Working in a medical laboratory

September 2, 2016


If you have a keen interest in science, love working with advanced equipment and are extremely meticulous and detail-oriented, working in a medical laboratory is something that may be worth exploring.

What the job involves

Medical lab professionals work in a wide range of settings including hospitals, private clinics, pharmaceutical labs, medical equipment manufacturing units, environmental protection organisations, research institutes and food and drink companies.

Depending on the setting, tasks may involve all or some of the following:

  • Conducting blood tests and performing blood counts
  • Examining cells and cultures to identify any irregularities
  • Setting up, calibrating, sterilising and maintaining medical laboratory equipment
  • Analysing tissues and body fluids under a high-powered microscope to detect abnormalities or diseases
  • Analysing and recording the results of various doctor-ordered tests
  • Preparing solutions or reagents that sometimes need to be combined with samples to get the necessary results
  • Analysing food, drink or environmental samples to detect pollutants

Although medical lab technicians work mainly behind the scenes, the work they do is vital in the healthcare field. The results of their routine lab tests and analyses are critical in the diagnosis of illnesses and conditions and in identifying abnormalities such as cancer cells.

Know the stress points of working in a medical laboratory

Working in a medical laboratory is neither as easy nor as stress-free as it may appear. Understanding the nature of the job and the potential stress areas is important.

Medical laboratories are high-pressure environments, more so in hospitals where precision, timing and accuracy in managing and recording lab results are critical. Medical professionals depend on lab results to make accurate diagnoses and determine appropriate courses of action. This pressure combined with the larger volume of work in busy hospital environments can be overwhelming for someone who does not cop well with pressure.

Most medical lab jobs involve collecting and analysing bodily fluids and tissue samples. Utmost care is required to reduce potential risks that are inherent when handling such materials.

Essential Attributes

There are certain skills and attributes that are essential for anyone considering this career path.

You must have:

  • The know-how to use, calibrate and maintain advanced technical equipment
  • Critical thinking, investigative and problem-solving skills
  • Excellent time management skills
  • The ability to work individually and also as part of a team
  • Pay close attention to detail

If you are looking for a career in health care where your work can have a major impact on the diagnosis, treatment and prevention of major medical problems, working in a medical laboratory may be your calling.

You can prepare for a lab career by completing a 2-year Associate degree programme or 4-year Bachelor’s degree programme in medical laboratory science or medical laboratory technology. While a bachelor’s degree is not mandatory, it prepares you to work at a technologist level where you are qualified to perform more sophisticated tests, have more responsibility and also earn a higher salary.


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Gap Medics provides year-round hospital work experience for people aged 16 and over. Our shadowing placements offer a unique insight into the work of doctors, nurses, midwives and dentists – helping students to focus their career aspirations before embarking upon medical training.