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Ten Essential Skills for a Medical Lab Technician

Dr. Obi Igbokwe

Last Updated: Monday, May 20, 2013
We look at ten of the most essential skills needed to have a great career as a medical lab technician.

Medical lab technicians work in many different areas of hospitals, clinics and research facilities, assisting in complex procedures and running complicated, vital tasks. If you’re thinking about a career as a medical lab technician, here are some of the skills you’ll eventually need:

1. Problem solving skills. Medical lab technicians perform a multitude of tests and need to be able to assess if further tests are needed or, occasionally, if a test must be done over.

2. Ability to use lab equipment. As a lab tech, you’ll operate and calibrate sophisticated machinery, plus you’ll conduct performance checks and maintain the lab’s equipment. You’ll need to be trained in the use of every machine, so that you know how to perform the necessary tests. You’ll also have to be able to use general clerical equipment, telephones and computers.

3. Great reading skills. Medical lab technicians must be able to read well, as during the course of your job, you’ll need to evaluate specimens and correlate lab results with the patients and their files

4. Good communication skills. You’ll need to communicate well with both patients and other departments and employees who are part of your healthcare team for the most effective patient care results.

5. A healthy respect for safety regulations. A lot can go wrong in a lab, and as a technician you’ll need to be able to follow all of your facility’s safety procedures and policies, and follow regulatory guidelines.

6. Ability to be a team player. As part of a lab department, you’ll be working in close contact with others, and you’ll need to be able to facilitate good relations with them. You’ll need to smile, keep an orderly work space, and attend staff meetings, conferences, and employee activities.

7. Ability to work under pressure. People's lives often depend on test results, and your ability to conduct the test and read its results in a fast manner is essential in this setting.

8. Physical ability to complete tests. The nature of the work is such that you will need to have a good sense of color vision. Some test results show up in faint colors, and those who are color-blind may have a problems reading them. Moreover, many of the testing procedures require you to have good manual dexterity.

9. Excellent sense of judgment. If there are problems with the test results, you need to make a call as to the course of action to take. Your sense of judgment will help you do so.

10. Ability to use current technology and adapt to new technology. Much of what a medical lab technician does is handled through a computer and other kinds of machines. Your familiarity with technology, and you ability to integrate new technology into your work is essential.

If you enter this interesting, challenging area of medicine, you’ll find there are many job opportunities in hospitals, commercial laboratories, physician’s office laboratories and pharmaceutical companies. You’ll follow guidelines to perform a variety of routine diagnostic tests on blood and other body fluids in chemistry, hematology, urinalysis, immunohematology, microbiology and immunology. The results of these tests will provide physicians with valuable information needed to care for patients.

The job requires intelligence, attention to detail and a love of following procedures – as a medical laboratory technician, your typical day could include monitoring tests or preparing blood, urine and tissue specimens for analysis, looking for bacteria, parasites, and other microorganisms, matching blood for transfusions and other procedures. Medical lab technicians can specialize in a number of laboratory sciences, including chemistry, hematology, immunology, virology, or microbiology.

While most medical laboratory technicians work in hospitals, doctors’ offices and private labs, they also find jobs in industrial research and public health laboratories, and in forensic and pharmaceutical laboratories where their skills are needed.