Medical Laboratory Technicians (Assistants)

Also Known As
Medical Laboratory (lab) Assistants Medical Lab Technical (tech) Assistants
Lab Workers Lab Assistants
Phlebotomists

What are the roles of medical laboratory technicians (assistants) in Canada?

Medical lab assistants receive and collect samples and work directly with patients.  They sort, prepare, and process samples that will be tested and analyzed by a medical laboratory technologist or other health professional.

What are the main duties of medical laboratory technicians (assistants) in Canada?

  • check information on documents that accompany specimens
  • enter data into computers
  • collect, label, and deliver specimens, for example, blood samples
  • set up, operate, and maintain laboratory equipment
  • do pre‐analytical procedures on specimens from a variety of sources, for example, prepare slides of blood and other fluids for examination under a microscope
  • follow lab safety protocols and procedures
  • handle hazardous materials
  • make chemical solutions and stocks of culture media
  • plant specimens to culture bacteria
  • maintain stock levels of laboratory supplies

For a complete listing of skills and duties of a medical lab assistant and to identify transferable skills from the lab assistant’s education or work experience, refer to the CSMLS Personal Competency Rating Booklet to complete a self-assessment.

What are the desired traits of medical laboratory technicians (assistants) in Canada?

Medical lab assistants should be able to:

  • care for and comfort patients
  • pay close attention to detail and take precise readings
  • work quickly and accurately
  • follow instructions
  • be methodical in their work
  • work both alone and as part of a team
  • adapt and work in a changing environment
  • work well with co-workers and the public
  • use scientific rules and methods to solve problems
  • keep up-to-date technically and apply new knowledge

Medical lab assistants should possess:

  • good fine motor skills to handle specimens and small laboratory equipment
  • normal colour vision
  • good communication skills
  • good organizational and time management skills

Where do medical laboratory technicians (assistants) work?

They work in the following types of organizations:

  • private laboratories
  • hospitals
  • community health clinics
  • public health facilities
  • university research labs
  • biotechnology companies
  • specialty labs, for example, in vitro fertilization labs

Their responsibilities vary depending on the type and size of organization they work for and where it is located, for example, large city or small town.

What might the typical work conditions be?

Medical lab assistants generally work in clean, bright, well-ventilated medical laboratories and facilities. During a shift, they may perform a variety of tasks, or they may repeat the same tasks throughout the day. Medical lab assistants use solutions and reagents that may cause unpleasant odours. They might have to work with infectious patients or samples or hazardous chemicals, so they must take safety precautions to reduce risks. The work requires spending a lot of time standing or sitting.

The work schedule for a medical lab assistant may be full or part time, and seasonal or year-round work. They might work regular hours, for example 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. from Monday to Friday, shift work, or on-call hours.

What qualifications are Canadian employers looking for?

Canadian employers want to hire someone with a diploma from a CMA-accredited medical laboratory assistant program (or equivalent as determined by employer). The CMA or Canadian Medical Association has a list of professional bodies and accredited, registered educational programs for medical lab assistants.

Although certification is not required for medical laboratory assistants, some employers give preference to job candidates who have been certified by the Canadian Society for Medical Laboratory Science (CSMLS). See www.csmls.org for more information about how to become certified.

What communication skills do employers expect?

Employers may test for language ability because it is important for workers to understand instructions and share information to complete tasks properly and work safely.

Medical lab assistants use communication skills on the job in many ways:

  • They read procedure and equipment manuals. For example, they read health and safety procedures to be followed when collecting and processing specimens. They read their organizations’ policies about patients’ privacy and procedures for requesting and releasing medical information. They read care and maintenance instructions and procedures in equipment manuals to make minor repairs.
  • They write brief comments in patients’ files and on collection lists. For example, in patient files they write notes about difficulties in accessing patients’ veins and recommend types and gauges of needles to use. They write down reasons for the inability to collect specimens, such as missed attempts to access veins or patients’ refusals, on collection lists.
  • They give instructions and provide support to patients before, during, and after specimen collection. They explain each step of collection procedures, and comfort and reassure nervous patients. Technicians in hospitals may provide instructions for proper use of home test sampling kits and special collection procedures. Technicians in blood donor clinics give post-donation instructions to blood donors.

To review examples of how other Essential Skills are used by medical lab assistants in the workplace go to Explore Careers by Essential Skills on the Working in Canada website.

The ability to speak and write in multiple languages can be an advantage in Canada’s multicultural environment.

What is the wage for this occupation?

Wages are affected by the workers’ level of education, work experience, and job responsibilities, plus the job location and conditions, and whether the employees are unionized. The numbers provided below represent a national average for low, median (mid-point), and high wages (before taxes).

Low Median High
$15 per hour $24 per hour $37.50 per hour
$31,200 per year $49,920 per year $78,000 per year

For wage information in specific parts of Canada, go to Explore Careers by Wages on the Working in Canada website.

What opportunities for advancement are available to medical laboratory technicians (assistants)?

Medical lab assistants may seek work in these areas of specialization:

  • biochemistry (studying chemical reactions in the body)
  • cytology (studying the structure and function of cells)
  • hematology (analyzing diseases of the blood and blood forming tissues)
  • histopathology (examining the structure of diseased tissue)
  • immunology (examining how the immune system works)
  • microbiology (studying bacteria and viruses)

Experienced medical lab assistants may move into related jobs in laboratories run by industrial or manufacturing companies, pharmaceutical companies, veterinary companies, or government.

Chances for advancement depend on a medical lab assistant’s abilities, experience, and education. For example, with additional education and experience, individuals may progress to work as a supervisor or instructor of medical lab assistants.

Where can I find out more about medical laboratory technicians (assistants) in Canada?

Refer to the Introductory Page for general career information and job search ideas.

More details about medical lab assistants are available at the web sites described below:

The Canadian Society for Medical Laboratory Science (CSMLS) is the national certifying body for medical laboratory technologists and medical laboratory assistants. It is the national society for Canada’s medical laboratory professionals.

The Canadian Medical Association provides a list of professional bodies and accredited, registered educational programs for medical lab assistants.

Health Canada is the Canadian federal department that helps Canadians maintain and improve their health. For a description of the federal, provincial, and territorial governments’ roles, see the Health Care System Delivery.

Many health jobs in Canada are with provincial and territorial government health services. Some of the provincial organizations that post job openings or career opportunities are listed below:

Note: These websites tend to change frequently.