What is the difference between a lab technician and a lab assistant?

difference between lab technician and lab assistant

The difference between a lab technician and a lab assistant can be understood by closely examining their roles in the laboratory. It is because of their jobs and the work of other healthcare professionals that we’re able to catch an insight into human deficiencies and identify diseases. Medical lab technicians and medical laboratory assistants are the people responsible for collecting and analyzing specimens. These professionals are crucial to the healthcare industry.


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Comparing the differences between a lab technicians and lab assistants role

The differences between a lab technician and an assistant can be understood by looking at the various tasks each role performs. The key differences are:   

 Lab assistants may conduct daily duties, such as:

  • Recording patient history and vitals.
  • Briefing patients regarding their tests.
  • Collecting blood samples, tissue, or other specimen samples. 

On the other hand, a lab technician may: 

  • Analyzes samples.
  • Perform blood typing, urine analysis, and drug tests.
  • Slice tissue samples, dry, freeze, and stain them.

Compared to lab assistants, lab technician responsibilities are slightly more advanced as they are trained in more complex laboratory procedures, while lab assistants perform more administrative work in addition to the collection of the samples a technician analyzes.

What does a lab technician do?

Lab technicians may collect and label samples from patients, such as blood, tissue, etc. Clinical laboratory technicians are responsible for conducting various test procedures with these samples. By performing testing under strict guidelines, technicians can identify deficiencies and irregularities.

Lab technicians present the samples to pathologists, they also help maintain lab equipment and organize instruments needed in the lab. Lab technicians may not necessarily perform the duties of a lab assistant – it may depend on where they work though.  For example, if a facility only has the requirement to hire one person, lab technicians will inevitably perform the duties of a lab assistant.

What does a lab assistant do?

A lab assistant assists all medical laboratory technologists or technicians. The tasks they perform may include:

  • Obtaining samples/specimens from patients.
  • Speaking to patients, explaining procedures.
  • Facilitate the proper functioning of the lab.
  • Maintain facilities and equipment including cleaning and disinfecting, as needed.

Lab assistants will likely also interact with the patient. Briefing patients about the sample collecting procedures and taking notes regarding patients’ medical histories and vitals are primary responsibilities that medical assistants carry out. Medical laboratories may also require lab assistants to maintain patient and testing records and help maintain the test sterility of medical laboratory equipment. 

Do the work responsibilities of medical lab assistants and medical lab technicians overlap?

Lab technicians and lab assistants may have similar duties, but these careers are definitely not the same. Depending on the facility where the lab assistants and technicians are working, professionals can encounter various responsibilities.

Both could be responsible for collecting the samples, labeling, and storing these samples for examination. However, only a lab technician is qualified with the necessary education and expertise to perform specimen analysis. 

What type of different skills does each role require?

A lab assistant’s role requires one to be fluent in medical terminologies. They aid the medical laboratory technician to identify, collect and label specimens according to standard procedures and protocols. Lab assistants also need social skills, and the capacity to make patients comfortable while providing information regarding their specific tests.

A lab technician’s skills, on the other hand, are similar to that of a lab assistant, but require attention to detail. The details that lab technicians need to pay attention to are listed below:

  • Examining bodily fluids and tissues for the existence of any bacteria, fungus, or virus.
  • Collect and match blood samples for blood transfusions
  • Ensuring the proper testing and certification of medicines, reagents, anti-sera’s, etc.
  • Assist in the manufacturing of various vaccines. For instance meningitis, DPT, anti-snake venom, etc.
  • Ensure fast detection of communicable diseases.

The analytical procedures mentioned above require knowledge and in-depth skills gained through a laboratory technician’s education. 

Difference between educational requirements for lab technicians and lab assistants

Both medical laboratory assistants and lab technicians require different levels of education. A career as a lab technician typically requires you to gain a degree. Whereas, you can become a lab assistant by completing a training program and becoming certified. 

How long does it take to complete training for each role?

A lab assistant typically can complete a training program in less than a year. Whereas, a lab technician usually requires a degree, which is typically 2-4 years of education.

What kind of certifications or licenses are required for medical lab assistants?

To gain a Medical Laboratory Assistant (CMLA) certification, students must attend 200 didactic clock hours in a lab assistant educational program, with a minimum of 120 hours of documented experience in an approved clinical laboratory setting. Additionally, students should have 100 of the 200 hours devoted to the study of laboratory technology.

To be eligible for examination, students must complete a lab technician program approved by the American Medical Technologists (AMT).

Begin your medical lab assistant training at Dorsey College!

Regardless of the differences between a lab technician and a lab assistant, both roles offer opportunities to pursue a rewarding career in healthcare. If you have a knack for phlebotomy, anatomy, or perhaps physiology, and pursuing a career in the medical field is appealing to you, then these two career paths are a great option.

With an emerging aging population, the role of a lab technician and assistant will become crucial to the healthcare infrastructure. Research assistants and technicians of a lab deliver precise information through reports that help doctors diagnose a condition or illness and prescribe the necessary treatment. 

If you think you have what it takes to become a certified lab assistant, take the first step and enroll in Dorsey’s Medical Laboratory Assistant program today. Dorsey College can prepare you to enter the world of healthcare, specifically laboratory science, in just seven months!

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