The medical field features a wide variety of laboratories. Medical, research, dental and ophthalmic labs are just a few. Technicians in these labs may undergo on-the-job training, or they may come to the jobs with a post-secondary certificate, an associate degree or a bachelor’s degree. So training for lab jobs can last as long as four years. Certification and licensing might take an additional month or two.
Each state regulates technicians in any sort of lab, although the regulations might vary according to the state or the type of lab. Some states have specific requirements regarding training or formal education, and might also require licensure or certification in addition to training. Even when the state has no formal requirements, employers often prefer to hire techs with formal training and certification. Training requirements and the time it takes to complete them vary for medical-clinical, dental, ophthalmic and biological lab technicians, according to the U.S. Bureau of Laboratory Statistics.
The Medical Laboratory
Medical and clinical laboratory technicians work under the supervision of laboratory technologists. A post-secondary certificate is the minimum preparation for this occupation, according to the BLS. Some states require an associate degree. Certificate programs typically last one year, while an associate degree usually takes two years. Depending on the state, the graduate may also need to pass a licensing or certification exam. In some states, certification is required for licensure. A tech could become certified in general clinical laboratory science or in a specialty field such as cytology.
Eyes and Teeth
Dental lab technicians construct dentures, bridges and plates. Ophthalmic lab technicians -- sometimes known as optical mechanics -- manufacture prescription eyeglasses and contact lenses. These occupations do not have any formal educational requirements, although the BLS notes most techs have at least a high school diploma. Some community colleges or technical-vocational schools offer formal training. The dental programs typically last two or three years, according to the National Association of Dental Laboratories. Ophthalmic lab technicians are more likely to learn their skills on the job, however, according to the Explore Health Careers website.
A Matter of Biology
Biological lab technicians are likely to be the best-educated of all lab technicians. In many research labs, the biological tech is the person who performs and records the results of experiments, and also maintains the lab. They typically work on teams, under the supervision of a biologist or other scientist. A bachelor’s degree is required for this profession, according to the BLS, which recommends preparation begin in high school with courses and lab sessions in biology or other sciences. A bachelor’s degree -- most often in biology, or in a related science -- typically takes four years.