What Is a Medical Laboratory Technologist?

Definition & Examples of a Medical Laboratory Technologist

Male medical lab technologist examining sample in test tube
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Medical laboratory technologists perform complex tests and procedures that help other healthcare professionals, such as physicians, detect, diagnose, and treat diseases.

Find out more about what they do, how they differ from medical laboratory technicians, and how to become one.

What Is a Medical Laboratory Technologist?

Medical laboratory technologists often collect samples of body fluids, tissues, and other substances from patients, test and analyze them, and discuss their findings with physicians.

Alternate Names: Medical laboratory scientist, clinical laboratory technologist, clinical laboratory scientist

Acronym: MT

How Medical Laboratory Technologists Work

MTs work in labs and usually must spend a lot of time on their feet. They're required to wear masks, gloves, goggles, and other protective equipment while they work. They must also use procedures that help mitigate their risk of coming into contact with infectious materials.

Those who work in a hospital or other facility that is open 24/7 may be required to work evenings, overnights, weekends, and holidays.

The median pay for Medical laboratory technologists in the United States is $53,120 per year.

Types of Medical Laboratory Technologists

MTs who work in small laboratories may perform a variety of tests, but those employed in larger labs may be more likely to specialize in one area.

  • Microbiology technologists work with bacteria and other microorganisms.
  • Immunology technologists concentrate on the immune system and its response to foreign bodies.
  • Blood bank technologists collect, examine, classify, and prepare blood for transfusions.
  • Clinical chemistry technologists work with body fluids and analyze their chemical and hormonal contents.
  • Cytotechnologists examine cells under a microscope for abnormalities that may lead to cancer.

Many other types of MTs exist, as well.

How to Become a Medical Laboratory Technologist

If you want to work in this career, you will need a bachelor's degree in medical laboratory science (MLS). You can search for a program that has been accredited by the National Accrediting Agency for Clinical Laboratory Sciences (NAACLS) on the organization's website.

Medical laboratory technologists need a license to practice in some states. Your state's health department or board of professional licensing will be able to tell you what licensing you need, if any.

Some states and many employers also require professional certification. Credentialing agencies include the American Society of Clinical Pathology (ASCP) Board of Certification and the American Society for Clinical Laboratory Science (ASCLS).

In addition to the technical skills you learn in school and an aptitude for science, you will need the following soft skills—personal qualities you were born with or acquired through life experience—to succeed in this field:

  • Active listening: Excellent listening skills will allow you to communicate with patients and fellow medical personnel.
  • Problem solving: You must be able to identify problems and solve them.
  • Critical thinking: This skill will allow you to determine your options when making decisions or solving problems, compare them, and then choose the one with the most promising outcome.
  • Attention to detail: Precision is of the utmost importance when conducting testing procedures.
  • Reading comprehension: You must be able to understand and follow physicians' written instructions.

Medical Laboratory Technologist vs. Medical Laboratory Technician

A medical laboratory technologist and a medical laboratory technician work in related occupations and the terms may be confused, but there are a number of differences.

Because technologists must earn a bachelor's degree, they have a much more extensive theoretical knowledge base than technicians, who need only an associate degree. 

When it comes to job duties, technicians collect, process, and analyze specimens. They perform lab procedures and maintain instruments. Medical laboratory technologists conduct the same procedures technicians do but also execute sophisticated analyses. They evaluate and interpret the results, conduct research, and develop new methods.

A bachelor's degree is required
An associate's degree is required
Must have extensive scientific and theoretical knowledge May have limited scientific and theoretical knowledge
Performs deep analyses, interpret results, conduct research, and develop new methods Duties don't go beyond collecting, processing, and doing basic analysis of specimens

Key Takeaways

  • Medical laboratory technologists perform complex tests and procedures that help physicians detect, diagnose, and treat diseases.
  • MTs can perform a variety of tests or specialize in one area, depending on where they work.
  • MTs are required to earn a bachelor's degree in medical laboratory science (MLS).
  • Medical laboratory technologists and medical laboratory technicians differ considerably in educational preparation and depth of job duties.