Medical Lab Technician Certification – MLT (ASCP)
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Patients seek medical attention for preventative care, short-lived acute pain, or chronic medical conditions. In all three cases, lab tests are required to provide diagnostic information. When a patient comes in for a routine visit or is reporting symptoms, physicians, nurses, and medical assistants collect blood, tissue, and other bodily fluid samples in a clinical environment and send samples to a laboratory for evaluation by medical lab technicians.
Medical lab technicians (also known as MLTs) assist doctors and other specialists by performing tests on blood, tissue, and other bodily fluids to rule out, confirm, and treat medical diagnoses to help patients feel better faster.
The job outlook for this allied healthcare profession is promising, and the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS 2021) predicts an 11 percent growth in jobs from 2020 to 2030, which is faster than the national average (8 percent). In fact, the BLS shows that 36,500 jobs will be created for clinical laboratory technologists and technicians (a similar occupational title) in that same period, adding to the 335,500 currently employed MLTs (BLS 2021).
The vast majority of medical lab technicians are employed in general medical and surgical hospitals, medical and diagnostic laboratories, and physicians’ offices (BLS 2021).
Aspiring medical lab technicians must complete educational and other requirements 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.
However, 11 states and one territory require MLTs to pursue licensure before practicing, namely California, Florida, Hawaii, Louisiana, Montana, Nevada, New York, North Dakota, Puerto Rico, Rhode Island, Tennessee, and West Virginia. The state of Georgia doesn’t require ASCP licensure but has stringent standards that supersede the highest set forth by the ASCP’s Board of Certification (BOC).
Read on to learn how to become an ASCP-certified medical laboratory technician (MLT).
Early Preparation In High School to Become an MLT
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 breaks, such as volunteer experience in a laboratory or healthcare setting.
MLT (ASCP) Certification Eligibility – US & International
To obtain certification as a medical lab technician through ASCP, an individual must first earn an associate degree or complete at least 60 semester hours (including six hours of chemistry and six hours of biology) of academic credit from a college or university. In addition, this college or university must be accredited by a recognized regional or national accreditation agency.
US-based MLT(ASCP) applicants can use the ASCP’s examination eligibility assistant to ensure their qualifications meet one of the following eligibility pathways:
- Route 1: Successful completion of 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
- Route 2: Completion of a 50-week U.S. military medical laboratory training course within the past ten years; or
- Route 3: Possess three years of 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.
- Route 4: Have an ASCP certified laboratory assistant (CLA) credential (discontinued in 1982)
An individual may qualify for the certification exam in multiple categories. As long as at least one of the four eligibility pathways above is met, an individual is eligible to sit for the ASCP MLT exam. The application fee for the MLT(ASCP) exam is $215.
For international (ASCPi) applicants, there are three routes to certification exam eligibility:
- Route 1: A two-year diploma in medical laboratory science from an accredited institution with training in hematology, chemistry, blood banking (immunohematology), and microbiology; or
- Route 2: A two-year diploma from an accredited institution in biological science or chemistry and completion of a qualifying medical laboratory science program; or
- Route 3: 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 must complete transcript evaluations from an approved foreign transcript evaluation entity. The application fee for the International MLT(ASCP) exam is $175.
For further information on MLT(ASCP) 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 to be eligible to sit for the exam through ASCP, the applicant should then determine when they intend 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, requiring an individual to sit for the exam again.
No one specific method of study is correct or will guarantee success. However, there are many ways to prepare for the exam to give applicants the best chance of obtaining favorable results.
Before sitting for the exam, an aspiring medical lab technician should consider reading the material offered on the ASCP’s list of Suggested Reading for Examination Preparation. This list contains several print publications and a variety of online material, including:
- Association for the Advancement of Blood & Biotherapies (AABB)
- Blood Bank Guy – Transfusion Medicine Education
- American Association for Clinical Chemistry (AACC)
- NACB Laboratory Medicine Practice Guidelines
- AACC Trainee Council
- ASCP Interactive Practice Tests
- CellAtlas – Blood Cell Morphology App
- 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 Endeavor Business Media, LLC.
MLT(ASCP) Examination Content Guidelines
The ASCP also offers an MLT(ASCP) Examination Content Guideline that will be presented 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:
- 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.
- Urinalysis and Other Body Fluids – physical, chemical, and microscopic urinalysis and body fluid analysis; and
- 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;
- 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;
- Laboratory Operations – quality assessment/troubleshooting, safety, laboratory mathematics, instrumentation, laboratory information systems;
Individuals with a comprehensive knowledge of the subjects above are likely to perform well on the MLT (ASCP) certification examination. Furthermore, students should consider taking older practice exams, which applicants can reach 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 actual examination.
Finally, please check out the ASCP site or the procedures booklets (US and international) for more detailed information on what to expect when taking the MLT(ASCP) exams.
MLT(ASCP) Recertification Requirements
The MLT(ASCP) certification lasts three years for US-based and international credential holders. Those with MLT(ASCP) certification must submit proof of continuing education through the credential maintenance program or CMP.
MLT(ASCP) credential holders must complete an online declaration process and pay an application fee to reapply. This can be completed up to three months before expiration and must be completed at least 30 days before expiration.
State Licensure for Medical Laboratory Techs & Working Abroad
As described previously, MLT state licensure is only required in a certain number of states. That said, laboratories 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.
Overall, the information contained in this guide will help an individual in the quest to become a certified medical lab technician through ASCP. However, someone interested in a career in this field should also attempt to learn as much as possible through other sources to help their 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 an 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 their credentials are valid. For example, in Canada, the Canadian Society for Medical Laboratory Science (CSMLS) is the local governing body.
From Medical Lab Technician To Medical Lab Scientist
Finally, some medical lab technicians may wish to advance and become medical lab scientists, which generally requires additional education and relevant work experience.
The ASCP website mentions that to be eligible for certification as a medical lab scientist, current medical lab technicians must:
- Earn a four-year bachelor’s degree from an accredited college or university; and
- Have 16 hours of biological science, 16 hours of chemistry, one semester of math; and
- Have two years of full-time acceptable clinical lab experience in specific fields within the past ten years
Of course, while the MLS requirements may seem daunting, the resulting benefits can be well worth it in terms of increased job responsibilities and higher salaries.
For example, while both medical lab scientists and medical lab technicians can perform a battery of tests, some labs may limit the type or complexity of tests conducted by MLTs. Furthermore, a medical lab scientist may supervise other technicians and even be responsible for training others. When negotiating salary for a new job or asking for a pay raise, these additional duties can be negotiation points.
There is no requirement that a medical lab technician takes steps to become a medical lab scientist. However, investing in the education and training to become an MLS can earn more responsibilities and skills, increase earning potential, and a multi-year rewarding career in a growing industry.