What is a Medical Laboratory Assistant?

Cassie L. Damewood

A medical laboratory assistant, also commonly called a clinical laboratory technician or technologist, is the person who works in a laboratory testing cells, tissues, fluids and methods used to discover, diagnose and remedy illness and disease. He generally works under the guidance and supervision of a laboratory manager. He may work independently or as a member of a laboratory or research team. If he draws blood from patients for testing and analysis, he is also commonly referred to as a phlebotomist.

Medical laboratory assistants must pay close attention to proper safety protocols.
Medical laboratory assistants must pay close attention to proper safety protocols.

As the assistant conducts his tests, he is normally required to maintain detailed records of the processes and materials used in the procedures. He is also regularly expected to document the results of his experiments and tests and note any irregularities. Communicating his findings with his supervisor or designated medical personnel is a regular part of his job.

Most general medical laboratory assistant jobs are available in clinics or hospitals.
Most general medical laboratory assistant jobs are available in clinics or hospitals.

In addition to using a variety of microscopes in his laboratory duties, a medical laboratory assistant also traditionally utilizes a wide range of diagnostic, documentation and measuring devices. The laboratory supervisor usually instructs the assistant on the proper use of the equipment. Cleaning the laboratory equipment on a daily basis is also commonly part of the technician’s job.

A medical laboratory assistant may test urine and other samples.
A medical laboratory assistant may test urine and other samples.

Based on the fact that laboratory testing often involves dealing with toxic materials, following safety protocols is an important part of the assistant’s job. He is regularly required to carefully handle and dispose of dangerous materials, so knowledge of safe hazardous material handling practices is often essential. Clearly communicating potential hazards to associates to prevent mishaps is also an important attribute for a medical laboratory assistant.

Medical laboratory assistants work in laboratories testing cells, tissues, fluids and methods used to discover, diagnose and remedy disease and illness.
Medical laboratory assistants work in laboratories testing cells, tissues, fluids and methods used to discover, diagnose and remedy disease and illness.

Most general medical laboratory assistant jobs are available in clinics, hospitals or independent testing facilities. Phlebotomists may also find jobs at independent physician practices or blood banks. The job is considered physically taxing because it typically involves standing for most of the work day.

A medical laboratory assistant uses a variety of microscopes.
A medical laboratory assistant uses a variety of microscopes.

Medical laboratory assistant positions require many different levels of training. The specialty of phlebotomy requires the least training. Depending on whether the student attends school on a full-time or part-time basis, it takes about four months to become a certified phlebotomist.

To be hired for other medical laboratory assistant jobs normally requires the applicant to have a bachelor’s degree in the life sciences or medical technology. Preferred coursework for the position generally includes classes in microbiology, biological sciences, mathematics, statistics or chemistry. For some jobs, it is often possible to qualify with a combination of education and related work experience. Licensing is required in some regions.

A medical laboratory assistant who is trained to take blood is called a phlebotomist.
A medical laboratory assistant who is trained to take blood is called a phlebotomist.

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