Clinical laboratory technologists are responsible for complex medical tests that are of a chemical, biological, hematological, immunologic, microscopic, or bacteriologic nature. Using microscopes, they examine blood, tissue, and other bodily materials. They determine the presence of bacteria, fungi parasites, or other types of microorganisms by creating cultures from bodily fluids or tissue samples. They determine such things as blood glucose and cholesterol levels by analyzing the results of these various tests. They match blood samples for transfusion. They are responsible for setting up and overseeing testing programs and procedures. Some supervise the work of clinical laboratory technicians.
Tests from clinical laboratories are an integral part of the process of detection, diagnosis, and treatment of various diseases. Clinical laboratory technologists 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 technologists 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 technologists earned a median annual salary of $42,910. Earnings ranged from the lowest 10%, who earned less than $30,530, to the highest 10%, who earned more than $58,000. The following shows the median earnings for the industries employing the highest numbers of clinical laboratory technologists:
- General medical and surgical hospitals — $43,340
- Medical and diagnostic laboratories — $42,020
- Offices of physicians — $38,690
Training and Education
Most entry-level clinical laboratory technologist positions require a bachelor’s degree in medical technology or life sciences. However, it is possible to obtain employment with specialized and on-the-job training. The Clinical Laboratory Improvement Act requires all technologists who perform certain advanced tests to have at least an associate degree. Bachelor’s degree programs are found at universities and hospitals and include courses in chemistry, biological sciences, microbiology, mathematics, statistics, and specialized clinical laboratory courses. Most programs also include courses in business, management, and computers.
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 technologists are required to be licensed or registered. Certification is voluntary, but usually required by employers. Clinical laboratory technologists can 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 technologists, including technicians 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 technologists 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.
For more information on becoming a clinical laboratory technologist, please see our directory of schools offering Medical Training.