How to Become a Medical Technologist
If you've seen an episode of a hospital drama TV show, then you may have noticed that a great deal of the detective work involved in diagnosing various conditions takes place outside of the patient's room, in labs equipped with sophisticated equipment designed to analyze everything from blood and cellular structure to fungi and bacteria. In the real world of medicine, much of this behind-the-scenes analysis is carried out by the highly trained scientists in lab coats known as medical technologists. These are the clinical analysts who carry out tests crucial in determining the biological causes of disease — the laboratory scientists of the health care industry. Indeed, medical technologists are also commonly referred to as medical laboratory scientists, and medical technologist degrees often fall under the heading of clinical laboratory science.
Medical technologist program requirements and prerequisites
Early on, the path to earn a career as a medical technologist is not all that different from the route taken by anyone interested in pursuing a career in medicine. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS.gov) recommends a strong grounding in biology, chemistry and mathematics, which can begin to take shape as early as high school. While those interested strictly in a medical or nursing degree will eventually move on to professional programs, medical technologists can begin planning out a career path while enrolled in a four-year bachelor's degree program. Again, this starts with solid foundation of math and science courses, including statistics and microbiology. But, unlike medical technicians, who can typically begin work after completing a one- to two-year associate's degree program, medical technologists are tasked with greater responsibilities that call for a higher level of training.
As the BLS notes, a Bachelor of Science is the basic requirement for embarking on a career as a medical technologists. Many four-year colleges and universities offer programs of study specifically tailored to the needs of medical technologists, whether it be a B.S. in medical technology or in medical laboratory science. However, completion of an undergraduate degree program in biology, the life sciences or allied health technologies is usually also considered adequate preparation for a career as a medical technologist.
Medical technologist skills and qualifications
By definition, medical technologists require a deep knowledge and familiarity with the instruments of a medical laboratory. ONet Online points out that critical thinking and complex problem solving skills are also an important part of what goes into being a successful medical technologist, as is the ability to carefully apply scientific methodology. Medical technologists may not deal as directly with patients as doctors and nurses, but the work a technologist performs in the lab is a key component of a proper diagnosis and treatment plan. Most bachelor degree programs include at least one year of clinical experience in a hospital setting, and many hospitals offer such training to qualified applicants. Medical technologist certification, which is required by many states, requires at least one full year working full-time in a clinical setting.
The American Society of Clinical Pathologists Board of Certification lists, as a prerequisite, two years of clinical lab experience in blood banking, chemistry, hematology, microbiology, immunology and urinalysis/body fluids. It is also expected that applicants will have completed a range of coursework in biological sciences, chemistry and mathematics. Other subjects typically covered as part of a degree program include:
In addition, medical technologists need to be familiar with software applications for laboratory information systems and electronic medical records.
Working environment for medical technologists
The day-to-day work of a technologist can include collecting and preparing blood and tissues samples, microscopic and chemical analysis of specimens, checking lab reports, calibrating equipment and delivering test results to physicians and patients. In larger hospitals and testing facilities, medical technologists and technicians work in specialized groups: there are blood bank technologists, immunology technologists, microbiology technologists, and molecular biology technologists and cytotechnologists.
Medical innovations and technological advances have kept the demand for medical technologists high, as has an aging population base in need of medical care. The BLS expects employment for medical technologists to grow at a slightly above average rate of 14 percent from 2012 through 2022. The latest BLS report, from May of 2013, pegs the national average annual income for those currently in the field at $59,460. While general medical and surgical hospitals employed the largest number of medical technologists (94,150 out of a total 162,630), techs can also find work in independent and hospital-affiliated diagnostic laboratories, as well as private medical practices and clinics.
Medical and Clinical Laboratory Technologist and Technician, Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2012, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/medical-and-clinical-laboratory-technologists-and-technicians.htm
Medical and Clinical Laboratory Technologist, Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Employment and Wages, May 2013, http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes292011.htm
Summary Report for: Medical and Clinical Laboratory Technologist, ONet Online, 2013, http://www.onetonline.org/link/summary/29-2011.00#Education
Technologist/Scientist Certification, American Society of Clinical Pathologists Board of Certification, 2014, http://www.ascp.org/Board-of-Certification/GetCertified#tabs-1
Medical Technologist Certification/Education, American Medical Technologists, 2014, http://www.americanmedtech.org/GetCertified/MTEligibility.aspx#141980-route-1-education