A medical technologist, also known as a medical laboratory scientist, med tech or lab tech, usually works in the laboratory of a hospital or in an independent laboratory that services hospitals or medical offices. Although medical technologists perform their work behind the scenes and rarely come in contact with patients or physicians, their work plays a vital role in diagnosis and treatment of diseases and provides answers to life or death questions practically every day.
If you’ve ever considered pursuing a career as a medical technologist, it’s important to learn what the work is like and the steps you must take to get started in this field.
What Do Medical Technologists Do Every Day?
Medical technologists are trained to conduct detailed laboratory testing for all kinds of health issues. That can include testing for a patient’s cholesterol or glucose levels and analyzing the results, or conducting specialized testing for genetic disorders. It can also include providing cancer testing results, identifying antibiotic resistant infections, and determining a patient’s blood type to prepare for surgery.
Physicians and other health professionals need reliable test results to make informed diagnoses for their patients. Of course, they also rely on patient history, symptoms and other variables, but most diagnoses must be confirmed by laboratory tests—and medical technologists are the professionals prepared to provide that confirmation.
In addition to assisting doctors with the information they need to make proper diagnoses, the testing and analysis that medical technologists perform can also help with treatment. Some tests help determine the right antibiotic to prescribe, others monitor patient progress and guide ongoing treatment. Still other lab results are used for wellness testing.
With all the different types of lab work needed, medical technologists’ work can be varied. In general, they spend their days performing laboratory testing and logging test results according to established lab protocols. To perform that testing, medical technologists must analyze samples of blood, tissue and body fluids. Tests often involve determining these samples’ chemical content, cell count, drug levels or blood type, or whether certain bacteria or parasites are present. In many cases, these samples are infectious, so infection control and sterilization are crucial for minimizing hazards.
Medical technologists are also required to make decisions about the validity of specimens sent to the lab, and if a sample must be rejected, they must request that another sample be collected. These professionals also verify that test results match the specimens that were submitted and make sure that all tests are labeled and organized correctly. Also, when equipment used in the lab breaks or experiences issues, med techs must troubleshoot and repair problems.
Preparing for a Medical Technologist Career
The first step in becoming a medical technologist is to pursue a bachelor’s degree in medical technology. At most colleges and universities, the medical technology department is housed in the department of allied health.
In addition to the appropriate degree, most employers also require medical technologists to hold valid certification from the American Medical Technologists (AMT) organization. Earning this credential includes studying for and taking an exam, and you must keep your certification current each year.
When you start looking for a job as a medical technologist, your degree and certification will be required. But you can take other steps to boost your chances of getting hired. For instance, employers will appreciate previous laboratory experience, so you could try to work as a laboratory assistant while getting your credentials as a medical technologist.