How to Become a Lab Tech – Certification, Salary, Duties

March 1, 2024

how to become lab tech, salary, certification, laboratory technician

A medical laboratory technician, or lab tech, is someone who works in a medical lab (where we go when we need to test for a wide variety of ailments and abnormalities). The lab tech performs a crucial part of the diagnosis and recovery processes, working behind the scenes at these medical labs to efficiently give accurate information to doctors and patients. In this article, you can read about the daily responsibilities involved in the job, laboratory technician salaries and lab tech certifications, steps to earning the necessary qualifications, and even how to become a medical laboratory technician online.

But first, what does a lab tech do, exactly?

Medical laboratory technicians have a wide range of responsibilities. The main responsibilities involved in the daily life of a lab tech include:

  • Collecting blood and urine samples (as well as other bodily fluids) from patients
  • Ensuring the quality of samples according to lab standards and policies
  • Using laboratory technology (such as microscopes and cell counters) to prepare and analyze these samples
  • Producing reports for physicians, and sometimes, discussing these reports with doctors

Why pursue a career as a lab tech?

A lab tech career is one that can be meaningful for those who want to help others by contributing to the medical field. This is also a job that pays well and allows you to leave your work at work, leading to a less stressful lifestyle overall (though of course, lab techs can definitely still be stressed out, especially if their workplaces are understaffed). Speaking of less stress and having more money, it isn’t necessary to have a four-year degree to become a lab tech. We’ll get to the education requirements later, but in general, this means the right degree is possible with less coursework and less debt.

While you won’t need to be working all hours, this is far from a boring job. For the problem solvers out there, it can be a way to put your detective’s instincts to good use, as lab techs are sort of like investigators, following the clues that will hopefully lead to a patient’s diagnosis and recovery.

How much money do lab techs make?

According to the U.S. News & World Report, medical laboratory technicians made a median annual salary of $57,800 in 2022, with the highest-paid 25% making $74,920 that year, and the lowest-paid 25% making $40,440.

It’s important to note that compensation can vary according to the location. According to the same source, the five states where laboratory technicians made the highest mean salaries in 2022 were New York ($76,110), Connecticut ($73,960), Oregon ($73, 020), New Hampshire ($72,870), and New Jersey ($70,100).

How long does it take to become a lab tech?

Normally, it takes two years to get an associate’s degree in medical laboratory science. However, you can also enroll in an online degree program in order to complete it at your own pace, if you’re already juggling other responsibilities or just prefer not to travel to a campus. Note that certain lab tech jobs do require bachelor’s degrees, so it’s important to weigh the pros and cons of a 2-year versus a 4-year degree program.

In addition to your degree, you may want to become certified or licensed as a lab tech (some states require this certification, so make sure to check your state’s board of licensing to see what will be required). This certification generally takes extra study time, but you could save some hours if you take the exam soon after completing your associate’s or bachelor’s degree, when all of the information is still fresh.

What are the steps to becoming a lab tech?

It usually takes 2-years, more or less, to become a lab tech (after the completion of your high school or GED), plus extra training and certification). However, there are several different pathways you can take. Now we’ll take you through the steps to becoming certified as a medical laboratory technician.

1) Complete your high school or GED certificate

 The first step to becoming a lab tech is earning your high school diploma or an equivalent GED certificate. Make sure you fulfill requirements in math and science classes, since you’ll need them later.

2) Earn another degree

 To successfully land a job as a medical laboratory technician, you will need a diploma in addition to your high school or GED certificate. Useful diploma areas include: Medical Imaging Technology, Medical Laboratory Technology, Radiography Technology, Cardiovascular Technology, and Clinical Analysis. In these degree programs, you’ll take math, chemistry, and biology courses, in addition to learning practical skills for running tests used to diagnose and treat patients. These degrees can be completed through online or in-person programs (here’s a place to start if you’re thinking about an online associate’s degree).

How to Become a Lab Tech (Continued)

While many labs employ associate’s degree holders, some expect employees to have bachelor’s degrees (especially some large companies). Especially if you would like to specialize in a particular area within lab technology (for example, bacteriology, microbiology, radiology, or clinical pathology), you might want to look into earning your bachelor’s or master’s degree in those areas.

Whether you choose to pursue and associate’s or bachelor’s degree, you should choose one that offers career counseling and strong job-placement assistance. Some programs even offer clinical work experience or can help you find an internship where you can experience the lab firsthand.

3) Get licensed or certified

 While certification requirements depend on your state and what kind of lab tech job you’re pursuing, you’re likely to benefit from getting licensed or certified. Even if it isn’t required, a license or certificate can help you land the job you want.

For more information about what this might look like, take a look at the information on the following pages: National Accrediting Agency for Clinical Laboratory Sciences (NAACLS), American Medical Technologies (AMT), and American Society for Clinical Pathology (ASCP).

4) Apply for a lab tech job

 Once you have your necessary degrees and certifications, you will need to demonstrate to potential employers that you have the skills necessary to work as a medical lab tech. These skills include: problem-solving (the ability to efficiently and responsibly solve issues that come up day to day), communication (clarity in recording and documenting, as well as interacting with coworkers to avoid misunderstandings), time management (multi-tasking with tests and analyses while keeping up with deadlines), and organization (recording and analyzing results with clarity and keeping a neat workspace). As you write letters and interview for jobs, you will want to make sure you highlight these skills.

Additionally, make sure you have a strong resume that includes all of your qualifications, certifications, and work experiences (including internships). We advise that you make your resume as neat and clear as possible, in order to demonstrate your organizational skills to your potential employer.

How to Become a Lab Tech (Continued)

5) Train on-the-job

On the job is where the most important training happens. Here, you will learn the ins and outs of the specific lab you’re working for (each lab has different protocols when it comes to data collection, waste disposal, and other duties), and as you go, you will familiarize yourself with the workplace environment.

You will also need to continue your training, to some extent, throughout your career. Maintaining your lab tech certification may require that you attend conferences and classes that help you keep up with the latest medical advances as they pertain to your job.

Jobs related to medical lab technicians

Does this job seem interesting, but not quite right for you? Consider these other career paths (among many others) within the medical field:


 There are many different types of nurses, working in places from hospitals, to physician’s offices, to outpatient clinics, to schools. The job of a nurse is an essential one: to provide and coordinate patient care throughout diagnosis, treatment, surgery, and routine doctor’s visits. To become a registered nurse (RN), you will need a degree in a certified nursing program, whether an associate’s or bachelor’s degree, as well as a nursing license. In 2022, registered nurses in the US made a median salary of $81,220.

Clinical pathologist

Related to the “investigator” role of a lab technician, a clinical pathologist studies diseases through laboratory analysis of bodily fluids and tissues. However, a clinical pathologist needs to earn a medical degree, which usually takes at least 8 years (with a Bachelor’s degree, a medical degree, and residency/fellowship combined). That said, all that time in school can be worth it if you consider that the mean annual salary of a clinical pathologist is $252,850.

Radiologic Technologist

 A radiologic technologist performs diagnostic imaging examinations on patients using X-rays, which are then interpreted by a doctor. Future radiologic technologists must complete an accredited radiology program, usually in the form of a 2-year associate’s degree. They must then pass a state board license or a certification from the American Registry of Radiologic Technologists (ARRT). These professionals made a median pay of $67,180 in 2022.

Healthcare administrative assistant

Healthcare administrative assistants are responsible for keeping electronic medical records, scheduling patient appointments, verifying insurance, and assisting patients with paperwork, among other tasks. While only a high school degree or GED is necessary for this job, extra training can increase earning potential. In 2022, medical secretaries and administrative assistants earned a mean annual salary of $41,260.

Physical therapy assistant or aide

 These healthcare professionals work under the supervision of physical therapists, treating patients through exercise, massage, and other interventions. Physical therapy assistants and aides usually need an associate’s degree from an accredited program, as well as a license or certification. In 2022, the median pay for physical therapy assistants and aides was $57,240.

 Final Thoughts – How to Become a Lab Tech

We hope that this article has been useful as you explore whether working as a medical lab tech is right for you. For more information about jobs that you can land with a 2-year degree, check out the following articles: