What does a lab technician do?
Lab technicians have a pressing role to increase efficiency wherever they work. You can serve as a medical or scientific lab tech or acquire more specialized roles. Your general duties include:
• Keeping your workstation and the entire laboratory clean and organized
• Presenting data with thoroughness and clarity - For doctors, nurses, and scientists to be able to make immediate decisions based on their analyses of your information
• Collecting samples such as blood and other tissues, soil samples, or chemicals
• Labeling biological samples - Identifying them, attach them to a patient if relevant, and designate them as hazardous or urgent, for example
• Analyzing samples using various instruments
• Maintaining laboratory equipment
• Conducting experiments generally under a scientist in a controlled environment and within specific parameters
Specialized roles with increased responsibilities
If you acquire additional skills and more education, you can become a specialist in your role.
• Histotechnician - Greatest application is with pathologists who need rapid results for oncology patients; you analyze thin sections of tissues from biopsies.
• Phlebotomist or phlebotomy technician - Draw blood samples for a wide variety of tests or screenings.
• Cytotechnologist - Analyze cell shape and abnormalities under a microscope.
• Clinical technician - This specialty is responsible for general diagnostic testing.
• Nuclear medicine or radiology technician - Obtain diagnostic results from nuclear imaging (MRI or CT scan) or X-rays, respectively.View Roles
What is the average salary of a lab technician?
According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median salary of a laboratory technician is $45,760 to $57,800 per year depending on the discipline. As of May 2021, 90% of clinical lab technicians and technologists earned over $2,500 each month. Health technologists and technicians make a median annual salary of $46,910. Salary depends on the region and any specialties as well as your classification. Although a lab technician can increase their salary through years of experience, the most effective way to boost income as a lab technician is additional education. Certificates and specialty courses enhance the ability to expand to jobs that require and reward an advanced skillset.
Regional income differences
Wages are higher on the West Coast and in the Northeast. Seeking employment in specific states, results in a salary that is well above the national average for lab techs. In the following regions of the US, the mean salary of a lab technician ranges from $60,900 to $72,500 annually.
- Northeastern states include New York, New Jersey, and New Jersey.
- On the West Coast lab technicians earn above-average salaries - in California, Oregon, and Washington.
- Expect a salary that matches the East and West Coat in Alaska and Colorado.
- States that neighbor the two coasts of the US often have an average salary between about $55,000 and $60,000 and include Nevada, Virginia, and Pennsylvania.
Working as a lab technician
A career as a lab tech offers stability, opportunities for advancement, and high-paced challenges. Although some machine operations have become automated, human input and intuition will always be crucial in the lab. The more technologically savvy you are, the more in-demand you will be. Here you will learn what is involved to perform your job as a lab technician including your responsibilities, what equipment you will require, and the kind of environment to expect.
Lab technician job description
Some lab technicians have an endless to-do list while others have a small set of responsibilities that may include only one to three tasks. A sample of many of the duties you might encounter as a lab technician are as follows:
- Obtain tissue samples such as drawing blood or scraping for cells.
- Organize the laboratory so it runs efficiently - depending on your role, this can include delegating workstations/duties, categorizing data, and storing samples.
- Maintain safe working conditions in your lab.
- Equipment maintenance may involve calibration and repairs.
- Operate, read, and adjust the settings on instruments.
- Run tests on samples that can be biological or industrial - fuel, blood, or water are examples.
- Administer contrast media (i.e., radioactive dyes) and conduct the correlating imaging studies - useful in heart studies (angiograms and Doppler) and myelograms (spinal contrasts).
- Explain laboratory procedures with patients or clients (animal owners).
- Remove radioactive or biohazardous materials according to mandates.
- Work with solutions and reagents necessary in many tests.
What type of equipment do lab technicians use?
Unless you work remotely or from home, your employer or facility expects to provide most of the equipment you need. You will even receive training on instruments and advanced machinery. The items below include the supplies and stationary equipment that you might need to familiarize yourself with:
- Reagent tests, reagents, and SNAP assays
- Collection kits for samples - vials, slides, and biopsy jars; racks helpful to hold multiple samples
- Biohazardous waste containers and bags to safely dispose of needles, syringes, and biological or contaminated waste
- A disinfectant and cleaning supplies to decontaminate floors and counter surfaces; will likely require special cleaning agents to maintain machines
- Syringes and needles to collect samples and administer pharmaceuticals in specialized tests (examples: IV administration of radioactive materials or cortisol in screening for Addison's disease in dogs)
- Laboratory testing machines - blood chemistry, immunoassay, and hematology (complete blood count or CBC)
- Scientific laboratory equipment for industrial undertakings - spectrometers as well as pipettes, funnels, and fumigation hoods
- Furniture such as stools and lab tables
- Microscopes for cell and tissue analysis as well as microbiology and parasitology
- A computer for uploading, analyzing, and storing results
What is the work environment of a lab technician?
As a lab technician, your work is mostly indoors where the equipment has easy access to electricity and a controlled climate. Clinical and medical lab techs work in a hospital, clinic, or veterinary office. Industrial technicians may collect some of their samples out in the field and run a few tests on mobile devices. You may spend part of the day traveling from one place to another and then run your samples in a laboratory once you finish your collections. Some human and animal collections are also mobile undertakings, especially for livestock like cattle and horses. Scientific lab technician positions are conducive to a hybrid work environment. For example, you can do your research and collect data at home and perhaps conduct experiments in the safety of a laboratory.
Who are your colleagues as a lab technician?
In your role as a lab technician, you will experience quite a lot of overlap with other professions. Most likely, you will have a team of other lab technicians and a technologist or two. Depending on your field, you will work for a field scientist, a doctor, or a veterinarian. Your colleagues in other fields will include dental hygienists, nurses, and possibly veterinary/medical assistants. Sometimes you work shoulder-to-shoulder with others in the field, but often you will be communicating with them via telephone and email over lab results. A good rapport with your teammates helps ensure good quality control in the collection and handling of samples or experimental materials.
What is the work schedule of a lab technician?
Some lab technician jobs are eight-hour shifts, although long hours for those in specialized and industrial fields are possible. Since many clinics, hospitals, and doctors' offices are open 24 hours, clinical lab technicians can expect to always take shifts, including overnight and early mornings. If you work in the private sector at a small practice, you may work longer hours during the week but have the weekend free. Large laboratories typically require you to be available seven days a week, but part-time positions are also an option for some. Long and laborious hours are not habitual for lab technicians in well-staffed facilities. You will most often work between 35 and 45 hours a week. There is high demand for holiday, overnight, and weekend workers.
What is the career outlook for a lab technician?
The steady growth in demand for lab technicians reflects an increasing awareness of their benefits to efficient diagnoses in medicine and science. It also suggests that there will continue to be a need for lab technicians well into the future. The US Bureau of Labor Statistics projects a growth rate of about 11% for the lab technician and technology sector between 2020 and 2030. This prediction reports that lab technicians will experience more job growth than the national average. As far as whether job openings exist, the US Bureau also projects that on average there will be just under 26,000 new job openings for lab technicians every year.
Increased opportunity with moving
While opportunities are limited for advancement in established laboratories, you can find higher positions within the field when you move around. As mentioned before, specialties exist that are challenging and pay higher than general laboratory technicians. You can also become a laboratory technologist, a position which requires work with more advanced lab equipment and puts you in a supervisory role.
What are the advantages of working with Spherion as a lab technician?
Spherion is a leader in the industry and has an excellent reputation for connecting qualified professionals with businesses in different industries. Lab technicians can rely on the team at Spherion to have access to networking opportunities to find a reputable company to secure employment. The team at Spherion has the tools, skills, and expertise to help you be matched with the right company. You can have access to plenty of options. Additional benefits of working with Spherion include:
- Being paid on a weekly basis
- Having access to a personal contact who will assist you in searching for a job
- Training opportunities to increase your skills
- Access to many job opportunities in the local area
- A quick and easy interview process
What education do you need as a lab technician?
As a lab technician, the amount of education you need depends on who hires you and state regulations. Some employers do not require specific certificates. However, you will at least need a high school education because most technician jobs require an excellent grasp of reading, the English language, and mathematics. The medical laboratory technician is in charge when locales require their technicians to be licensed. Technologists become accredited through American Medical Technologists, and the specialties each have their boards. Career opportunities for lab technicians can be tricky at times because some technician certification programs require a bachelor's degree. Others require some college work with a focus on chemistry, math, and general sciences. In high school, you should also pay particular attention to courses like algebra, chemistry, and biology if you have an interest in a career as a laboratory technician.
Lab technician skills & competencies
As a lab technician, you ideally will have or be able to easily acquire the following skills:
- An attention to detail, organizational skills, and cleanliness are vital to your success in the lab.
- You will have the willingness to take direction and follow instructions from your leader.
- Excellent communication and the ability to work well with a team; your ability to express yourself remotely is a plus.
- Prepare yourself for prolonged screen time and work with numbers on instruments or staring through the lens of a microscope.
- You need the ability and base knowledge to educate and familiarize yourself with testing equipment and safety protocols.
- You need sufficient technological knowledge to upload data and files.
- A love for reading and research is essential.
- An instinct for abnormalities or poor quality of samples is especially helpful.
A lab technician's work serves as the backbone of diagnostics in the medical field. Learn more about becoming a lab technician through these answers to commonly asked questions.
What is the difference between a lab technician and a lab technologist?
A lab technician typically has an associate degree in clinical sciences with an accompanying certificate while a technologist has a bachelor's degree in a related field like biology. Technologists often find themselves in supervisory or educational roles. Lab technologists, because of their advanced education, work in clinics or industries with a requirement for advanced technical knowledge.
Where do lab technicians work?
Lab technicians mostly work in the public sector in hospitals or clinics. They also work frequently in outpatient facilities where they earn higher than average wages. Lab technicians are prevalent in scientific labs as well as industrial facilities.
How do I apply for a job as a lab technician?
Applying for a job as a lab technician is easy with Spherion. You can search for lab technician jobs on Spherion.com by job title and location. If you don’t see the perfect role, you can submit an open application. Once you submit your resume through Spherion’s open application, a recruiter from the office closest to you will reach out with details about potential lab technician roles that fit your skill set and professional goals.