How to Become a Medical Laboratory Assistant
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How to Become a Medical Laboratory Assistant

Learn more about the profession, how to become certified, and employment information.

What Does a Medical Laboratory Assistant Do?

Medical laboratory assistants (MLAs) are responsible for sampling, testing, measuring, recording and analyzing specimens in cooperation with the rest of the laboratory professional team. Their most common tasks include:

  • Processing clinical laboratory specimens
  • Performing routine and specialized tests
  • Preparing and staining slides for analysis
  • Performing phlebotomy
  • Recording testing information
  • Cleaning and restocking the lab facility
  • Keeping inventory and ordering lab supplies


MLAs must be detail-oriented and diligent in processing tests because small differences or changes in test substances or numerical readouts can be crucial to a diagnosis. They must work well in team settings, and good communication skills are crucial to their success. Employers seek medical laboratory assistants with good analytical judgment and the ability to work under pressure. Manual dexterity and normal color vision are highly desirable, and with the widespread use of automated laboratory equipment, computer skills are important.

Where Do MLAs Work?

Medical laboratory assistants work in a variety of settings, including hospitals, independent reference laboratories and in offices of physicians. Rapid job growth and excellent job opportunities for MLAs are expected. Most jobs will continue to be in hospitals, but employment will grow faster in other settings.

MLA vs MLT: What’s the Difference?

Medical laboratory assistants and technicians are both important members of the laboratory team. MLTs typically have more advanced education than MLAs, and their duties in the lab require more skill and responsibility. While MLAs do more clerical work and collect samples, MLTs prepare samples for medical technologists and conduct routine testing. Learn more about the MLT role in our professional profile.


Medical laboratory assistants learn many skills on the job, however, some employers prefer that candidates earn a certificate or associate’s degree from an MLA program offered by an accredited career/vocational school, technical college or community college.

MLA Certification 

Some employers prefer MLAs who are certified by a recognized professional association, such as the American Medical Technologists (AMT). When you choose a certification that is rigorous and practical, you are showing employers and patients that they can trust your skills and knowledge. 


Certification with AMT requires that all applicants comply with certain eligibility requirements, or routes. Those who meet the requirements have an excellent chance of passing the certification exam. AMT certification is a national certification and is not limited to specific states.


The examinations supporting the certification programs are intended to assess the knowledge underlying the competent performance of primary tasks typically required of healthcare practitioners at entry into an occupation.  AMT’s CMLA certification is targeted at individuals who are completing their education as well as those who already work in the field but are not yet certified. We target entry level practitioners across all states in the US and through our eligibility criteria identify those who qualify to be certified by AMT. If you are interested in becoming a certified medical laboratory assistant (CMLA) through AMT visit our CMLA web page to see if you are eligible.


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Career Advancement for MLAs

Medical laboratory assistants can advance and become technicians or technologists through additional education and experience. Technologists may advance to supervisory positions in laboratory work or may become chief technologists or laboratory managers in hospitals. Experienced technologists are also sought by medical and laboratory equipment companies to work in product development, marketing and sales. Professional certification, specialization and/or a graduate degree in medical technology, one of the biological sciences, chemistry, management or education usually speeds advancement.

Medical Laboratory Assistant Job Outlook

Employment of laboratory workers is expected to grow faster than average for all occupations between 2020 and 2030, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). The volume of laboratory tests continues to increase with both population growth and the development of new types of tests. 


Job opportunities for medical laboratory assistants are expected to be excellent because the number of job openings is expected to continue to exceed the number of job seekers. Although significant, job growth will not be the only source of opportunities. As in most occupations, many additional openings will result from the need to replace workers who transfer to other occupations, retire or stop working for some other reason.

MLA Salary

The average annual wage of medical laboratory assistants in 2019 was about $38,800, which is about $18.65 per hour, according to the American Society for Clinical Pathology’s 2019 Wage Survey. Academic hospitals with 500 or more beds tend to pay more per hour ($21.24) than outpatient clinic laboratories ($16.65).  

Want To Learn More?

Read more about all of AMTs laboratory certifications on our blog.

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