A lab assistant can work in many different lab environments, whether they be medical, clinical or more academic in nature. Lab assistants help scientists with testing procedures and while they may only need a high school diploma, a certificate and official training in medical lab assisting is recommended.
A lab assistant, also called a medical lab assistant or clinical lab assistant, often works in medical laboratories in hospitals or clinics. Others are employed in research labs for private companies or academic institutions. Lab assistants use testing procedures to analyze blood, urine, and other physical samples to help determine if a person has an illness or other medical problem. Some are hired with just a high school diploma or GED credential, but those who complete a certificate program of a few months' duration may have more job options. Certification is not required, but is available through a professional organization.
|Required Education||High school diploma or the equivalent; certificate program in medical lab assisting recommended|
|Projected Job Growth (2019-2029)*||7% for all clinical laboratory technologists and technicians|
|Median Salary (2020)*||$54,180 for all clinical laboratory technologists and technicians|
Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS)
Career Education for a Lab Assistant
Although some employers may hire aspiring lab assistants with only a high school diploma and provide on-the-job training, others may prefer those who have completed formal training. Vocational and community colleges offer lab assistant training that may lead to a certificate, which can typically be earned in a year or less. The curriculum combines courses with clinical education, and teaches administrative skills, phlebotomy, immunology, urinalysis and hematology. In addition to learning how to prepare, test and examine specimens for signs of irregularity, students may also receive training on research techniques and methodologies.
Career and Salary Outlook
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) does not provide information on lab assistants, but it does have information on clinical laboratory technologists and technicians. With the rise of an aging population, the BLS estimates job growth, which is faster than the average for clinical laboratory technologists and technicians through 2029.
In May 2020, the BLS reported that these professionals in the 90th percentile or higher earned $83,700 or more per year, whereas the bottom 10th percentile earned $31,450 or less per year.
Although not a requirement, medical lab assistants can obtain certification through American Medical Technologists (AMT). To be eligible for certification, individuals must have at least 1,040 hours of work experience in a laboratory technology setting. Applicants must also complete formal training consisting of at least 200 coursework hours and 120 clock hours of clinical lab work.
At least 100 of the 200 coursework hours must have been laboratory-related. Upon completing these requirements, applicants may take a written or oral examination; those who pass become certified. Certification must be renewed every three years by completing continuing education courses or taking another examination.
In addition to training, lab assistants need to have good decision-making skills and the ability to work under pressure. Proficiency in computers is a plus because of the automated equipment used in labs. Lab assistants must also have an eye for detail because a diagnosis may be made based on the lab findings.
A lab assistant is a more general title for the assistants that work in medical, clinical and academic environments. They help scientists prepare tests and practices and can receive formal training through certification programs.