Medical technologist examining samples in the diagnostic lab.

Career Comparison: Medical Technologist vs. Medical Lab Technician

One of the industries poised for exceptional growth over the next decade is healthcare, which is projected to add approximately 2.3 million jobs by 2024 at an expansion rate of 19% (much faster than the national average for all occupations). This wealth of opportunity has made healthcare a popular choice for young professionals and career changers. If you want to pursue a healthcare career but don’t find direct patient care roles attractive, consider working behind the scenes in the clinical laboratory as a medical technologist or medical lab technician. Before you begin your medical technologist certification or medical lab technician training, however, you should know a little bit more about the duties diagnostic lab personnel perform as well as salary levels and education requirements.

These dedicated professionals play a critical role in helping physicians diagnose medical disorders and life-threatening diseases. Both perform similar duties: collecting samples and analyzing bodily fluids and other substances for abnormalities, operating clinical laboratory equipment, and conducting manual and automated tests using computerized instruments and other tools. However, a key responsibility of medical technologists is to supervise the work of medical lab technicians in the diagnostic lab.


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As the more senior members of the clinical laboratory, medical technologists (also called medical laboratory scientists) command higher salaries—median compensation was just over $61,070 in 2016 and the highest 10% earned $85,160. As might be expected, becoming a medical technologist requires more education than medical lab technician training. A bachelor’s degree in medical laboratory technology or life sciences is a must, and there is also a medical technologist certification administered by the American Society for Clinical Pathology (ASCP). Many medical technologists choose to specialize in certain areas such as phlebotomy, cytotechnology, immunohematology, immunology, microbiology, molecular biology, and histology. It’s important to note that certain states require licensing for medical laboratory personnel.

Medical lab technicians may perform many of the same duties as medical technologists, but their median salary is much lower at $38,950 with the top 10% earning $61,720. The primary reason technicians don’t receive compensation on par with a medical technologist salary is because of the difference in responsibilities and education level. Technicians often perform more basic tests and diagnostic procedures, and medical lab technician training often entails a postsecondary certificate or two-year associate’s degree as opposed to the four-year program medical technologists must complete. The ASCP also offers a certification program for medical laboratory technicians and a number of states require licensure for technicians.

Whether you choose to pursue a career as a medical technologist or a medical lab technician entirely depends on your goals for compensation and the amount of time you can dedicate to training. However, both roles in the clinical laboratory are essential parts of any healthcare operation. Interested in seeing what opportunities are out there? Search for medical technologist or medical lab technician openings on iHireMedTechs!

by: Freddie Rohner, iHire
November 17, 2016

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