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What Is It Like Working in a Clinical Laboratory?

Career News July 5, 2014

Clinical lab technicians are not on the front firing lines of any medical venue. They are quietly tucked away in a private area that demands much peace and quiet for detailed investigations on a microscopic level.

Being an essential team member along with trauma surgeons, oncologists, and other types of specialty diagnosticians is an important role to play. The clinical lab tech is instrumental oftentimes in decisions of treatment plans and long-term outcomes for the patient.

Clinical Laboratory Environment

Lab work is incredibly analytic in nature, so a candidate for this position might well possess excellent judgment skills. “According to the best-selling 1999 book, Jobs Rated Almanac: The Best and Worst Jobs by Les Krantz, medical laboratory scientists/medical technologists are in the top 20 list of best jobs.”

In this mysterious closeted location, one might find microscopes, centrifuges, incubators, cell counters, and other equipment and paraphernalia not recognizable to the untrained individual.

There are inspections taking place here on the cellular level, such as blood counts for allergens, white cell counts, red cell counts, along with other specific lab values that all tell the real story of what’s going on in the human body. There may also be Petri dishes or test tubes with agar medium growing healthy cultures of microbes in the incubator in the corner.

Training and education levels for this practicum vary from associate’s degree programs to the bachelor’s degree and on up to distinctive studies of physicians in pathology and oncologist specializations. These areas of expertise require long hours of microscopic studies, lab practical experiments, preparation of medium for cell and microbe growth, and many clinical experiments that may last for months or even years.

Duties in the Clinical Laboratory

In the actual clinical setting, these technicians are available to do routine cell evaluations as well as frozen section processing, cell washes, gram staining, and other stat testing in order for the attending physician to decide the method of treatment needed for that particular finding. This profession will definitely demand “on call” status in larger facilities that treat patients 24 hours a day. Usually, an eight-hour shift is available, five days a week. Other shifts may be available, depending on management attitudes, where three 12-hour days are preferred.

Most hospitals, ambulatory surgery centers, specialty clinics, and cancer treatment centers will have lab technicians on site. For those that do not, there are curriers available for unexpected or even planned evaluation for surgical or diagnostic specimens. There are also public health venues that deal directly with government programs for disease control in giving of vaccines, medications, and limited onsite assessments in obscure areas.

Clinical laboratories on the grander scale may be broken down into subspecialties. A few examples are: hematology, immunology, microbiology, cytogenetics, and molecular biology. Areas such as these may require more educational training in order to attain specialty certifications.

Good reasons to become a clinical laboratory scientist are as follows:

•Excellent starting salaries
•Ability to work anywhere in the country
•Large range of responsibilities
•Opportunities for intrinsic performance with state-of-the-art equipment and methods
•Opportunities for advancement
•Fill a critical national need due to current demand for clinical laboratory scientists
•Opportunities to save lives and improve patient health

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