Lab Techs: Behind the Scenes Yet Vital to Healthcare

Workers in this field receive an annual mean starting wage of $51,840 in the Central New York area

By Deborah Jeanne Sergeant

lab techIf you like science, health and technology, working as a lab tech might be right for you. The path to employment in this career is much shorter than you might think.

While many medical careers necessitate lengthy education, the clinical laboratory technician and clinical laboratory technologist require only two and four years’ worth of schooling, respectively.

Workers in this field receive an annual mean starting wage of $51,840 in the Central New York area, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, which combined both titles into its salary figure. Technologists make significantly more than technicians.

After successful completion of their education, candidates for lab tech positions must pass a certification exam, which licenses them to work nationwide and take 12 continuing education credit hours annually thereafter.

“It is very much in demand,” said Patricia A. Main, laboratory administrative director for Oswego Health. “It’s getting stronger and stronger.”

The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects 11% job growth, considered “much faster than average” than all other careers. Older lab techs are retiring and leaving vacancies, just in time for the baby boomers to increase demand for lab services. Since fewer schools offer lab tech programs, graduates have many opportunities for work.

Main said that these roles usually attract people who like helping others through the medical field, but not necessarily as nurses or doctors at that point in their lives.

“You need a love of science, math and being analytical,” Main said. “It’s like solving a puzzle a lot of times. You need attention to detail. You have to be very disciplined to be able to do the same things in the same steps reliably.”

Lab techs can do far more than handle samples. Their analysis plays a major role in physician diagnoses. In fact, about 75% of decisions made in hospitals rely upon the lab.

“It’s an excellent opportunity,” said John W. Bagenski, associate administrator, corporate compliance officer and technical director laboratory at Auburn Community Hospital. “The techs in the hospital must know what quality control is. All the results must be correct and what results mean and how to explain it to nurses and doctors. They have to know how to repair the analyzers and trouble-shoot and maintain it. They have the responsibility of getting the most correct answer possible in the shortest time. They work as a team.”

Lab techs who work outside of a medical setting, such as in research, a veterinary clinic, food research and development, may not be required to have a license, but these positions don’t pay as well and aren’t as readily available.

Lab technologists have more room to advance than lab technicians. Technologists can take on supervisory roles, managing, quality researching or infection control. Or, they could work for companies that manufacture medical analyzers or repairing equipment.

They can work in a genetics lab, which are not usually associated with a hospital. Or a testing lab for soil or water, forensics, drug testing or food industry.

Some students in laboratory technologist programs go on to become physicians, but for those who don’t get into medical school, they can still work in a medical position with a good salary without taking more education. Those who major in biology or pre-med may not have that option.

“It’s a career path to go as far as you want to go,” Bagenski said. “They people working in it are satisfied. I don’t know many people who have left this field.”

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