Medical lab assistants are a type of specialty medical assistant. Their primary task is to assist with laboratory work, such as blood tests and other screenings performed by hospitals and clinics. Along with medical assisting in general, the medical lab assistant is one of the fastest growing occupations, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. With new medical advances come new ways to test for diseases and, consequently, new medical lab assistants to handle the increased workload.
As a medical laboratory assistant, you will have a wide variety of work environments from which to choose. Medical lab assistants work in hospitals, businesses, most types of healthcare facilities, and public and private laboratories.
Duties of Medical Lab Assistants
Medical laboratory assistants perform a variety of duties within the medical field. Some of their duties include:
- Receiving laboratory specimens from hospitals, clinics, and other practices
- Preparing specimens for laboratory testing
- Manually testing specimens
- Examining specimens for the presence, or the absence, of specified cells and other biological matter
- Reporting findings of laboratory testing
- Recording laboratory test results
Also called medical technicians or clinical lab techs, medical lab assistants can also specialize within the medical lab tech field. For instance, they can choose to perform lab testing only in pharmacy, hematology, or microbiology.
Medical Laboratory Assistant Training and Education
Some employers train their own medical laboratory assistants, but that practice is becoming rare. Most medical lab assistants have formal training from an accredited medical assistant school, with either an associate’s degree in medical technology or a certificate of completion.
Before enrolling in a laboratory assistant training program, make sure that the school is accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP), the Accrediting Bureau of Health Education Schools (ABHES), or the National Accrediting Agency for Clinical Laboratory Sciences (NAACLS). Accreditation from any one of these agencies attests that the school’s program of study meets at least the minimum educational requirements that you’ll need to work in this field.
After you graduate from the appropriate medical assistant training program, state law may require you to become a licensed or a registered medical laboratory assistant. To determine if your state has such a requirement, check with the department of health in your area.
You may also choose to become a certified medical assistant. Although not a requirement to work as a medical laboratory technician, medical assistant certification will give you more and better job opportunities. One of the organizations that certifies medical lab technicians is the American Medical Technologists. Contact them for more information about their certification process.
Medical Laboratory Assistant Skills
Because a medical laboratory assistant analyzes minute and delicate specimens, there is a particular skill set that is essential for you to have, or cultivate, if you expect to be an effective medical lab assistant.
You will need:
- Analytical Skills
- Computer Sills
- Manual Dexterity
- Good Color Vision
- Attention to Detail
- Ease Under Pressure
Medical Lab Assistant Salary
The salary range for medical lab assistants can vary quite a bit depending on experience, geographical location, and education. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor’s 2004 report, the median salary for those in this field was $30,840. But 10 percent of medical lab techs made more than $45,000. Here you can see other medical assistant salary statistics.
The big benefit of pursuing a career as a medical lab assistant is that it opens up advancement opportunities. For example, with further training, you could become a medical laboratory technologist; their lab testing procedures are much more advanced and extensive than those of medical lab assistants. As there will probably never be a shortage of either medical laboratory technologists or of medical laboratory assistants, their professional future is secure.
For more information on medical assisting in general, see our medical assistant job description.