What Is a Medical Technologist?

These professionals analyze body fluid and tissue samples

A medical technologist is a highly skilled health professional who tests and looks carefully at blood, other body fluids, and tissue samples. 

Medical technologists are responsible for operating and maintaining the equipment that is used to look at samples or specimens. They make sure that all tests are done the right way and in a timely manner.

Also Known As

  • Clinical laboratory scientist
  • Medical laboratory scientist
  • Medical laboratory technologist

A medical technologist’s training is more extensive than what is required of medical lab technicians. Medical technologists do not often interact directly with patients, but their work is necessary for the diagnosis, treatment, and care of patients.

This article will go over what a medical technologist does. You will learn about the different paths a person can take if they want a career in medical technology, including the education and certification that is required to be a medical technologist.

Scientist examining test tubes in lab
Cultura / Jason Butcher / Riser / Getty Images

Medical Technology Concentrations

Medical technologists work in all areas of the lab, including immunology, microbiology, genetics, histology, hematology, chemistry, toxicology, 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 only limited by the tools they have to work with. The main purpose of their work is to help providers make diagnoses.

Clinical Pathology

In clinical pathology, a medical technologist would conduct and oversee 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 from the body during a biopsy or surgery.

While some of the diagnostic 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 tissue with the naked eye)
  • Histology (looking at tissue 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)

The combined branches of clinical and anatomical pathology are called general pathology.

Medical Technologist Expertise

Medical technologists prepare tissue samples, slides, and cultures for the pathologist to look at. By doing these tasks, they help streamline the diagnostic process and make it possible for lab results to come back quickly.

In larger facilities, medical technologists will do more complex tasks, such as molecular, genetic, or genomic testing. They can also step in to help when there are diagnostic challenges, like uncommon or confusing lab findings.

The training that medical technologists undergo provides them with the insights needed to know which testing methodologies, tools, and agents are most appropriate for each case.

Medical technologists typically work under a pathologist but can also work independently and be tasked with operating a lab.

In this role, medical technologists will oversee the work of lab technicians as well as manage their own duties.

Although the pathologist is ultimately in charge of the lab and its staff, the medical technologist will generally be the one who makes sure that the lab runs smoothly, safely, and properly on a day-to-day basis. This includes tasks like 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 have direct contact with patients.

The health professionals who get patient specimens are usually phlebotomists and lab assistants, and some specimens are delivered directly to the lab by providers and surgeons.

Medical Technology Subspecialties

Some medical technologists work in a narrow field of practice. For instance, some labs specialize in genetics or cytopathology. Other labs may have specific roles and functions within a hospital or institutional setting.

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 may help review the clinical and anatomical evidence after a person’s sudden, unexpected death.

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

Organ-Specific Pathology

There are pathology subspecialties that focus on specific organs or physiological systems.

A medical technologist working within these subspecialties would usually require extra training to learn about the different diseases that affect an organ system and how those diseases are diagnosed.

For example, a medical technologist might focus on:

Medical Technologist Training and Certification

To become a medical technologist you need at least a bachelor’s degree, preferably in medical technology.

Students who majored in or obtained a degree in another science—such as biology, microbiology, or biochemistry—and who are interested in being medical technologists can often take hospital-based courses during their senior year of college if offered.

Before working as a medical technologist, a person is required to either complete a medical technologist program accredited by the National Accrediting Agency of Clinical Laboratory Science (NAACLS) or meet other requirements, including relevant certification and a certain number of years of clinical laboratory experience “in an acceptable laboratory.”

Medical technologists should get certified once they have finished 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 that should be renewed every three years.

This certifies that a medical technologist is very skilled in their field. It also allows them to list their credentials after their name:

  • 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

Summary

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.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Is medical technology difficult?

    Studying medical technology involves learning about a lot of science and math topics.

    You will need to understand human anatomy and physiology, as well as more technical aspects of using lab equipment. For this job, it will also be important that you can stay organized, work independently, and manage your time well.

  • Do medical technologists draw blood?

    Medical technologists do not usually interact with patients. Instead, another healthcare provider gets the samples from patients and brings them to the lab for the medical technologist to do tests on.

  • What is a medical technologist’s salary?

    According to Salary.com, the average salary for medical technologists (or clinical laboratory technologists) in the United States is more than $70,000 a year.

    However, the salary of a medical technologist will also depend on where they work and whether they are specialized.

8 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. MLS and MLT practice analysis report.

  2. O*NET OnLine. Histotechnologists.

  3. O*NET OnLine. Cytotechnologists.

  4. O*NET OnLine. Cytogenetic technologists.

  5. American Society for Clinical Pathology Board of Certification. BB and SBB practice analysis report.

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

  7. Indeed. Learn about being a medical technologist.

  8. O*NET OnLine. Medical and clinical laboratory technologists.

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.