Many people become antsy during lab tests, especially those that require drawing blood. Lab assistants can help to calm patients' nerves before conducting tests, however. These health care professionals also clean lab equipment, examine samples with a microscope and work under the guidance of doctors and other medical staff. Although most lab assistants work in hospitals or medical centers, they can also be found working in nursing homes, research labs, colleges and universities.
Although many lab assistants receive on-the-job training, an associate degree in lab science from a college or technical school can be an asset in this field. Coursework provides students with a combination of lectures and lab work analyzing blood and bodily fluids, learning how to perform lab tasks and communicating with both patients and medical staff. They take key courses in a number of areas including anatomy, biochemistry and physiology.
Since the health care field is a "hands-on" profession, completing an internship or having experience working in a medical lab can help you stand out from your peers, and many employers prefer candidates with this experience. Colleges often provide internship opportunities as part of their curriculum for students studying lab science. Through these internships, students can learn the daily routine of working in a lab.
Licenses and Certification
Many employers look for candidates with licenses or certificates as a lab assistant. In fact, some states require lab assistants to become licensed by passing exams offered by their state department of health or board of occupational licensing. According to the American Medical Technologists, the certification process consists of completing a lab assistant program and having a minimum of 1,040 hours of work experience as a lab assistant. Candidates must also pass an exam testing their knowledge of several science areas including hematology and microbiology. The American Medical Technologists' exam consists of 200 to 210 questions. The American Society for Clinical Pathology also offers an exam consisting of 100 multiple-choice questions.
A career as a lab assistant is not a laid-back one. Lab assistants work under very high pressure, especially when handling patients who can be of all ages and backgrounds. As a lab assistant, you need extensive analytical and problem-solving skills to quickly deal with any issues that may come up in testing patients. Lab assistants need a steady hand for conducting tests on patients, therefore manual dexterity skills are necessary. They also must have good computer skills to write down lab tests results and prepare reports for doctors and other medical staff.
Dachell McSween has contributed to the "New York Daily News" and "Black Enterprise Magazine." She also writes for various online publications. McSween received a B.A. in journalism from Pace University and an M.S. in publishing from New York University.