Clinical laboratory technicians perform tests and laboratory procedures that are less complex than the tests performed by clinical laboratory technologists. In fact, they are often supervised by technologists. They prepare specimens, operate automated analyzers, and perform manual tests. They may specialize in one area of the laboratory, or they may work as general technicians in multiple areas. Specializations include histotechnicians, who cut and stain tissue specimens for microscopic examination, and phlebotomists, who collect blood samples.
Tests from clinical laboratories are an integral part of the process of detection, diagnosis, and treatment of various diseases. Clinical laboratory technicians operate various types of automated equipment and instruments that are capable of executing many different tests at one time. They also use microscopes, cell counters, and other sophisticated laboratory equipment. In recent years, their work has become more and more automated. This has changed the nature of their activities, decreasing the amount of time they spend completing hands-on tasks and increasing the analytical aspects of their jobs.
Clinical laboratory technicians need to be able to pay extremely close attention to detail, as tiny differences in test results can substantially alter the diagnosis and treatment of diseases. They should have good manual dexterity and color vision. They must have good analytical judgment and be able to work well when pressure is high. In addition, computer skills are becoming increasingly important in the automated environment in which they work.
In 2002, clinical laboratory technicians earned a median annual salary of $29,040. Earnings ranged from the lowest 10%, who earned less than $19,070, to the highest 10%, who earned more than $43,960. The following shows the median earnings for the industries employing the highest numbers of clinical laboratory technicians:
- General medical and surgical hospitals — $30,500
- Colleges, universities, and professional schools — $30,350
- Offices of physicians — $27,820
- Medical and diagnostic laboratories — $27,550
- Other ambulatory health care services — $26,710
Training and Education
Clinical laboratory technicians usually have an associate degree form a commuity or junior college or a certificate from a hospital, vocational, or technical school. Training is also available through the Armed Forces. There are 467 educational programs in the U.S. that are fully accredited by the National Association Agency for Clinical Laboratory Sciences (NAACLS). The Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs and the Accrediting Bureau of Health Education Schools also accredit programs. In some States, clinical laboratory technicians are required to be licensed or registered. Certification is voluntary, but usually required by employers.
Clinical laboratory technicians, by completing additional education and gaining experience, can advance to become clinical laboratory technologists. From there, they may be able to advance to supervisory positions in laboratory work or become chief medical or clinical laboratory technologists or laboratory managers in hospitals. Advancement usually happens faster with a graduate degree in medical technology or the life sciences.
In 2002, clinical laboratory technicians, including technologists, held about 297,000 jobs. More than 50% worked in hospitals. Most of the rest worked in offices of physicians and in medical and diagnostic laboratories.
Between 2002 and 2012, employment of clinical laboratory technicians is expected to increase about as fast as the average. New types of tests and an aging population will keep demand high for this type of work. Job opportunities will be excellent because the number of job seekers will be lower than the number of job openings. Employment will grow faster in medical and diagnostic laboratories, offices of physicians, and other health care services, although most workers will continue to be employed by hospitals.
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