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Clinical laboratory technicians usually work under the supervision of clinical laboratory technologists, analyzing body fluids and cells, to detect, diagnose, and treat disease. Technicians search for bacteria, parasites, and other bodily microorganisms by preparing specimens, operating automated analyzers, performing manual tests, and otherwise assisting the clinical laboratory technologist. Technicians use microscopes, cell counters, and other sophisticated laboratory equipment in their day-to-day jobs.
Recent technological advances in the field have led to increased automation. This has decreased the amount of hands-on tasks clinical laboratory technicians perform, but has increased the analytical sides of their jobs. Clinical laboratory technicians can work in various areas of the clinical laboratory or specialize in just one. This often depends on the size of the clinical laboratory. Technicians in small laboratories often work with a variety of analysis and tests. In larger laboratories, as can be found in large hospitals, specialization is common. Technicians who specialize in the collection of blood samples are phlebotomists--those who cut and stain tissue specimens for microscopic examination are histotechnicians.
Clinical laboratory technicians must be cool under pressure, possess excellent manual dexterity and color vision, and be excessively detail-oriented. Without a close eye for detail, clinical laboratory results can suffer: even small differences in test results can substantially alter the diagnosis and treatment of diseases. Good analytical judgment is also required of technicians, and as automation in the field continues to rise, computer skills are increasingly vital.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), in 2008, clinical laboratory technicians earned a national median income $35,380 per year, with median salaries ranging from $23,480 to $53,520. Those working in hospitals and educational institutions experienced the highest mean salaries, as can be seen in the following statistics of clinical laboratory technicians mean income by employer:
- General medical and surgical hospitals: $38,330
- Colleges, universities, and professional schools: $38,330
- Offices of physicians: $36,000
- Medical and diagnostic laboratories: $34,570
- Other ambulatory health care services: $32,630
Training and Education
Clinical laboratory technicians are expected to have an associate's degree or training certificate. Associate's degrees can be earned at community or junior college, and are widely available as online degree programs. Certificate programs are offered through hospitals, vocational or technical schools, and the Armed Forces. Training should include courses in chemistry, biology/microbiology, mathematics, and statistics, as well as hands-on instruction of skills used in the clinical laboratory. With further training and education, a clinical laboratory technician can advance to the position of clinical laboratory technologist.
The U.S. offers 467 training programs for clinical laboratory technicians and technologists 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. Although it is not required, many employers prefer their clinical laboratory technicians to be certified by a professional association such as the Board of Registry of the American Society for Clinical Pathology, the American Medical Technologists, the National Credentialing Agency for Laboratory Personnel, or the Board of Registry of the American Association of Bioanalysts.
According to the BLS, in 2008, there were approximately 150,000 clinical laboratory technicians working in the United States, the majority of whom (66,700) worked in hospitals. Other employers included medical and diagnostic laboratories, doctors' offices, education institutions, and other ambulatory heath care services.
Job prospects for clinical laboratory employees are expected to be excellent. According to the BLS, a 14 percent increase in employment is anticipated between 2006 and 2016, reflecting an employment change from 319,000 in 2006 to 362,000 in 2016. Technician jobs, specifically, are anticipated to grow from 151,000 in 2006 to 174,000 in 2016, a 15 percent increase. While the majority of clinical laboratory professionals should continue to be hired by hospitals, the BLS anticipates the greatest employment change in medical and diagnostic laboratories, doctors' offices, and other ambulatory health care services.About the Author
Candice Mancini is a freelance writer and a teacher of AP English literature and college writing. She has an M.A. in Education and a B.A. in English and history.