Medical laboratory assistant

A medical laboratory assistant

Description

Medical laboratory assistants work under the supervision of biomedical scientists and carry out basic laboratory procedures. They work in the pre-analytical handling of samples, such as checking the details of specimens received for analysis, maintaining analysers, loading reagents, and packaging specimens. They also perform clerical tasks such as monitoring the stock levels of reagents used in analysis.

Excludes people performing analysis of blood samples, cell cultures, or reviewing blood samples.
Excludes people performing assignment of blood groups, interpreting tests or results, or contacting patients with these results.

Medical laboratory assistants typically do the following:

  • label and sort tissue samples and specimens
  • load and operate lab testing equipment
  • collect blood samples and body fluids from patients for lab testing
  • prepare slides of blood and other fluids for study under a microscope
  • perform simple tests on body fluids using control procedures
  • make chemical solutions and stocks of culture media
  • plant specimens to culture bacteria
  • use computers to input data
  • follow quality control and safety standards
  • dispose of hazardous waste
  • clean and sterilize lab utensils and equipment
  • maintain stock levels of lab supplies.

Other titles

The following job titles also refer to medical laboratory assistant:

medical laboratory research assistant
biomedical laboratory assistant
clinical research assistant
assistant in medical laboratory
biomedical laboratory research assistant
assistant clinical researcher
medical lab assistant
assistant in biomedical laboratory

Working conditions

Hours of work vary. Medical laboratory assistants may work full-time, part-time, or casual relief hours. In diagnostic labs, they may rotate day, evening, and night shifts. This may include weekends and holidays. In research labs, they often work standard weekday hours.

Medical laboratory assistants may spend much time standing or sitting in a lab. They may have to perform repetitive tasks. They must follow safety precautions. These measures reduce the risk of exposure to infectious body fluids, dangerous chemicals, or hazardous radiation.

Minimum qualifications

Although a high school diploma or equivalent is a minimum to work as a medical laboratory assistant, most entry-level medical assistants have an associate degree. A hiring manager may prefer candidates with a bachelor’s degree for positions requiring more technical assistance. A degree in biotechnology, biology, or a related field is preferred for most positions, though employers could look for candidates with a degree specific to their industries.

ISCO skill level

ISCO skill level is defined as a function of the complexity and range of tasks and duties to be performed in an occupation. It is measured on a scale from 1 to 4, with 1 the lowest level and 4 the highest, by considering:

  • the nature of the work performed in an occupation in relation to the characteristic tasks and duties
  • the level of formal education required for competent performance of the tasks and duties involved and
  • the amount of informal on-the-job training and/or previous experience in a related occupation required for competent performance of these tasks and duties.

Medical laboratory assistant is a Skill level 3 occupation.

Medical laboratory assistant career path

Similar occupations

These occupations, although different, require a lot of knowledge and skills similar to medical laboratory assistant.

scientific laboratory technician
bacteriology technician
biochemistry technician
zoology technician
biology technician

Long term prospects

These occupations require some skills and knowledge of medical laboratory assistant. They also require other skills and knowledge, but at a higher ISCO skill level, meaning these occupations are accessible from a position of medical laboratory assistant with a significant experience and/or extensive training.

medical laboratory manager
biophysicist
immunologist
pharmacologist
biochemist

Essential knowledge and skills

Essential knowledge

This knowledge should be acquired through learning to fulfill the role of medical laboratory assistant.

  • Techniques of blood-sampling: The appropriate techniques for collecting blood samples for laboratory work purposes, depending on the group of people targeted such as children or elderly.
  • Microbiology-bacteriology: Microbiology-Bacteriology is a medical specialty mentioned in the EU Directive 2005/36/EC.
  • Automated analysers in the medical laboratory: The methods used to introduce samples into the laboratory instrument that analyses biological samples for diagnosis purposes.
  • Laboratory techniques: Techniques applied in the different fields of natural science in order to obtain experimental data such as gravimetric analysis, gas chromatography, electronic or thermic methods.
  • Blood type classification: The classification of blood types such as groups A, B, AB, O and their characteristics.

Essential skills and competences

These skills are necessary for the role of medical laboratory assistant.

  • Perform laboratory tests: Carry out tests in a laboratory to produce reliable and precise data to support scientific research and product testing.
  • Transport blood samples: Ensure that the blood samples collected are transported safely and correctly, following strict procedures to avoid contamination
  • Archive healthcare users’ records: Properly store the health records of healthcare users, including test results and case notes so that they are easily retrieved when required.
  • Mix chemicals: Mix chemical substances safely according to recipe, using the proper dosages.
  • Record test data: Record data which has been identified specifically during preceding tests in order to verify that outputs of the test produce specific results or to review the reaction of the subject under exceptional or unusual input.
  • Maintain laboratory equipment: Clean laboratory glassware and other equipment after use and inspect it for damage or corrosion in order to ensure its proper functioning.
  • Examine cell specimens microscopically: Prepare and put the cell specimens received for examination on slides, stain and mark cellular changes and abnormalities.
  • Wear appropriate protective gear: Wear relevant and necessary protective gear, such as protective goggles or other eye protection, hard hats, safety gloves.
  • Label blood samples: Label blood samples taken from patients in compliance with regulations and the identity of the patient.
  • Apply safety procedures in laboratory: Make sure that laboratory equipment is used in a safe manner and the handling of samples and specimens is correct. Work to ensure the validity of results obtained in research.
  • Communicate effectively in healthcare: Communicate effectively with patients, families and other caregivers, healthcare professionals, and community partners.
  • Send biological samples to laboratory: Forward collected biological samples to the concerned laboratory, following strict procedures related to the labeling and tracking of the information on the samples.
  • Calibrate laboratory equipment: Calibrate laboratory equipment by comparing between measurements: one of known magnitude or correctness, made with a trusted device and a second measurement from another piece of laboratory equipment. Make the measurements in as similar a way as possible.
  • Maintain medical laboratory equipment: Regularly check the condition of medical laboratory equipment used, clean, and perform maintenance operations, as necessary.
  • Work safely with chemicals: Take the necessary precautions for storing, using and disposing chemical products.
  • Identify patients’ medical records: Locate, retrieve and present medical records, as requested by authorized medical personnel.
  • Test chemical samples: Perform the testing procedures on the already prepared chemical samples, by using the necessary equipment and materials. Chemical sample testing involves operations such as pipetting or diluting schemes.
  • Perform sample testing: Examine and perform tests on prepared samples; avoid any possibility of accidental or deliberate contamination during the testing phase. Operate sampling equipment in line with design parameters.
  • Use chemical analysis equipment: Use laboratory equipment such as Atomic Absorption equipment, PH and conductivity meters or salt spray chambre.
  • Operate scientific measuring equipment: Operate devices, machinery, and equipment designed for scientific measurement. Scientific equipment consists of specialised measuring instruments refined to facilitate the acquisition of data.
  • Prepare samples for testing: Take and prepare samples for testing, verify their representability; avoid bias and any possibility of accidental or deliberate contamination. Provide clear numbering, labelling and recording of the sample details, in order to make sure that the results can be accurately matched to the original material.
  • Check the received biological samples: Ensure that the received biological samples such as blood and tissues, are correctly labeled, registered and contain the appropriate information about the patient.

Optional knowledge and skills

Optional knowledge

This knowledge is sometimes, but not always, required for the role of medical laboratory assistant. However, mastering this knowledge allows you to have more opportunities for career development.

  • Blood donation: The procedures related to collecting blood samples from volunteers, the screening testing against disease and the follow-up.
  • Biological chemistry: Biological chemistry is a medical specialty mentioned in the EU Directive 2005/36/EC.
  • Clinical biochemistry: The various types of tests performed on bodily fluids such as electrolytes, renal function tests, liver function tests or minerals.
  • Blood transfusion: The procedures involved in blood transfusions, including compatibility and disease testing, by means of which blood is transferred into blood vessels, taken from donors with the same blood type.
  • Blood collection on babies: The recommended procedure for collecting blood from babies through their heel.
  • Paediatric phlebotomy procedures: The paediatric blood collection procedures related to the age and specificity of the children involved, how to interact with children and their family to prepare them for the blood collection procedure and how to engage with children`s anxiety related to needles.
  • Virology: The structure, characteristics, evolution and interactions of viruses and the diseases they cause.
  • Clinical cytology: The science of the formation, structure, and function of cells.
  • Histopathology: The procedures needed for the microscopic examination of stained tissue sections using histological techniques.
  • Immunology: Immunology is a medical specialty mentioned in the EU Directive 2005/36/EC.
  • Fine-needle aspiration: The type of biopsy through which a thin needle is inserted into an area of body tissue and analysed in the laboratory to determine whether the tissue is benign or malignant.
  • Data protection: The principles, ethical issues, regulations and protocols of data protection.
  • Microscopic techniques: The techniques, functions and limitations of microscopy to visualise objects that cannot be seen with the normal eye.

Optional skills and competences

These skills and competences are sometimes, but not always, required for the role of medical laboratory assistant. However, mastering these skills and competences allows you to have more opportunities for career development.

  • Carry out quality control in microbiology laboratories: Perform quality assurance testing of media, reagents, laboratory instrumentation and other materials used in microbiology laboratory.
  • Perform bone marrow transplant: Perform cord blood transplant and manage its side effects in order to replace damaged or destroyed bone marrow with healthy bone marrow stem cells for patients affected by cancers, such as leukaemia, lymphoma, aplastic anaemia or severe immunodeficiency syndromes.
  • Collect biological samples from patients: Follow recommended processes to collect bodily fluids or samples from patients for further laboratory testing, assisting the patient as required.
  • Order supplies: Command products from relevant suppliers to get convenient and profitable products to purchase.
  • Interpret hematological test results: Review blood samples and bone marrow under the microscope and interpret the results of the tests.
  • Sterilise medical equipment: Disinfect and clean all medical devices and equipment gathered from operating rooms, wards and other departments of a hospital or clinic and check for bacteria after disinfection using a microscope.
  • Analyse cell cultures: Analyse cell cultures grown from tissue samples and screen the cervical smear to detect fertility issues.
  • Monitor stock level: Evaluate how much stock is used and determine what should be ordered.
  • Maintain healthcare user data confidentiality: Comply with and maintain the confidentiality of healthcare users` illness and treatment information.
  • Analyse blood samples: Analyse blood samples using computer-aided and manual techniques, looking for white or red blood cell abnormalities and other risk factors.
  • Assist in the production of laboratory documentation: Assist in documenting laboratory work, especially paying attention to policies and standard operating procedures.
  • Dispose medical waste: Dispose all types of medical waste such as infectious, toxic and radioactive waste.
  • Work with chemicals: Handle chemicals and select specific ones for certain processes. Be aware of the reactions which arise from combining them.
  • Interpret medical results: Interpret, integrate and apply results of diagnostic imaging, laboratory tests and other investigations as part of the assessment of the client, in consultation with other healthcare practitioners.

ISCO group and title

3212 – Medical and pathology laboratory technicians


References
  1. Medical laboratory assistant – ESCO
  2. Medical Laboratory Assistant: Occupations in Alberta – alis
  3. Step Into the NHS : Medical laboratory assistant – NHS
  4. Medical Laboratory Assistant Job Description – Indeed
  5. Featured image: By Happi Raphael – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0
Last updated on January 17, 2023

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