What does a Medical Lab Tech do?

Ken Black

A medical lab technician, or medical lab technologist, is often referred to as a medical lab tech. This individual works in a laboratory running various tests ordered by doctors. The most common substance tested is blood, but tissue samples, urine and feces are also dealt with routinely. The medical lab tech may also be responsible for logging specimens into the lab and preparing them for testing in various ways. Typically, they work very stable shifts, which is somewhat unusual for medical jobs.

A medical lab tech placing a test tube in a centrifuge.
A medical lab tech placing a test tube in a centrifuge.

The medical lab tech is an important person when it comes to discovering what illness or condition a certain patient may have. In most cases, the lab tech will never see the patient. Samples are sent to the lab from where the patient is. Some medical labs do offer phlebotomy services where the patient comes into the lab to have his or her blood drawn. This is not the job of the medical lab tech, but the individual may help in cases where a patient is not cooperative, such as when a child must have blood drawn.

A medical lab tech holding a blood sample.
A medical lab tech holding a blood sample.

Before a specimen is tested, it must be logged into the system. In some laboratories, there are specialized data entry personnel who do nothing but log in specimens. In other labs, this becomes the duty of the medical lab tech. While it is possible to simply log the specimen in using a medical log book, most operations today are computerized. The lab tech is responsible for entering the specimen, number, who it belongs to, what tests are planning to be run on it, and information about the doctor.

A medical lab tech holding a urine sample.
A medical lab tech holding a urine sample.

In many cases, all the medical lab tech must do is simply put the specimens to be tested into a machine. Depending on the tests, the specimens may go through more than one machine. A report is automatically generated. The tech will then review certain aspects of the report, and send it to the doctor for further review.

In some situations, the tech will be responsible for a direct examination of the specimen to see what the problem may be. This may involve looking at a specimen under the microscope to determine what the issue is. For example, the medical lab tech may need to verify how many of a certain type of cell is present in a blood or tissue sample. This often involves very tedious and time-consuming work. The count is recorded, with the results sent to the physician who gave the order for the test.

Medical lab techs work in a variety of environments.
Medical lab techs work in a variety of environments.

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