Upon completion of a medical laboratory assistant certificate or associate degree program, medical lab assistants find work in hospitals or independent laboratories under the direction of a clinical laboratory supervisor. Medical lab assistants are also referred to as clinical lab assistants, specimen processors or clinical assistants. Working as a medical lab assistant is often the first step toward a career as a laboratory technician or technologist.
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Medical lab assistants collect, handle and process patient specimens such as blood samples. These professionals prepare the specimen before testing and use chemicals to examine and assess patient results. It is the medical lab assistant’s job to document and enter the results of laboratory tests into computer databases that store patient forms and health information. Medical lab assistants are also entrusted to use their best judgment when recording results and flagging abnormalities and sources of error during testing. Other duties include handling physician requests for laboratory tests, processing laboratory paperwork and following quality control procedures according to state laws and regulations.
As the job title indicates, medical lab assistants spend most of their time working and conducting tests in laboratories rather than in offices. Their work space is well-lit and sanitary, as they handle, monitor and observe blood samples, body fluids and other potentially infectious specimens. Medical lab assistants are trained to take preventive measures by wearing protective gloves, masks and goggles to prevent inhalation of noxious fumes or contamination. Work hours for medical lab assistants vary depending on whether they work in an independent laboratory, hospital or speciality medical facility.
Employers seek candidates with strong problem-solving, interpersonal, organizational, writing and oral communication skills. Medical lab assistants should possess certification as a medical assistant or medical lab assistant, as well as a solid knowledge of clinical laboratory techniques, procedures, equipment and safety practices. Candidates can obtain professional certification through the American Medical Technologists. Other qualifications that are helpful are the ability to work independently and CPR designation.
The average salary for a medical laboratory assistant working in the United States was £24,050 per year, according to a July 2010 SimplyHired report. Annual earnings for this position differ across sector, company size, skill and education level, and geographic region. For example, medical lab assistants earned £27,300 per year in Los Angeles, California; £26,000 in Portland, Oregon; and £20,800 in Montgomery, Alabama.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics' Occupational Outlook Handbook states that clinical laboratory workers will be in demand during the 2008 to 2018 decade due to a growing U.S. population and an increase in the number of laboratory tests available. In addition, the BLS acknowledges that technological advancements in diagnostic testing may limit jobs as simplified methods allow non-laboratory personnel such as doctors and patients to perform tests without the assistance of clinical laboratory professionals. During the 2008 to 2018 period, clinical laboratory positions are expected to increase by 14 per cent.
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