What Is a Lab Technician?

Definition & Examples of a Lab Technician

A lab technician using a micro-pipette

Noel Hendrickson / Getty Images

A lab technician is a medical professional who conducts lab tests on specimens and records and reports the results.

Learn more about what lab technicians do and how to become one.

What Is a Lab Technician?

A lab technician collects and processes specimens, including skin and bodily fluid samples, from patients in a hospital or private medical diagnostic laboratory. They work under a doctor's, lab manager's, or lab technologist's supervision to conduct chemical analyses of specimens. These analyses are used by medical professionals to diagnose diseases and plan treatments.

  • Alternate names: Medical lab technician, lab tech
  • Acronyms: LT, MLT

How a Lab Technician Works

Lab technicians have a variety of responsibilities, including:

  • Preparing solutions
  • Analyzing samples
  • Collecting and analyzing data and test results
  • Discussing findings with medical personnel
  • Maintaining lab equipment

Lab technicians come into contact with infectious specimens and toxic chemicals, so they must take the proper precautions, including wearing protective clothing and eyewear, to decrease their exposure to these dangerous substances. Accuracy and attention to detail are critical in this work.

Lab technicians earned a median annual salary of $52,330 in 2018. The job outlook for lab technicians and lab technologists is bright, with an 11% growth expected from 2018 to 2028.

Employers may include hospitals, medical and diagnostic laboratories, and physicians' offices. Most jobs are full-time and, depending on the employer, may include weekends, evenings, and holidays.

Requirements for a Lab Technician

To work in this occupation, you can complete an associate's degree program in clinical laboratory science at a community college, which will take about two years. Typical coursework for a lab technician includes chemistry, phlebotomy, hematology, and microbiology.

Alternatively, you can earn a one-year certificate from a hospital or a vocational or technical school. The Armed Forces also offer training for lab technicians.

Once you've completed your degree, certificate, or training, you may want to sit for an American Society for Clinical Pathology (ASCP) certification exam. Employers may not require certification, but attaining it speaks highly to your skills and expertise.

Some states may also require a license. Your education program, state health department, or state board of professional licensing can help you determine whether you need a license.

Required Skills

You will acquire the hard skills that allow you to do your job through your formal training, but lab technicians also need certain soft skills, which are harder to quantify. They include:

  • Active listening: The ability to understand the instructions of lab technicians, doctors, and other medical personnel is essential.
  • Reading comprehension: Lab technicians must be able to read and understand instructions.
  • Written and verbal communication: Writing reports and explaining results are a critical aspect of being a lab technician.
  • Critical thinking: Lab techs must be able to compare the benefits of different solutions to problems before choosing the best one.
  • Organization: Juggling multiple tasks and priorities requires excellent organization and time management skills.

Lab Technologist vs. Lab Technician

Medical laboratory technologists and laboratory technicians are related occupations that are easily confused. However, educational preparation and duties differ considerably for these two jobs. Technologists must earn a bachelor's degree and have more extensive training and theoretical knowledge than technicians, who only need an associate degree. 

Technicians collect, process, and analyze specimens. They perform lab procedures and maintain instruments. Technologists have these skills, plus additional ones like evaluating and interpreting challenging results, conducting research, developing new laboratory methods and procedures, and supervising technicians.

Lab Technicians vs. Tab Technologists
Lab Technicians Lab Technologists
Need an associate degree or certification Need a bachelor's degree
Perform lab tests under the supervision of lab technologists and other medical personnel Have a supervisory and authoritative role in laboratories

Key Takeaways

  • Lab technicians collect and process specimens, reporting results to medical personnel. 
  • Typical responsibilities include preparing solutions, analyzing samples, and maintaining lab equipment. 
  • To become a lab technician, you need an associate degree or a certificate from a hospital, vocational school, or the Armed Forces. You may also want to obtain certification. 
  • Lab technicians are different from lab technologists, who need a minimum of a bachelor's degree and often have supervisory roles in a lab.