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Medical Laboratory Assistant Career Overview

written by: Emma Lloyd•edited by: Leigh A. Zaykoski•updated: 5/13/2009

The medical laboratory assistant has a job that is challenging, interesting, and rewarding. Learn here about the skills and qualifications you need to become a medical laboratory assistant.

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    Medical Laboratory Assistant Job Description

    The role of a medical laboratory assistant can be a highly variable one, as well as challenging and very rewarding. Medical laboratory assistants most often work in research and diagnostic laboratories, where they work with scientists and other laboratory workers at a variety of tasks. In hospital and diagnostic laboratories their main focus is on work that helps diagnose and treat patients, while in research laboratories they will usually work on certain aspects of research projects that are supervised by a qualified research scientist.

    During the course of a typical day, a medical laboratory assistant carries out a range of different tasks, which may include several of the following:

    • Preparing samples of blood, fluid, or tissues for diagnostic or research analysis
    • Growing cell, bacteria, or virus cultures
    • Using machinery and equipment to analyze samples
    • Analyzing data and test results to diagnose a patient or add new research results to a body of work
    • Routine tasks such as maintaining equipment, making up stocks of reagents, and restocking laboratory supplies.

    Medical laboratory assistants can choose to specialize in one or more different fields, including hematology (blood sample analysis), cytology (analysis of cell samples), and histopathology (tissue sample analysis).

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    Skills, Training, and Education

    For medical laboratory assistants, problem-solving and analytical skills, good attention to detail, the ability to concentrate and work accurately for long periods of time, and good manual dexterity are all important attributes. The ability to work independently without supervision and use good judgment, as well as the ability to work effectively as part of a team, is also important. Good written and verbal communication skills are vital too.

    Medical laboratory assistant candidates can choose from a range of qualifications, from short certificate courses to four year degrees. However, while it’s possible to get an entry-level job in this field with a minor qualification, it’s always better to aim for at least a two-year degree to improve salary and career advancement prospects. A degree is also advised for anyone interested in specializing in a particular aspect of medical laboratory science.

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    Sources

    Bureau of Labor Statistics at the Department of Labor: Clinical Laboratory Technologists and Technician Information