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Medical Lab Assistant

Medical Laboratory Assistant: Education and Career Overview

Medical lab assistants, commonly referred to as MLAs or clinical lab assistants, are mainly responsible for specimen preparation in laboratories. 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.

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 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.

Nature of Work

Medical lab assistants usually work in hospitals, diagnostic and medical laboratories, clinics, and even in doctor’s offices. Medical lab assistants employed in doctors’ offices mainly run urine specimens and rapid tests like pregnancy or strep tests. They must exercise precaution while dealing with potentially infectious materials.

How to Become a Medical Lab Assistant

Medical lab assistant programs may be different and typically 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. While there are a variety of methods to land a job as a medical lab assistant, read on below to know about the most direct route that can help increase one's marketability and credibility.

Certificate in Medical Lab Assistant

Employers prefer to hire candidates who have completed a formal practical component 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. MLA schools are typically at community colleges, technical schools or hospitals.

Taking a formal medical lab assistant certificate program may not only benefit those who are interested in pursuing a career in this field but also other healthcare professionals who want to expand on their skill set to further advance in their career. Courses that are typically part of a medical lab assistant program include:

  • How to assess a patient’s vital signs
  • Phlebotomy
  • Technical mathematics
  • Human biology
  • Anatomy, physiology and medical terminology
  • Electrocardiogram
  • Professional and safety issues
  • Laboratory procedures and protocols

Career Advancement Opportunities in Medical Lab Assistant

Medical lab assistants often choose to further their education with an associate 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 can provide a solid foundation of the workings of a lab.

Medical Lab Assistant Certification and Licensure

Upon graduating from a specific program, you may apply for certification, as it is preferred by many employers. The certification exams are administered by the:

  • Board of Registry of the American Society for Clinical Pathology (ASCP)
  • American Medical Technologists (AMT)
  • National Accrediting Agency for Clinical Laboratory Sciences (NAACLS)

Other credentialing organizations include the National Credentialing Agency for Laboratory Personnel (NCA) and the Board of Registry of the American Association of Bioanalysts (AAB BOR).

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

Career and Salary Information

Medical lab assistants help to ensure that the correct test is being run on a specimen and allow medical technicians and medical technologists to have everything in place to perform the test. 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 14 percent growth from 2016 to 2026, according the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). This growth, considered much faster than average, may be driven by an increasing need to treat the aging baby boom population that may seek out testing and diagnostic procedures.

CareerAnnual Mean WageBottom 10% Annual WageTop 10% Annual Wage
Ophthalmic Medical Technicians$38,220$24,770$54,830
2018 Occupational Employment Statistics and 2016-26 Employment Projections, Bureau of Labor Statistics, BLS.gov.

CareerTotal EmploymentProjected Job Growth Rate
Ophthalmic Medical Technicians52,89016.5%
2018 Occupational Employment Statistics and 2016-26 Employment Projections, Bureau of Labor Statistics, BLS.gov.

Sources:

  • ASCP Board of Certification, accessed February 2019, https://www.ascp.org/content/board-of-certification
  • Get Certified in AMT, accessed February 2019, https://www.americanmedtech.org/Get-Certified
  • Medical and Clinical Laboratory Technologists and Technicians, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Outlook Handbook, June 2018, https://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/medical-and-clinical-laboratory-technologists-and-technicians.htm
  • Medical Laboratory Assistant, National Healthcare Workers Association, accessed February 2019, http://nationalhealthcareworkersassociation.com/medical-laboratory-assistant/

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