Education Requirements to Work in the Medical Laboratory

There are many different medical laboratory careers from which to choose, with requirements ranging from a high school diploma to a doctorate degree.

Job TitleSummary of TasksMinimum Degree RequirementCertification Credentials
Phlebotomist (Phlebotomy Technician)Works directly with patients to collect blood samples through venipuncture or dermal puncture; processes all sample types for analysis. High School DiplomaPBT
Medical/Clinical Lab Assistant (or Lab Support)Receives specimens in the medical laboratory and prepares them for analysis. Performs clerical tasks and provides support for clinical testing. Occasionally, may perform certain waived tests.

Some assistants work in Pathology and aid in the receipt and preparation of samples for Cytology and Histology.
High School DiplomaMLA or CLA
Medical Laboratory TechnicianPerforms moderate- and high-complexity testing on blood, body fluid, tissue, and other specimens. Must have a MT or MLS on-site or available if performing blood banking or certain microbiology testing.Associate’s DegreeMLT
Medical TechnologistPerforms moderate- and high-complexity testing on blood, body fluid, tissue, and other specimens. Interprets diagnostic test results to ensure Bachelor’s DegreeMT
Medical Laboratory ScientistPerforms moderate- and high-complexity testing on blood, body fluid, tissue, and other specimens. Bachelor’s DegreeMLS
Histology TechnicianPrepares thin slices of tissue and performs staining procedures on these tissues for microscopic examination by a Pathologist. Associate’s DegreeHT
HistotechnologistPrepares thin slices of tissue and performs staining procedures on these tissues for microscopic examination by a Pathologist. Often assumes more of a supervisory role.Bachelor’s DegreeHTL
CytotechnologistAnalyzes cellular samples (under the direction of a Pathologist) from all body sites, to ascertain the presence of cancer, pre-cancerous changes, and infectious agents. Bachelor’s DegreeCT
Pathologists’ AssistantPerforms gross exam and dissection of surgical specimens for pathology, under the direction of a Pathologist. Performs postmortem examinations.Bachelor’s DegreePA
Doctorate in Clinical Laboratory Sciences Acts as consultant and liaison between the clinical laboratory and clinicians treating the patient. PhDDCLS

In addition to these positions, there are also supervisory and management positions, as well as specialist positions in specific areas of the laboratory (hematology, chemistry, microbiology, blood bank, molecular biology, cytotechnology, and cytometry).

If you have experience as a medical laboratory professional and an interest in education, you may be interested in becoming a clinical instructor or an educational program director. These positions typically require a number of years experience prior to attainment, with some requiring a master’s degree.

Certification and Licensure

While some positions in the Clinical/Medical laboratory may be able to be acquired with a high school diploma, most medical laboratories in the U.S. now require individuals to attain certification by a nationally recognized certifying organization (American Society for Clinical Pathology or American Medical Technologists).

In addition to certification, there are currently 10 states in the U.S. that require licensure (CA, FL, GA, HI, LA, MT, NV, NY, TN, WV). Puerto Rico also requires licensure. Both certification and licensure recognize that specific standards and criteria are met by individuals. However, licensure is typically more stringent than the standards established by certification organizations.

While some employers will allow individuals to work without certification, it is illegal to work without a license in U.S. states requiring licensure. For more detailed information on licensure requirements, please visit the licensure page on the American Society for Clinical Laboratory Sciences (ASCLS) website.

Selecting a medical/clinical laboratory professional school or program

It is very important to look for accredited schools and programs. Accreditation ensures that programs maintain high educational standards. The gold standard of program accreditation is the National Accrediting Agency for Clinical Laboratory Sciences (NAACLS). Visit the NAACLS website for a list of accredited programs and contact information. 

Videos of Medical Laboratory Professions

Please check out these videos to get a better understanding of the various professions in the medical/clinical laboratory.

Disclaimer: Med Lab Study Hall is not affiliated with any specific laboratory career school or program and does not promote any specific hospital, school, or facility shown in these videos. Our purpose is simply to convey different jobs and tasks within the lab and to promote medical/clinical laboratory careers as a whole.

5 Replies to “Education Requirements to Work in the Medical Laboratory”

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