What Is a Medical Technologist?

These professionals analyze body fluid and tissue samples

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A medical technologist is a highly trained health professional who tests blood and tissue samples in a lab along with urine, stool, amniotic fluid, cerebrospinal fluid, and other body fluids or specimens.

Medical technologists are responsible for operating and maintaining the equipment used to examine samples or specimens. They ensure that all tests are performed in a precise and timely manner so that the results and interpretations are accurate.

This article describes what a medical technologist does. It also explains the different paths a person can take to become a medical technologist, including the educational requirements and process of certification.

Also Known As

  • Clinical laboratory scientist
  • Medical laboratory scientist
  • Medical laboratory technologist
Scientist examining test tubes in lab
Cultura / Jason Butcher / Riser / Getty Images

What Do Medical Technologists Do

Medical technologists are healthcare professionals who hold at minimum a bachelor’s degree in medical laboratory technology or a similar field. The main purpose of their work is to help healthcare providers make diagnoses.

Medical technologists work in a pathology lab. They prepare samples, slides, and cultures for the medical pathologist to review. They typically work under a pathologist, but they can also work independently and operate a lab. In this role, medical technologists will oversee the work and manage the duties of lab technicians.

Although the pathologist is ultimately in charge of the lab and its staff, the medical technologist will generally be the one who ensures that the lab runs smoothly and safely on a day-to-day basis. This includes setting up, calibrating, and sterilizing lab equipment, as well as analyzing and checking the accuracy of lab reports.

Most medical technologists work behind the scenes and do not interact with patients.

Medical Technologist vs. Lab Technician

A medical technologist’s training is more extensive than a lab technician’s. While both perform lab tests, a technologist’s training allows them to do more complex tasks, such as molecular, genetic, or genomic testing. Lab technicians typically need an associate’s degree to practice.

Medical technologists can participate in many different fields of pathology, including immunology, microbiology, genetics, histology, hematology, and blood banking.

The role of a medical technologist is usually determined by the branch of pathology that their lab specializes in but is otherwise limited only by the tools available to them.

Clinical Pathology

In clinical pathology, a medical technologist conducts and oversees lab tests done on body fluids and tissues. The tests are done to look for markers of infectious and non-infectious diseases.

The kinds of specimens a medical technologist will look at include:

Anatomical Pathology

In anatomical pathology, a medical technologist would look at tissues taken during a biopsy or surgery. While some of the tests can be done by the technologist, others require the expertise of a pathologist.

The technologist can help with exams including:

  • Gross examination: Looking at tissues with the naked eye
  • Histology: Looking at tissues under a microscope
  • Cytopathology: Looking at loose cells under a microscope
  • Electron microscopy: Using special high-resolution microscopes to look at samples
  • Cytogenetics: Looking at chromosomes with special technology

Medical Technology Subspecialties

Some technologists work solely in clinical or anatomical pathology. Others participate in both, referred to as general pathology. Others still work in a narrow field of practice.

Subspecialties recognized by the National Accrediting Agency of Clinical Laboratory Science (NAACLS) include:

Transfusion Medicine

A medical technologist working in transfusion medicine makes sure that there is enough of a safe supply of blood in a blood bank. They may also do blood typing and screening for infectious diseases, such as HIV and viral hepatitis.

Forensic Pathology

In forensic pathology, a medical technologist will help review the clinical and anatomical evidence after a person’s sudden, unexpected death.

While the forensic pathologist is responsible for getting specimens (such as clothing fibers or tissue from a body), it is the medical technologist who would run many of the tests needed to determine the cause of death.

Organ-Specific Pathology

There are pathology subspecialties that focus on specific organ systems. A technologist working in these subspecialties would usually require extra training to learn about different diseases and how they are diagnosed.

Subspecialties include:

  • Cardiovascular pathology: Involving the heart and circulatory system
  • Endocrine pathology: Involving glands and tissues that produce hormones
  • Gastrointestinal pathology: Involving the upper and lower digestive tract
  • Genitourinary pathology: Involving the genitals and urinary tract
  • Gynecological pathology: Involving the female reproductive system
  • Neuropathology: Involving the brain and nervous system
  • Oral and maxillofacial pathology: Involving mouth, jaw, and related structures
  • Orthopedic pathology: Involving bones, joints, and related structures
  • Pulmonary pathology: Involving the lungs and respiratory system
  • Renal pathology: Involving the kidneys

How Do You Become a Medical Technologist?

There are three general steps that you need to take if you decide to become a medical technologist. The path to certification generally takes around five years. Those who decide to pursue a subspecialty may take an additional six months to one year.

Get a Degree

To become a medical technologist, you need at least a bachelor’s degree, preferably in medical technology. Most bachelor’s degrees are completed in four years.

Students who majored in another science—such as biology, microbiology, or biochemistry—can often take hospital-based courses during their senior year to meet the requirements of post-graduate training programs.

Complete a Program

Before working as a medical technologist, a person is required to either complete a medical technologist program accredited by NAACLS or meet other requirements (such as working in an accredited lab for a certain number of years and obtaining relevant certification).

Certificate programs for medical technologists can last for several weeks or months, while diploma programs can last up to a year. Different states have different laws governing the types of certificates or diplomas needed to get certified within that state.

Get Certified

Medical technologists need to get certified once they have completed all of their educational and training requirements.

Certain states require licensing for all medical lab personnel, while others do not. Because the requirements can vary by state, contact your local state board or Department of Health for details.

The American Society of Clinical Pathologists (ASCP) offers a national certification exam for medical technologists, which would need to be renewed every three years. This certifies that a medical technologist is very skilled in their field.

ASCP certification also allows a technologist to list their credentials after their name, such as:

  • MLS(ASCP): Medical Lab Scientist
  • CT(ASCP): Cytologist
  • HTL(ASCP): Histotechnologist
  • BB(ASCP): Technologist in Blood Banking
  • C(ASCP): Technologist in Chemistry
  • CG(ASCP): Technologist in Cytogenetics
  • H(ASCP): Technologist in Hematology
  • M(ASCP): Technologist in Microbiology
  • MB(ASCP): Technologist in Molecular Biology

Online Training

There are many online certificate and diploma programs available for medical technologists. Before enrolling, be sure that the program is accredited by the NAACLS. Certificate courses require fewer credits than diploma courses and may not meet the criteria for the specialty you hope to be employed in. Check before enrolling to know what is required.

What Salary Do Medical Technologists Make?

The salary for a medical technologist can vary by state, city, institution, and subspecialty.

According to the ASCP 2021 Wage Survey of Medical Laboratories in the United States, the average annual salary ranged from $60,162 for a histology technologist to $80,139 for a cytologist. For lead or coordinator roles, salaries for these jobs increased to $66,129 and $90,488 respectively.

The majority of medical technologists in the United States are employed in academic and non-academic hospitals. Only around 14.5% are employed in outpatient labs.


A medical technologist is a health professional who has been trained to do tests on samples of fluids and tissue to help diagnose diseases. While they do not usually interact with patients, the work they do in the lab is very important for patient care.

Medical technologists need a lot of education, training, and certification to do their job well. They can also choose to focus on a certain area of medical technology that they are especially interested in, like forensic pathology or transfusion medicine.

4 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. American Society for Clinical Pathology Board of Certification. BB and SBB practice analysis report.

  2. American Society for Clinical Pathology Board of Certification. U.S. procedures for examination & certification.

  3. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Occupational Outlook Handbook: clinical laboratory technologists and technicians.

  4. Garcia E, Kundu I, Fong K. The American Society for Clinical Pathology’s 2021 wage survey of medical laboratories in the United States. Am J Clin Pathol. 2022;158(6):702-22. doi:10.1093/ajcp/aqac116

Additional Reading

By Andrea Clement Santiago
Andrea Clement Santiago is a medical staffing expert and communications executive. She's a writer with a background in healthcare recruiting.