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Do You Want to Be a Medical Laboratory Technologist?
If you're thinking about becoming a medical laboratory technologist, good for you because it is an interesting career and one that happens to be in high demand right now; however, it is certainly not for everyone. In fact, medical laboratory technology is a career field that is greatly misunderstood!
In a previous article, I have written all about what a medical lab tech actually does, and I would suggest that you read it if you're not sure. I know what I'm talking about as I'm a lab tech myself and can honestly tell you that there is a lot more to this profession than many people would have you believe.
If you have an idea of what's involved and are still thinking about becoming a medical lab technologist, let's talk now about what five qualities you should possess in order to be successful in the field. While it's not rocket science, as I said, it's not for everyone!
Take a look at these five qualities and ask yourself if they're traits you think you possess. While as a new graduate right out of school, you will be starting at the bottom of the ladder and will have a lot to learn, if you have these qualities, you will make life much easier for yourself and for your co-workers.
5 Traits You Need to Become a Medical Lab Tech
- You're Good in Science and Can Troubleshoot
- You Can Handle Shift Work
- You Work Well Alone Within a Group Environment
- You Genuinely Care About Patient Care
- You Can Survive on Little to No Recognition
1. You're Good in Science and Can Troubleshoot
Let's be honest here; you don't need to have neurosurgeon potential to enter the field of medical laboratory technology. However, you had better have a knack for sciences, or you will find yourself struggling to understand what it is that you're doing, and you will almost for sure make a lot of mistakes and poor judgment calls. This is bad and potentially detrimental to patient care, which is NOT what you want.
In this profession, there is a lot of troubleshooting involved, and you will often find yourself in situations where you have to use logic and your science background in order to reach a solution. Many people think that lab techs just throw blood samples onto analyzers and sit back and watch them work. Wrong! As a laboratory professional, you will need to know when the results your analyzers give you simply do not make sense and warrant further investigation.
For example, your analyzer may tell you that John Smith has a potassium level of 2.5 mmol/L. You know that this is a critically low value, however, and is life-threatening. Being the good lab tech that you are, you check the patient's history and notice that earlier that same day, the same patient had a potassium level of 4.0 mmol/L. If you know what you're doing, bells should go off in your head! It's possible that when the blood was collected out of the patient's arm, an IV was running in that same arm. This is a big no-no because it means that the patient's blood got diluted with IV fluid. Even though the analyzer is giving you correct results for the blood specimen you gave it, those results do not reflect what is actually going on in the patient! If the doctor treats a patient based on incorrect values, the consequences can be dire.
So yes, make sure you have the ability to understand scientific concepts and can put them to good use.
2. You Can Handle Shift Work
Chances are you will have to work shifts if you want to be a lab tech, especially if you work in a hospital setting. Most labs—unless very small—are open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and that includes weekends and holidays. Yes, that means Christmas too!
And depending on where you end up working, you may need to participate in "on-call" shifts, too. That means that you take your turn carrying a pager with you, and even though you're home, you are ready to show up on the job on a split second's notice. Most employers will require you to be within a driving range that will allow you to get to work within 20 minutes of getting called in. I have never worked on-call myself, but I hear it can be pretty tiring. Try going to sleep only to be woken up two hours later for a call to go into work. You get there, do whatever you have to do, get back home and just get to sleep (if you can even sleep at all), and then you get another call! This seems to be the life of the on-call worker. However, if it doesn't bother you, it can be a great way to make quite a bit of extra money because you usually get paid overtime.
3. You Work Well Alone Within a Group Environment
While it's certainly encouraged to seek opinions and learn from the experience of your coworkers, as a medical laboratory technologist, you are ultimately responsible for your own work. You may have many other lab techs around you (especially on the day shift), but you will be expected to be able to do your share of the work and make your own decisions. Of course, part of that is knowing when you are in over your head and knowing when to ask for help.
You will find that most lab techs are "control freaks," so these are the types of coworkers that you will be dealing with on a daily basis. While certainly not everyone is this way, many lab techs have the overwhelming need to be "right," and they will make you look bad in the process if that's what it takes. You will have to learn to handle this kind of behavior! Many lab techs (especially older ones) have the attitude that "this is the way I've always done it, so this is the way I'm always going to do it." They can be very closed-minded people. I'm just warning you!
4. You Genuinely Care About Patient Care
As a med lab tech, you probably will not have much direct patient contact, although your job may involve blood collection depending on the size and setup of your facility. Lab techs are "behind the scenes" people, but it does not mean that they don't play a crucial part in patient care! You have probably heard that up to 80% of all doctors' decisions are based on laboratory results.
This means that you must absolutely and genuinely have patients' best interests in mind at all times during your work. If you don't care, it's all too easy to take short cuts, to not investigate situations thoroughly that need investigating, and to just generally be careless about your work. Please—if you don't care about patients, this is not the right profession for you! Going the extra mile is not always easy, but it is so often very necessary in this field.
5. You Can Survive on Little to No Recognition
As I said, lab techs work "behind the scenes," and not many people really understand or take the time to think about what we do even though it's so very important. Lab techs are not in the public eye, like doctors, nurses, and x-ray techs. Therefore, do not expect much thanks from anyone for the job you do, except maybe from your co-workers—but consider yourself lucky if even that happens.
No patient will ever come up to you and say "Gee, thanks for not releasing my glucose result to the doctor knowing that QC was barely out on your analyzer—I appreciate your concern in making sure that I am being treated based on the most accurate and precise results possible." Sorry, this will never happen to you! Or . . . how about this one: "Thanks for crossmatching and releasing the right kind of blood, so I didn't have a transfusion reaction." You will never hear this one either.
On the other hand, how many people drop cookies and presents off to the nurses (and rightfully so) who looked after their loved ones? At least nurses can sometimes go home at the end of their shifts feeling appreciated (I realize that the majority of nurses are also underappreciated).
If you want to become a medical laboratory technologist, you will have to develop an innate sense that your work is important and necessary for patient care. No one will ever come up and tell you so, but you'll have to believe it anyway.
If you're the type of person who needs constant praise and recognition, this might not be the job for you.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.
lin on May 06, 2017:
nat on February 02, 2017:
Hi, thank you for the article it was extremely informative! I am considering this career, but to be honest I am a little hesitant. I love Biology! and genuinely have an interest for it, but I am not sure if I am "smart enough" for this career. Though I love Biology and Science in general, I have a hard time with Chemistry. I can "remember" enough information for an exam, but I don't feel that I retain enough information once everything is done. Do you feel like the sciences is something you can learn from scratch for this profession or is someone that has had an amazing history with science/chemistry better suited for it?
Whitney Perry from Corbin, Kentucky on September 19, 2011:
i was wondering if you went to a school online or if you went on a campus and how long it took you?
AOkay12 from Florida on May 12, 2011:
Your statements are correct. I worked for many years in this profession, and noted some of the same pitfalls that you have. The one that was most disturbing to me is the lack of respect the Medical Technologist encounters from other health care professionals, like doctors and nurses. It is assumed by many that one profession is better than another. Some people are so ignorant about the field of Medical Technology, that they think you simply draw blood and call it a day. It also bothered me that other Med Techs, do not take their jobs very seriously, resulting in sloppy and subpar results for the patient.
Sameer Khan on February 22, 2011:
Very, very true. As Medical Laboratory Technologist myself I find these to be very accurate observations. Any one thinking of becoming one would do well to take the above advice
nick on December 18, 2010:
hi i was wondering if someone could answer my question for me i cureently am in school now to become a clinical lab tech and then a scientist i work a lot so i can support myself and pay for school and other things so i can only go to school part time maximum like take two classes per semester i was really wondering if it's actually possible for me to become a tech/scientist because i know it's going to take me a lot longer than the average person who can go more often