Medical Laboratory Assistant Careers

How to become Medical Laboratory Assistant

What does a Medical Laboratory Assistant do?

Medical laboratory assistants (MLAs), sometimes known as clinical support workers, work throughout the NHS on wards, or in clinics and laboratories, providing support to biomedical scientists, pathologists, clinical scientists, and medical staff. Their main duties include preparing chemical and biological solutions and disposing of waste, labelling, sorting and analysing tissue and fluid samples, separating blood serum and plasma, loading samples and operating machines, and using a computer to analyse data. In addition they may answer telephone enquiries, keep and file records, sterilise equipment, and maintain stock levels.

Assistants can specialise in a single area, or work in a number of different fields. These include:

  • biochemistry (studying chemical reactions in the body, for example, kidney failure)
  • histopathology (examining the structure of diseased tissue)
  • virology (analysing viruses, the diseases they cause, and vaccines)
  • cytology (studying cells, their structure, function and formation, for example, screening for certain cancers)
  • haematology (analysing diseases of the blood and blood forming tissues)
  • immunology (examining how the immune system works, for example, with allergies)
  • transfusion science (the transference of blood and blood products from one person to another).
MLAs can combine working as an assistant with another area of work such as Phlebotomy. This involves being trained on the job to extract blood from patients causing as little disturbance to existing treatment as possible, labelling the sample and delivering it to the correct lab for analysis by a biomedical scientist for example. Phlebotomists may work towards the NVQ in Health (Blood Donor Support) level 2 or 3 which include units relevant to this field.

MLAs can work in the blood transfusion service, hospitals, public health service laboratories or research laboratories.

What's the working environment like working as a Medical Laboratory Assistant?

Medical laboratory assistants work 37.5 hours a week, which may include some evening or weekend work. Part-time work may be available.

Work is based in laboratories, clinics, or with patients on the wards. It involves standing or sitting for long periods, and bending and carrying heavy batches of samples. Conditions are clean and sometimes sterile. Protective coats, gloves, glasses and masks may be necessary at times.

What does it take to become a Medical Laboratory Assistant?

To be a medical laboratory assistant, you should:

  • be interested in science, particularly biology and chemistry
  • be efficient and accurate in your work
  • be able to concentrate for long periods
  • be able to reassure nervous patients
  • be able to work as part of a team
  • have a responsible and diligent approach to work.

Medical Laboratory Assistant Career Opportunities

Medical laboratory assistants can progress into different roles. They may be able to extend their responsibilities or specialise as a cardiological technician/cardiographer, cervical cytology screener, or phlebotomist. Most MLAs work in NHS hospitals, however, phlebotomists for instance may find similar work in the blood transfusion service, university laboratories, and government research departments.

With experience and relevant vocational qualifications, it may be possible to progress to the role of medical technical officer; please see relevant job profile.

There is no direct progression route available for MLAs wishing to become biomedical scientists, however, if you meet the entry requirements for a biomedical science degree you may be able to study this part-time whilst continuing to work. Contact the Institute of Biomedical Science for more details; see Further Information.

Further information

If you would like to know anything about Medical Laboratory Assistant that does not appear on Hotcourses, further information can be found below.

NHS Learning and Development Service
Tel: 08000 150 850

NHS Careers
PO Box 376
BS99 3EY
Tel: 0845 606 0655

Association of Medical Laboratory Assistants
12 Coldbath Square
Tel: 020 7713 8050
Institute of Biomedical Science

Facts and Stats:

  • The biggest blood transfusion was carried out in 1970 and totalled 1,080 litres.
  • The record number of surviving multiple births is seven, recorded in both Illinois, USA and Saudi Arabia.
  • The thumb has a special section, separate from the area that controls the fingers, reserved for it in the brain.

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