratory technology, you can expect to have a curriculum full of courses related to science and medicine. Of course, that won’t be all you’ll see on your syllabus.
Most colleges also require students to take general education classes, which could be in subjects like history or a foreign language, to ensure that the graduate with a well-rounded view of the world. Some of your core classes that will related directly back to your degree in medical technology will include things like clinical chemistry, biology, laboratory safety, hemostatis, immunology, statistics, data analysis and clinical research.
Salaries and Job Growth for Medical Laboratory Careers
When aspiring students are still in the process of picking out their degrees and their future careers, it is vital that they look at more than just salary. Skill, passion and flexibility are all integral aspects of finding a dream job, but there is still no denying that financial compensation will play a role. Thankfully, salaries in medical laboratory technology and assisting are impressive.
The average annual pay for a medical laboratory technologist is $57,580, but assistants can expect to earn slightly less if they hold just an associate degree or an online certification. Job outlook for the field can also inspire confidence thanks to future predictions of substantial job growth. Between now and 2022, it is predicted that there will be a 22 percent increase in the demand for clinical laboratory technologists and technicians. This will create more than 70,000 new jobs, which gives new graduates more flexibility when it comes to getting hired in the location of their choice.
Attributes of Successful Medical Laboratory Professionals
Ultimately, the most important thing to have if you want to work in a medical laboratory is a degree in the field. However, it is certainly true that professionals employed in medical laboratories tend to have a few traits in common. You will likely make a great medical lab tech or assistant if you are very detail oriented and can keep track of multiple things at once.
You should also be very dexterous since much of the work in a laboratory can involve small motions like filling up a test tube or gently adjusting a slide so that a drop of blood can be better analyzed. Finally, you should have an interest in science. If you were always fascinated by science experiments, you loved chemistry and biology when you were a high school student and you have a curious nature, then this career path will likely be a fantastic fit for you.
To embark on the journey toward a career in medical laboratory technology, an online degree might be a helpful tool. Accredited online colleges make it easier than ever to pursue degrees that you are interested in, and their flexible nature means that you can work and study at the same time.