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A medical laboratory (lab) is any facility that does laboratory testing on specimens derived from humans to give information for the diagnosis, prevention and treatment of disease or assessment of health.

An estimated 60% to 70% of diagnoses and/or treatments are based on lab tests. Your doctor may request one or many lab tests depending on your condition, and then use the lab results to identify changes in your health condition, diagnose a disease or condition, plan your treatment, evaluate your response to a treatment or monitor the course of a disease over time.

The practice of medicine cannot exist without the skilled testing performed by medical laboratory professionals. Using these test results, pathologists can accurately diagnose diseases. Without the correct diagnoses, patients do not receive the right treatments.

There are so many reasons a career as a medical laboratory professional can be a great choice! It comes with a lot of benefits, including competitive pay, freedom of choice in where to live and work, multiple paths to certification and close working relationships with colleagues. And on top of that, you’ll know that your work is impacting—and saving —people’s lives.

You should take a variety of science and math courses like biology, anatomy and physiology, physics and chemistry to help you prepare for course work in a medical laboratory program. And don’t forget about liberal arts courses—they’ll help you develop strong communication skills that are crucial for successful laboratory professionals.

Yes! It’s never too late to prepare for a career in the medical laboratory profession. Most high schools and colleges have guidance counselors that can help you determine your next steps and guide you along this career path.

You can find a program near you by visiting www.naacls.org/search/programs.asp.

Funding your education is a big decision. The good thing is that not every career in the medical laboratory requires a bachelor’s degree. For example, to be a phlebotomist, you only need a high school diploma and phlebotomy training through an accredited program. Typically, this program requires you to complete a certificate program. Many community colleges offer phlebotomy programs.

Several universities report an average placement rate of 90% for new graduates. The profession is growing much faster than most occupations, which leaves many opportunities available to new graduates.

It really depends on which career path you pursue and your level of educational training. The average salary for a certified phlebotomist is $28,080, while pathologists earn $247,013 on average.

Most medical laboratory professionals work regular business hours, although some work evening and weekend hours to accommodate 24-hour hospital and healthcare facilities. While working in the lab, you will wear protective gear, work with microscopes and computers and analyze specimens.