A Career as a Medical Technologist: A Behind the Scenes Look at Laboratory Professionals.

A Career in Laboratory Science and Medical Technology: Everything you need to know.

I started my career as a medical technologist almost 12 years ago now. When I was in college pursuing a major in biology, I had no idea what I was going to do with my degree. Lucky for me, my advisor mentioned the field of medical technology to me. I had no idea what this career involved, so the next semester I decided to take a course in microbiology and one in immunology in the hopes that I might direct my energy toward a more focused goal. I absolutely loved both courses, and changed my major from a B.S. in Biology to a B.S. in Medical Technology. I spent 3 years at the University, and my final year doing a medical technology internship at a hospital. The internship involved rotations in all areas of the laboratory, and prepared me to start working immediately after graduation.

Though I went to school for 4 years to receive a Bachelor of Science, there are also 2 year programs that can certify a person as a medical laboratory technician. This is best for those who have a more urgent need to complete their education and get into the workforce. It is always possible to get that 4 year degree at a later time or by going to school part-time after entering the workforce.

Well, now I bet you are wondering what medical technologists do. To answer that question, I am going to take you on a tour of the different areas of the laboratory, and what each department specializes in. Every medical technologist is trained to work in every area of the laboratory, but often times they specialize in one or two areas during their career.

THE MICROBIOLOGY LABORATORY

Medical technologists that work in the microbiology laboratory investigate the causes of infectious diseases. They look for bacteria, viruses, fungi, and parasites in different types of specimens. Diseases like MRSA, influenza, urinary tract infections, and bacterial pneumonia are generally diagnosed based on the work performed in this area of the laboratory. These laboratory professionals must be familiar with thousands of different types of microorganisms and their growth requirements. They must know some of the chemical and physical properties that these organisms possess to be able to quickly and efficiently provide accurate information to the physician. Many highly contagious and fatal diseases, such as meningitis and tuberculosis are discovered in this laboratory, and every second counts when the patient's life and the lives of others may be in danger.

It is also the microbiology department that tests different drugs to make sure that the infection will be eliminated after treatment. Physicians rely heavily on the data that is supplied by the microbiology technologists to properly treat patients with these kinds of infections due to the growing number of organisms that are becoming resistant to the medications normally used to treat them.

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Moving on to the next area of the lab:

THE BLOOD BANK LABORATORY

This is the area of the laboratory that deals with transfusion medicine. Blood transfusions save millions of lives every year. Trauma victims, people with blood disorders like anemia, and people undergoing surgery would never survive without the dedication of the blood bank technologists. These laboratory staff members work under fast paced and stressful conditions to make sure that the blood products patients receive are free from disease and of the appropriate blood type so as not to cause any adverse transfusion reactions.

Due to the many surface antigens on human red blood cells, compatible blood is essential for survival of the patient. Blood bank technologists perform what is called a cross-match to make sure that any blood product being given to a patient will not be destroyed nor kill the patient. The identification of compatibility issues is a tedious, investigative procedure that is not always clear cut. People who have had previous transfusions and women who have had children often have pre-formed antibodies, complicating the investigation even further.

Believe it or not, every unit of blood donated can save multiple lives because different parts of the blood can be separated to provide exactly what the patient needs. Someone who is anemic may just need the red blood cells, while someone with clotting difficulties may just need the platelets. The blood bank technologist helps to ensure the safety of all of the blood products. Though many reports of patient death have been reported in the news over the years, these situations are very rare. Without these important laboratory professionals, thousands of lives would be lost unnecessarily.

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THE HEMATOLOGY LABORATORY

Hematology technologists focus on blood components at the cellular level. They use automated equipment and microscopy to determine if a patient has any abnormalities in blood cell production. Leukemia, lymphoma, anemia, sickle cell disease, and infectious processes are only a few of the illnesses that doctors rely on the hematology laboratory for definitive diagnosis.

The hematology staff must be familiar with both the normal and abnormal morphology of red blood cells, white blood cells, and platelets. Even the slightest change in appearance or number of these cells can give a physician critical information needed to treat a patient. These highly skilled individuals sit for hours in front of a microscope with the tedious task of counting and viewing cells, looking for any characteristic that may aid in disease diagnosis.

THE URINALYSIS LABORATORY

Medical technologists working in the urinalysis laboratory examine patient's urine for clinical abnormalities of many diseases and illnesses. They measure glucose and ketone levels to determine if someone is diabetic. They measure leukocyte esterase and nitrates to look for possible urinary tract infections. They determine the specific gravity of the urine which can tell the physician if the patient is dehydrated. Patients with kidney diseases will also pass abnormal materials into the urine. Large levels of protein or blood are often found with certain kidney disorders.

Urinalysis technologists will also look at the urine microscopically to visualize abnormal cells or bacterial levels. They can determine abnormal colors and odors that are present when a patient has certain genetic disorders. All of these factors in conjunction with one another can give clinicians a multitude of clues toward a diagnosis.

THE COAGULATION LABORATORY

The coagulation technologist's main focus is to determine if a patient's blood is clotting correctly. An intricate pathway of many different factors is required for blood to clot, and there are many genetic and acquired disorders that can cause a disruption of this pathway. People with hemophilia can't clot because they are missing part of this pathway. A diet that lacks the appropriate amount of Vitamin K can also lead to bleeding disorders. It is the responsibility of the technologists in the coagulation laboratory to determine why the patient's blood is not clotting so that the physician can correctly diagnose the problem. Some clotting diseases are treatable and others not, so it is very important to determine that exact element that the patient is missing.

Bleeding disorders are not the only thing the coagulation laboratory looks for. They are also responsible for determining if a patient clots to quickly. A high propensity for clotting can put a person at risk of death due to the clot lodging in the lungs (pulmonary embolism) or brain. Once formed clots can travel through the bloodstream to other areas of the body, and eventually block or slow blood flow to essential organs. Once a person is recognized as having a high risk of clotting by the coagulation laboratory, physicians can put the person on anti-coagulants like heparin or coumadin to help prevent death.

THE CHEMISTRY LABORATORY

The medical technologist working in the chemistry laboratory looks for the largest number of different analytes present in human blood. They must know what levels are normal, and what levels are indicative of disease. They perform electrolyte levels, liver enzyme levels, thyroid hormone levels, sugar levels, and thousands of other tests to help give the physician more clues to the patients diagnosis. The chemistry area is highly automated, and large instruments perform a lot of the testing. The chemistry technologist is responsible for making sure that the instruments are functioning properly by performing calibrations and quality control. The automated equipment may ultimately deliver the laboratory values, but it is the technologist that is responsible for making sure that those values are accurate. Due to the high volume of testing that is performed in the chemistry area, these technologists must have excellent organizational skills, and be able to multi-task. Their knowledge is extensive regarding the interactions of many hormones, drugs, electrolytes, enzymes, etc. in the human body.

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Comments 18 comments

Pam Roberson profile image

Pam Roberson 7 years ago from Virginia

Marlene, this is very interesting, and I'm going to pass it on to my daughter who is still undecided about what field of study she will pursue in college. She's gravitating towards the sciences, and she may find this very interesting.

Thank you for a very informative and well-written hub! I'll be anxious to read more of your hubs. :)


Marlene F. profile image

Marlene F. 7 years ago from Richmond, Virginia Author

Thank you for taking the time to read my first Hub Pam. I am new to all of this, but really enjoyed writing my first one. I am so excited that I found an outlet for my creative energy. I hope that medical technology might be a field your daughter is interested in, and if not and she loves the sciences I would be happy to give you more information on other science related careers, as I had to do a lot of research to figure out what I eventually wanted to do.


Laila Rajaratnam profile image

Laila Rajaratnam 7 years ago from India

Hi Marlene,informative hub.Yes,I know the thrill of publishing the first hub!I was there just 3 months back, though I had joined a month earlier and was gathering courage to publish the first hub!:)


Marlene F. profile image

Marlene F. 7 years ago from Richmond, Virginia Author

Thank you Laila. I think I am addicted now. I love to write. What an awesome outlet Hubpages has created!


TKIMWRSVC profile image

TKIMWRSVC 7 years ago from United States

Nice hub here. I like it alot and really like how you laid it out.


Pam 7 years ago

Marlene,

I have an associate degree in Applied science and graduated from the MLT program. Later I took the A.M.T. (american medical technologist) exam and passed. Although, I took this no organization seems to recognize this as far as salary goes. I have become so frustrated, because it was a hard exam to pass and I don't want to continue to pay my dues if they don't recognize it. I just found an on-line program to receive my bachelors (CLS) in Medical Technologist. I need your help. What would you recommend?

Thanks!


Marlene F. profile image

Marlene F. 7 years ago from Richmond, Virginia Author

Pam,

I am not sure where you are from, but in the U.S. there are 2 organizations that offer accreditation/certification in Medical Technology. One is ASCP (American Society for Clinical Pathology, and NCA. Upon completion of your bachelors, you can sit for the exam to become certified. I sat for the ASCP exam, and though it is difficult, I have had no problems with acceptance of my ASCP certification. I do understand that some U.S. states do require state specific lisensure, but I am not sure which states do. Please let me know if you need anymore information as I would be happy to try to find it for you. Marlene


Diana 7 years ago

I would like to become a cls and specialize in microbiology. My concern is that I have never been the best at math, would that be a problem? I can learn and study hard but I don't know if I'm in over my head. Also the pragram I want to go into is pending naacls accreditation. What happens if I finish this degree and it doesn't get accredited? How can I take my exam? The program offers 4 practicums senior year and it offers phlebotomy and all sorts of other hands on courses. It is regionally accredited by the nca but not yet naacls. What do you think?


Marlene F. profile image

Marlene F. 7 years ago from Richmond, Virginia Author

I would be very careful regarding getting into an unaccredited program. NCA is well known but you need to find out if it is accredited by the ASCP. Many states will take ASCP and NCA. NAACLS is not usually an accreditation agency for clinical laboratory science programs. They put out guidelines related to microbiology. Check this out. If the program is NCA and ASCP accredited you should be fine. As far as math goes, you don't need to be a whiz in geometry or calculus, but you do need to understand standard deviation, and normal vs. abnormal lab values. I struggled a little with math myself, but if you can understand the basics, you should be fine. Message me if you need any further information.


Diana  7 years ago

You are so helpful!


Diana 7 years ago

I have heard all sorts of answers about how much a cls or mt earns. I have heard anything from 35k to 50k min. What is a realistic salary?


Marlene F. profile image

Marlene F. 7 years ago from Richmond, Virginia Author

It really depends on where you find a job. If you are in a more rural location you can probably expect to start in the mid to upper 30's. As you get closer to large cities, and larger institutions, the salary usually increases. The 35-50k you mentioned is right in the ball park. Lower end of scale would be in smaller hospitals, higher end in larger facilities.


Jane  7 years ago

Hello Marlene, Right now I have a Bachelor of Anthropology in Human Biology and I have no idea what kind of job offer for this major. I couldn't find any jobs. I am interesting in Medical Technology but how many more years for me to complete it if I already have a Bachelor degree at Temple University. I live in Philadelphia.


Marlene F. profile image

Marlene F. 7 years ago from Richmond, Virginia Author

How many more years really depends on your previous coursework...I interviewed for a job at Temple University shortly after I graduated, and they have amazing laboratory opportunities! Some hospitals hire Medical Technologists without a degree specifically in Medical Technology as long as the applicant has passed the ASCP exam. It helps to have the degree background to pass the exam, but if you check with some local hospitals you can more easily find out what their requirements are....GOOD LUCK!!!


AOkay12 profile image

AOkay12 6 years ago from Florida

I worked as a medical technologist for 12 years and overall, I enjoyed it. In my opinion, the biggest downside to this career is that you have to be willing to work a lot of nights, weekends, and holidays, especially in the beginning of your career.


Sunnyglitter profile image

Sunnyglitter 6 years ago from Cyberspace

I used to be a Chiropractic Assistant, so I enjoy the medical field. This sounds like an interesting career. Nice article. I also enjoyed reading your profile, as I am also determined to not be another statistic.


Job 5 years ago

http://www.robetech.com/In today's environment, there is a shortage of Health care professionals in many countries.especially in Canada


Sapphyreopal5 profile image

Sapphyreopal5 2 years ago from United States

I am currently deciding on what career field I would like to pursue. The problem is that I have both a strong creative streak and a deep passion for science, especially those related to the science of medicine (chemistry, anatomy & physiology, biology, etc.). When I did the schooling for cardiovascular technology for about a year, I felt the field wasn't for me for the reasons that I'm more interested in the science of medicine and not so much direct patient interaction. For fun, I really enjoy reading medical journals on the scientific aspects of various diseases (the genetics, the whys, the action of mechanism for various drugs, etc.). In my spare time, I have even written a brief yet more scientific article in response to conspiracy theories regarding RH negative blood (which you may or may not have heard of ha ha). I won't lie, I have a weird interest in hematology (am a bit of a vampire ha ha).

Recently I have considered doing lab work, although I have been hearing some rather negative things about being underpaid (and overworked), under-appreciated, and the generally stressful work environment of medical labs. I'm also an introverted extrovert, meaning I am extroverted yet I also like me time and do get "people exhausted" after a while. I enjoy learning new things on a regular basis and need to be mentally stimulated in the work that I do. Generally, I have been considered to be a good problem-solver, have strong leadership skills (have been told by multiple people including a former boss I'd make a great manager one day), am generally a creative thinker, and have tendencies of being quirky and even unconventional at times (do play nice with the rules however). This may not be an overly detailed self-description of myself, but given what I provided would this be a good field for me to at least consider?

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    Which area of the clinical laboratory sounds the most interesting to you?

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