Laboratory assistants help chemists, physicists and biologists perform tests, conduct experiments and collate and analyse data. Laboratory assistants work in a range of industries including food processing, environmental studies and pharmaceutical research. A laboratory assistant usually works under supervision, conducting basic tasks such as the preparation of laboratory materials and specimens for testing. The average salary of a laboratory assistant as of June 2010 is £28,600, according to Indeed.com.
Most training programs for laboratory assistants only accept graduates with an associate or two-year degree in biology, algebra or chemistry, as stated on the California Employment Development Department website. Employers typically look for candidates who have proven success in conducting basic laboratory procedures. Candidates can gain relevant experience in using laboratory equipment and medical terminology in high school science laboratories. Candidates also should have excellent communication skills and be literate in basic computer software applications for data analysis purposes. It is also an advantage to have work or volunteer experience in a scientific laboratory.
The main source of accreditation for laboratory technicians is the Laboratory Assistant Certificate of Completion Program. This course provides candidates with knowledge of laboratory equipment, testing procedures, and sterilisation and health and safety strategies. Instructors also explain state and national laws controlling clinical laboratory operations. This includes rules governing the confidentiality of medical data, data storage, sanitation procedures, hazardous chemical usage and quality control. Applicants with previous experience in a laboratory setting may bypass some of the course prerequisites with approval of the course tutor.
Candidates studying to be a lab assistants can gain work experience during summer or winter breaks. Doctor's offices, testing laboratories, research institutions and hospitals often taken on an entry-level laboratory assistant to help with collecting data, filing medical documents, labelling and storing patient specimens and preparing smears for further analysis. Candidates will work under the strict supervision of a researcher or laboratory technician and may also be tasked with cleaning lab equipment, ordering stock and basic administrative duties, such as data entry and invoicing.
The exact requirements for the licensing and certification of laboratory assistants varies from state to state, as indicated on the American Medical Technologists website. Prospective candidates should identify licensing requirements in their area by searching on their particular state's department of health website or contact centre. Employers usually require applicants with a national certification by an accredited organisation and a phlebotomy qualification. Phlebotomists draw blood samples for lab testing and try to identify anomalies in blood cell activity.