A clinical laboratory technician, also known as a medical technologist or simply a lab tech, is a scientist who determines the presence of maladies in samples of human body tissue or fluid. He or she is in charge of collecting specimens, testing them using various measures and lab instruments, and evaluating the results. A clinical laboratory technician may work in a hospital, research facility, or other lab.
Clinical laboratory technicians play a vital, though indirect, role in patient care by determining the presence of disease, bacteria, or parasites in a sample. The data they collect and analyze is passed on to physicians, who use the results to prescribe the best possible treatment for patients. Since effective treatment depends on understanding the exact nature of a problem, a clinical laboratory technician must be meticulous in his or her work to ensure accurate results. He or she must employ good judgment and be able to effectively communicate findings to fellow lab workers and doctors.
Typically, lab techs perform several hands-on tests using sophisticated equipment. A lab tech may be required to examine a tissue sample under a microscope or evaluate the composition of a fluid by performing chemical tests. The nature of the job requires that a lab tech be comfortable working with his or her hands in order to physically manipulate samples and gather data. In addition to manual tasks, advances in computer technology have introduced other duties. A clinical laboratory technician is often trained on-site to operate cell counting machines and specialized data analysis software.
To become a clinical laboratory technician, one must obtain at least an associate's degree in the medical technology field, although some employers require a bachelor's degree. In addition, one must complete a certification program offered by the National Accrediting Agency for Clinical Laboratory Sciences (NAACLS). Most major universities, health science institutions, and hospitals offer NAACLS certification programs.
The majority of lab techs are employed by large hospitals, but some work in pharmaceutical research facilities, law enforcement labs, and blood donation centers. Since hospitals operate around the clock, those employed there might work days, evenings, or overnight shifts. It is common for lab techs to be on-call, since emergency situations may require their services be available at any given time.
With an expanding global population and the prevalence of new and mutating diseases, the demand for skilled clinical laboratory technicians is on the rise. The work of lab techs today influences the future development of new medical technology, vaccines, medication, and treatment programs.