If you’re interested in medicine, then there’s a wealth of opportunities out there. Yet working in a medical lab is an attractive option, especially if you’re not sure you want to work with patients.
Even in the world of lab jobs, there are varying specialties. Depending on your interests, you can choose a career that allows you to work a dream job.
Here is everything you need to know about getting a medical lab job, from positions and education requirements to salary range.
Jobs to Pursue
You have plenty of career paths if you want to work in a medical lab. Just know that if you look for jobs in a medical lab, your tasks won’t only involve the medical refrigerator and a microscope. You could do anything from managing the lab to specializing in varied bodily tissues.
It’s nice to have options, but the choices can also be overwhelming. Here’s an overview of the various job options available.
A phlebotomist is one career you’re probably most familiar with. If you’ve ever had blood work done, then you know this tech is the one you interact with who actually draws the blood. While most medical lab jobs don’t interact with patients, this one is an exception.
Medical lab technicians perform tests on samples using lab equipment and machines available to them. This could include recording and even analyzing results.
Types of Technologists
A medical lab technologist does the same tasks as a technician (above) but at a more complex level, including manual tests and preparing samples. It’s a great first job if you want a career in more specialized positions, like those listed below.
Cytotechnologists analyze cell growth. They prepare slides and use microscopes to check for abnormalities. Many times, they detect cancer and other cellular problems.
Remember those jobs specializing in body tissues? That’s what a histotechnician does when they perform tests using dyes and chemicals to find irregularities. If you like DNA, this may be a good career path for you because these techs even perform molecular tests sometimes.
Immunohematology technicians work in blood banks. They collect and prepare the blood, as well as separating it into components. Later, the parts get used for surgeries, transfusions, and other medical emergency needs.
There are other technologist jobs, too. You can specialize in any of the following categories:
- Proteins and nucleic acids
- Hormones in body fluids
- Immune systems
You don’t have to decide on a specialization at first. Start taking classes, and then you can figure out what interests you the most.
If you want to manage a lab, being a pathologist may be the job for you. This is actually a type of doctor, one who specializes in identifying the causes of diseases. They also manage a team of technicians in the lab who perform many of the tests.
This leaves the pathologist free to interpret results and work with doctors on treatment plans. Pathologists also hire pathology assistants to help with the work, and this may be an option for you if you don’t want to complete medical school.
Education for a Medical Lab Job
What are the requirements for working in a medical lab? The answer is that it depends on which job you’re going for. The minimum education is a high school diploma or GED.
With this basic qualification, you can work as a phlebotomist, as long as you go through a proper training program. Plasma donation centers and other similar institutions are often willing to train.
If you have an associate’s degree, you can become a medical lab technician. In some cases, it’s possible to work as a technologist, too, if you have the work experience as a technician. You’d also need to go through a licensing or certification program.
A bachelor’s degree is more preferable if you want to work as a medical lab technologist, and you’ll have an easier time finding a lab to work in. Most technologists achieve this level of education, especially if they want to specialize in one of the areas discussed above.
Pathology assistants can find employment with only an associate’s degree, but a bachelor’s is preferable. Some even pursue a master’s degree and further certifications. With more education, the easier working at a pathologist’s side will be.
Medical school is the final level of education. While many lab jobs don’t require this, pathologists must go through the rigors of becoming a doctor. They first earn their bachelor’s degrees, then take four years of medical school. After that, if you want to specialize in pathology, you’ll find a residency program that allows you to practice that subspecialty.
Although that should be sufficient, some pathologists also choose to pursue 1-2 more years of a fellowship. This provides even more training, and it often gives these candidates preference when applying for jobs later.
How Much Can I Make?
As the education requirements vary, so do the salaries of medical lab jobs. The higher the functions you’re performing, the more money you can make. According to US News, the median salary for a medical lab technician in 2018 was $52,330.
Remember, that median takes into account all regions of the United States, including those at the lower end of the spectrum (noted as around $38,000 by the same source) and the higher end (around $67,000).
Pathologists and their assistants stand to make substantially more, into six figures. This also depends on the region and experience.
Working in Science
Pursuing a medical lab job is a great career if you’re interested in science and the human body. Good candidates also have great attention to detail, and they don’t mind repeating the same tasks over and over.
If you think that the jobs listed above may be for you, then check into education programs in your area.
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