Medical Lab Assistant

The behind-the-scenes work of a medical lab assistant (MLA) may involve preparing specimens for lab tests and analysis. This job may help to ensure that the correct test is being run on a specimen and allows medical technicians and medical technologists to have everything in place to perform the test.

What is the job of a medical lab assistant?

Medical lab assistants, commonly referred to as MLAs and clinical lab assistants, may be responsible mainly for specimen preparation

What types of employment settings are medical lab assistants employed?

Medical lab assistants may be employed in hospitals, diagnostic and medical laboratories, clinics, and even large doctor’s offices. MLAs employed in doctors’ offices mainly run urine specimens and rapid tests like pregnancy or strep tests. By employing an MLA in their office, a doctor is able to receive test results quickly and treat the patient without having to send them to an outpatient hospital or lab. This expedites the process for doctors and is more convenient for patients.

What are other titles for this profession?

Medical lab assistants (MLAs) are also commonly referred to as clinical lab assistants, or lab assistants. Oftentimes phlebotomists serve a dual role of medical lab assistant too. Other times, when these two job functions are separate, those trained in phlebotomy move into a medical lab assistant role. Generally a medical lab assistant with formal training is able to perform the duties of a phlebotomist.

Medical technologists and medical technicians are completely different occupations within the lab setting. Medical lab assistants prepare specimens for these professionals to run the actual tests. Medical technicians are responsible for testing and analyzing specimens and must graduate with an associate’s degree and become certified in order to practice. Medical technologists are involved in running and analyzing more of the complex tests and must have a bachelor’s degree and certification to practice.

Medical Lab Assistant Salary

What is the average lab assistant salary?

Pay will vary by location, experience and even certification, but Payscale.com reports that a medical lab assistant (MLA) living in Atlanta, Georgia, a major hub in the health care industry, earned an hourly wage of $13.27 per hour as of June 2015. However, pay could be higher elsewhere, as Payscale.com also shows that, as of June 2015, the median hourly pay across the country was $18 per hour and overtime and bonuses brought annual pay to between $28,712 and $50,574. San Antonio, Nashville, Dallas and Richmond are some of the U.S. cities that had the highest pay.

Is the job of a medical lab assistant in high demand?

The National Healthcare Workers Association (NHCWA) reports that certified medical lab assistants are the same thing as clinical laboratory technicians, a profession that is expected to see 30 percent growth from 2012 to 2022, according to January 2014 data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). This growth, considered much faster than average, will be driven by an increasing need to treat the aging baby boomer population that will seek out testing and diagnostic procedures. Some 47,900 new positions could become available specifically for medical and clinical laboratory technicians between 2012 and 2022, according to the BLS.

Is there room for advancement in this field?

Medical lab assistants oftentimes chose to further their education with an associate's degree to become a medical technician, which allows them to become more hands on with running and analyzing tests. Medical lab assistants can also earn a bachelor's degree in medical technology, allowing them to perform more advanced tests and analysis in the lab. Becoming a medical lab assistant is a common gateway into other allied health professions because it provides a solid foundation of the workings of a lab. Certification for medical lab assistants is available through the National Healthcare Workers Association or American Medical Technologists (AMT). In fact, the AMT reports that studies show that certified professionals have higher pay and better opportunities for promotion.

How to Become a Lab Assistant

While there are a variety of methods to land a job as a medical lab assistant, the below steps provide the most direct route to increase one's marketability and credibility.

  1. Take high school courses in chemistry and biology.
  2. Graduate from high school.
  3. Enroll in a formal medical lab assistant training program.
  4. Upon graduating from a formal program, sit for the AMT Medical Lab Assistant Certification or the NHCWA certification.
  5. Look for a job as a medical lab assistant.
  6. Obtain necessary continuing education to renew the medical lab assistant certification credential every three years.
  7. Join a related association, such as a state AMT organization.

Lab Assistant Certification and Training

Is there a national certification available to credential medical lab assistants?

While certification is not a requirement to practice in the field, it adds credibility that can help increase marketability in being hired, as well as confidence clients have in these health care professionals. Those students who graduate from an accredited formal lab assistant training program are eligible to sit for two different certification exams.

The American Medical Technologists organization recently added a medical lab assistant certification. This online exam is administered at Pearson Vue testing centers throughout the country. This test covers subject areas such as lab safety, regulatory requirements, quality improvement, and practice standards and procedures. This certification must be renewed every three years by continuing education or experience in the field.

The National Credentialing Agency for Clinical Laboratory Science (NCA) offers the Clinical Laboratory Phlebotomist Examination. This test is more phlebotomy specific but a formal medical lab assistant program prepares students for this exam.

Is a state licensure required for this profession?

Most states do not require a licensure to practice as a medical lab assistant but there are some states that mandate all lab personnel obtain a license. Information on licensure is available through state departments of health.

MLA Degree Programs

Is an MLA Degree required for this field?

Employers prefer to hire those candidates who have completed a formal training program as a medical lab assistant. There are a variety of certificate programs in this field. Most programs are only four to six months in duration. Some employers hire individuals with just a high school diploma and train them on the job.

What types of MLA schools are available?

MLA schools are typically at community colleges, technical schools or hospitals.

Is there a practicum or other type of practical experience required in medical lab assistant programs?

All medical lab assistant programs are different and have various requirements. Some programs require a practical course where students gain experience in the roles and duties of a medical lab assistant, including performing venipunctures under the direct supervision of experienced lab assistants.

What types of courses are typically included in a medical lab assistant program?

Taking a formal medical lab assistant certificate program not only benefits those individuals who are interested in pursuing a career in this field but also other health care professionals who want to expand on their skill set to further advance in their career. The below list provides some courses that are typically part of a medical lab assistant program.

  • Course on the collection and processing of urine and blood specimens.
  • Course on how to assess a patient’s vital signs.
  • Phlebotomy course, which teaches how to perform venipunctures.
  • Technical Math course
  • Human Biology
  • Anatomy, Physiology and Medical Terminology class—This type of course provides the student with a basic foundation for understanding body systems, medical processes, diseases, and medical terminology.
  • Electrocardiogram –Oftentimes a course like this is included in a medical lab assistant program to provide an understanding of the anatomy of the heart and the types of diagnostic aspects of the heart that pertain to a medical lab assistant’s job.
  • Professional and Safety Issues –This type of course emphasizes the importance of safety and professionalism in working in the lab setting.
  • Laboratory Procedures and Protocols—This course would clearly define the scope of practice of a medical lab assistant, including their responsibilities in specimen collection and body fluid analysis.

Request Information from MLA Colleges

The MLA schools, colleges, and universities below offer some of the best training available to medical degree seeking individuals. Request information from multiple registered MLA schools in order to compare programs and find the best degree for you.


  1. Medical and Clinical Laboratory Technologists and Technicians, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Jan. 8, 2014. http://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/medical-and-clinical-laboratory-technologists-and-technicians.htm#tab-6
  2. Medical Laboratory Assistant, National Healthcare Workers Association. http://nationalhealthcareworkersassociation.com/medical-laboratory-assistant/
  3. Medical Laboratory Technicians Salary, Payscale.com, June 2015. http://www.payscale.com/research/US/Job=Medical_Laboratory_Technician/Hourly_Rate
  4. State Societies, American Medical Technologists. http://www.americanmedtech.org/BeInvolved.aspx#177434-recognition

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