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Clinical laboratory technicians test samples and specimens to support patient health and medical research activities. In this role, clinical laboratory technicians apply scientific techniques and use laboratory equipment to test and measure materials including blood, urine, and cell samples to aid in disease detection and prevention. They then prepare reports for doctors and other members of medical teams and may provide these reports to patients.
Clinical laboratory technicians work with teams of technicians and technologists to tackle especially complex tasks. While conducting tests, clinical laboratory technicians are also responsible for maintaining safety and preventing infection by following strict protocols for handling and storing samples and maintaining equipment.
Clinical Laboratory Technician Duties and Responsibilities
While clinical laboratory technicians can work in a variety of settings, most share several central responsibilities:
Conduct Medical Tests
The foremost responsibility of a clinical laboratory technician is conducting medical testing of patient samples. This typically means using a variety of laboratory equipment and technology to test blood and urine samples for indicators of disease or other abnormalities. A clinical laboratory assistant may use a centrifuge, for example, to separate blood cells from plasma and conduct separate tests on each.
Clinical laboratory technicians also maintain and organize samples to support laboratory activities. This aspect of the role requires a high level of attention to detail as well as adherence to storage protocols to ensure that samples remain viable for testing. Additionally, clinical laboratory technicians create computer records of sample intake and make sure that samples are properly labeled and coded within the laboratory.
Maintain Laboratory Equipment
Clinical laboratory technicians also maintain laboratory equipment and machinery to support ongoing research and testing. This includes routine clean-up and sanitization activities such as cleaning test tubes and ensuring that machinery within the lab works as expected and is properly stored and cleaned between uses. Additionally, clinical laboratory technicians may need to submit repair and maintenance requests.
Clinical laboratory technicians also prepare reports to share the results of their tests and present any unusual findings. These reports typically include records of tests conducted, expected results, and actual numbers. Clinical laboratory technicians may prepare more detailed reports for doctors and medical professionals, and simplified versions of these reports for distribution to patients.
Oversee Safety Protocols
While working and conducting tests, clinical laboratory technicians also maintain oversight of safety protocols to prevent the spread of disease or infection and prevent contamination of samples. This aspect of the job can entail a number of different processes including following safe disposal techniques for biological and hazardous waste; cleaning and disinfecting areas and equipment that may have come in contact with infected samples; and wearing protective gear.
Clinical Laboratory Technician Skills and Qualifications
Clinical laboratory technicians support research activities and patient outcomes by conducting medical tests. Workers in this role typically have at least an associate degree and the following skills:
Testing expertise – clinical laboratory technicians should have extensive familiarity with conducting medical tests and evaluating results
Disease and infection prevention – in this role, clinical laboratory technicians maintain safety by following proper disease and infection control protocols
Attention to detail – clinical laboratory technicians need a high level of attention to detail to ensure that they conduct tests properly and accurately record results
Team collaboration – many clinical laboratory technicians work with teams of medical professionals, so they should be excellent collaborators and coordinators
Communication skills – effective written and verbal communication skills are central to this role, since clinical laboratory technicians work with others and need to prepare reports on their findings
Organization and time management – clinical laboratory technicians should be able to set priorities and manage their own time while maintaining a high level of organization of patient records and samples
Tools of the Trade
Clinical laboratory technicians perform a variety of tests and measurements, so they should be able to use the following:
Scientific instruments (test tubes, centrifuges, gas chromatography)
Clinical Laboratory Technician Education and Training
Clinical laboratory technicians typically need at least an associate degree or postsecondary certificate through a vocational or technical school. In addition, some states require clinical laboratory technicians to obtain a license. There are some opportunities for on-the-job training in this role as clinical laboratory technicians gain familiarity and expertise with equipment and processes.
Clinical Laboratory Technician Salary and Outlook
The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) found that, as of May 2017, medical and clinical laboratory technologists and technicians earned a median annual salary of $51,770. The highest-paid 10 percent of workers in these roles earned more than $79,530 per year, while the lowest-paid 10 percent earned less than $29,640 annually.
The BLS expects employment in this field to grow at a faster-than-average rate of 12 percent between 2016 and 2026.
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