What Does a Medical Laboratory Specialist (68K) Do?

Learn About the Salary, Required Skills, & More

Image shows a woman in an army uniform holding a vial of blood. Text reads: "A day in the life of a medical laboratory specialist (68k); Perform clinical lab procedures; collect patient blood specimens; maintain laboratory equipment; keep records"

Image by Emily Roberts © The Balance 2019

In the U.S. Army, medical laboratory technicians, also known as medical laboratory specialists, are integral members of the medical laboratory technician team, who conduct tests on the tissue, blood, and bodily fluids of patients. Their work is crucial to the medical staff, as it aids doctors and nurses in the diagnosis, prevention, and treatment of disease and other medical disorders, as well as war wounds and injuries of Army personnel.

This key Army job is categorized as a military occupational specialty (MOS) 68K. You'll work alongside other medical professionals, and although you're not a doctor or nurse, your work is a key part of keeping the Army and its troops healthy. 

Medical Laboratory Specialist Duties & Responsibilities

Similar to their civilian counterparts, these soldiers perform a range of clinical lab procedures, such as

  • Hematology
  • Clinical chemistry
  • Serology
  • Bacteriology
  • Parasitology
  • Urinalysis

Other responsibilities include:

  • Collecting patient blood specimens and packing, inspecting, and distributing blood and blood products, such as donated plasma
  • Assembling, disassembling, and maintaining laboratory equipment
  • Record keeping

These duties are important for keeping Army personnel healthy through proper testing, diagnosis, and treatment. This job is suitable for someone interested in medical procedures who enjoys examining bacteria and parasites under a microscope.

Medical Laboratory Specialist Salary

The salary for a medical laboratory specialist varies widely and is based on an individual's level of experience, education, and certifications:

  • Median Annual Salary: $51,138 ($24.59/hour)
  • Top 10% Annual Salary: $81,000 ($38.94/hour)
  • Bottom 10% Annual Salary: $14,000 ($6.73/hour)

Education, Training, & Certification

Department of Defense security clearance is not required for this position, but you'll need to demonstrate completion of high school-level chemistry and algebra, or equivalent exams, to be recognized by an Army Education Center. In addition, you'll likely need to produce official high school and college transcripts. 

Applicants must meet additional education requirements such as an associate or bachelor's degree in medical technology or a related degree from an accredited college or university and additional experience, training, or certification.

Job training requires 10 weeks of basic combat training and 52 weeks of advanced individual training (AIT) at a major military hospital for residency training including practice-testing specimens. Once you have your AIT, you'll learn medical lab procedures, including administration and record keeping, and you'll study human parasites and diseases.

To qualify for the MOS 68K, you'll need a score of at least 106 in the skilled technical (ST) section of the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB) test.

Medical Laboratory Specialist Skills & Competencies

Useful skills for a medical laboratory specialist include:

  • Aptitude in biology, chemistry, and algebra
  • Ability to follow detailed procedures precisely
  • Ability to maintain focus for long time periods
  • Good organization for laboratory administration and record keeping duties
  • Manual dexterity and no aversion to the sight of blood or needles

In addition, a medical laboratory specialist should have qualities such as:

  • Dependability
  • Integrity
  • Independence
  • The ability to think analytically
  • Cooperativeness

Job Outlook

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment of medical laboratory specialists is projected to grow 13 percent from 2016 to 2026. While not necessarily applicable to this military position, as people live longer, there will be a greater need to diagnose medical conditions, such as cancer or type 2 diabetes, through laboratory procedures. Once medical laboratory specialists leave the service, the chances of finding work in the field are positive.

Work Environment

Medical laboratory specialists work in medical facilities, such as Army clinic or hospital laboratories. They are trained to work with infectious specimens as well as materials that are caustic or produce fumes. They must, therefore, follow proper procedures to control infection and sterilize equipment to decrease the risk of contamination. Medical laboratory specialists wear masks, gloves, and goggles for protection.

In addition, medical personnel may need to stand for long time periods as well as lift or move patients to collect samples for testing.

Work Schedule

Most medical laboratory specialists work full-time in facilities that operate day and night, such as hospitals and some independent laboratories. Personnel may work evening, weekend, or overnight hours.

Comparing Similar Jobs

Numerous civilian jobs will be open to you after you have served as a military laboratory specialist. You'll be qualified to work as a medical or lab technologist at a hospital or medical laboratory, and will have paved the way for a potential career in other aspects of lab work or medicine. These positions include:

Source: Payscale.com, 2019