Medical Lab Technician Certification – MLT (ASCP)
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Medical lab technicians (MLT) assist doctors and other specialists by performing a wide array of tests on blood, tissue, and other bodily fluids, the results of which can then be used to diagnose and treat patients. Due to their responsibilities, medical lab technicians work in laboratory settings, often in doctors’ offices or hospitals. The job outlook for these healthcare workers is fairly promising, as well, with the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS 2019) predicting an 11 percent growth in jobs from 2018 to 2028 among medical lab technologists and technicians, an increase of 35,100 jobs in absolute terms.
An individual hoping to work as a medical lab technician must complete educational and other requirements if they wish to obtain certification through the American Society for Clinical Pathology (ASCP), one of the primary licensing bodies for the profession. Certification is not a prerequisite for employment countrywide, although a number of states do require MLTs to pursue licensure before practicing, namely California, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Louisiana, Montana, Nevada, New York, North Dakota, Rhode Island, Tennessee, and West Virginia, as well as Puerto Rico.
Early Preparation in High School
Anyone interested in working in a medical or scientific lab environment should strongly consider enrolling in relevant courses in high school, including math, chemistry, biology, and other lab-based sciences. Students may also choose to pursue additional opportunities outside of the classroom, perhaps after school or during summer break, such as volunteer experience in a laboratory or healthcare setting.
MLT (ASCP) Certification Eligibility – US & International
In order to obtain certification as a medical lab technician through ASCP, an individual must first obtain an associate degree or complete at least 60 semester hours (including six hours of chemistry and six of biology) of academic credit from a college or university accredited by a recognized regional or national accreditation agency, and:
- Have successfully completed a medical lab technician program accredited by the National Accrediting Agency for Clinical Laboratory Sciences (NAACLS) or the Accrediting Bureau of Health Education Schools (ABHES) within the past five years; or
- Have earned the ASCP certified laboratory assistant (CLA) credential (discontinued in 1982); or
- Have successfully completed a 50-week U.S. military medical laboratory training course within the past ten years; or
- Possess three years full-time acceptable clinical laboratory experience in blood banking, chemistry, hematology, microbiology, immunology, and urinalysis/fluids in an accredited laboratory within the past ten years.
Oftentimes an individual may find that he or she may be eligible for the certification exam in multiple categories. This should not be a concern; instead, an individual can sit for the exam as long as he or she qualifies on at least one of these four tracks.
For international (ASCPi) applicants, there are three routes to certification exam eligibility:
- A two-year diploma in medical laboratory science from an accredited institution with training in hematology, chemistry, blood banking (immunohematology) and microbiology; or
- A two-year diploma from an accredited institution in biological science or chemistry and completion of a qualifying medical laboratory science program; or
- A two-year diploma from an accredited institution in biological science or chemistry and completion of three years of acceptable clinical laboratory experience.
Please note that graduates of international degree programs may to complete a evaluation from an approved foreign transcript evaluation entity. For further information on ASCP (MLT) certification eligibility, please check out the ASCP site or the procedures booklets (US and international).
MLT (ASCP) Certification Exam Preparation
Once an individual has met all of the requirements in order to be eligible to sit for the exam through ASCP, the applicant should then determine when he or she intends on taking the exam. Before applying to take the exam, the aspiring MLT should fully comprehend what to expect on the exam itself, which will require a significant amount of preparation. Attempting to take the exam without adequate preparation could lead to negative results, which could require the individual to sit for the exam again.
No one specific method of study is correct or will guarantee success. However, there are a number of ways to prepare for the exam that will give applicants the the best chance of obtaining positive results.
To begin, before sitting for the exam, an aspiring medical lab technician should consider reading the material offered on the ASCP “suggested reading list.” Although the list contains a number of print publications, a variety of online material is suggested as well, including:
- Blood Bank Guy – Transfusion Medicine Education
- American Association for Clinical Chemistry (AACC)
- NACB Laboratory Medicine Practice Guidelines
- AACC Trainee Council
- ASCP Online Practice Tests
- CellAtlas – Blood Cell Morphology Guide
- BloodLine Image Atlas (Hematology Images)
- Hematology Outlines
- ASM Clinical Microbiology Portal
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
- DPDx – CDC Parasitology Diagnostic Web Site
The ASCP also recommends preparing by reading professional journals, such as Clinical Laboratory Science published by the American Society for Clinical Laboratory Science and Medical Laboratory Observer published by NP Communications.
Beyond this guide of suggested reading, the ASCP also offers an outline of the material that will be present on the certification exam for aspiring medical lab technicians. While this content outline is not an exact representation of what will appear on the exam, it includes general subject areas with which the individual should be intimately familiar. To be sure, the ASCP website asserts that the certification exam for the medical lab technician will cover the following subjects:
- Laboratory Operations – quality assessment/troubleshooting, safety, laboratory mathematics, instrumentation, laboratory information systems;
- Immunology – autoimmunity, immune responses, physiology of the immune systems, immunology of viral and microbial infectious diseases;
- Microbiology – general microbiology, aerobic gram-positive cocci, gram-negative bacilli, gram-negative cocci, gram-positive bacilli, anaerobes, fungus, viruses, mycobacteria, parasites;
- Chemistry – carbohydrates, acid base, electrolytes, proteins and other nitrogen-containing compounds, enzymes, lipids and lipoproteins, endocrinology, tumor markers, TDM, toxicology;
- Hematology – erythrocytes and leukocytes, reticulocyte count, ESR, RBC/WBC morphology and differentials, platelets, hemostasis;
- Urinalysis and Other Body Fluids – physical, chemical, and microscopic urinalysis and body fluid analysis; and
- Blood Bank – blood group systems, antibody screen and identification, crossmatch, DAT, elution/adsorption, blood donation, transfusion therapy, transfusion reactions, HDFN, phenotyping/genotyping, antibody titer, pre-warm technique.
Individuals with a comprehensive knowledge of the aforementioned subjects are likely to perform well on the MLT (ASCP) certification examination. Furthermore, students should consider taking older practice exams, which can be reached through a link provided in the list above; while the specific questions will likely differ from what will appear on the current test, taking these can simulate the experience of sitting for the real examination.
State Licensure & Working Abroad
As described previously, MLT state licensure is only required in a certain number of states throughout the nation. That said, laboratories across the country typically hire only certified individuals to ensure that their employees are competent. To learn more about state licensure and licensing requirements, visit the ASCP website, which also contains additional information about the exam and preparation.
Overall, the information contained in this guide will help an individual in the quest to become a certified medical lab technician through ASCP. Of course, someone interested in a career in this field should also attempt to learn as much as possible through other sources in order to help his or her chances of future success.
As mentioned above, international applicants (or those with degrees from international schools) may be required to complete a transcript evaluation from a ASCP BOC-approved entity. Please contact the ASCP for more details.
As a final note, those working abroad with existing ASCP/ASCPi certifications are encouraged to check with local regulatory bodies to ensure that their credentials are valid. For example, in Canada, the local governing body is the Canadian Society for Medical Laboratory Science (CSMLS).
From Medical Lab Technician to Medical Lab Scientist
Finally, some medical lab technicians may wish to advance and become medical lab scientists, a move that generally requires additional education along with relevant work experience. The ASCP website mentions that in order to be eligible for certification as a medical lab scientist, a current medical lab technician must obtain a four-year bachelor’s degree from an accredited college or university, including 16 hours of biological science, 16 hours of chemistry, one semester of math, and two years of full-time acceptable clinical lab experience in certain fields within the past ten years.
Of course, while the requirements may seem daunting, the resulting benefits can be well worth it. For example, while both medical lab scientists and medical lab technicians are able to perform a battery of tests, some labs may limit the type or complexity of tests conducted by the latter, and instead leave them to the medical lab scientists. Furthermore, a medical lab scientist may supervise other technicians, and may even be responsible for training others. And, as may be expected, these additional duties generally come with an increase in compensation.
There is no requirement that a medical lab technician take steps to become a medical lab scientist. That being said, doing so can lead to the acquisition of a number of additional responsibilities and skills, increased compensation potential, and a rewarding career in a growing industry.