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Differences Between Medical Lab Assistants/Technicians and Technologists

By January 4, 2022December 2nd, 2022No Comments
medical laboratory technologist program

In the wake of COVID-19, there has been an increased need for laboratory testing and a massive staff shortage. Healthcare teams, like those that work in the medical laboratory, require dedicated professionals (perhaps just like you!). The tests performed in medical laboratories impact all aspects of patient care, from emergency rooms to family medicine.

Medical laboratory assistants/technicians (MLA/T) and medical laboratory technologists (MLT) are two vital roles that work together in the lab to provide physicians with crucial diagnostic information.

There are similarities and fundamental differences between the job responsibilities of an MLA/T and an MLT and in the foundation of education they receive. Anderson’s Medical Laboratory Technician program differs greatly from its Medical Laboratory Technology program, but both ensure graduates are ready to enter their field of practice and able to tackle their roles with confidence.

A Background & Fundamental Differences of MLA/T and MLT


What does a Medical Laboratory Assistant /Technician (MLA/T) do and how do they become trained?

In Canada, two terms are used to describe this professional lab role, medical laboratory assistant and medical laboratory technician, sometimes combined as MLA/Ts. This lab professional works closely with lab managers and lab technologists to form the clinical laboratory team. Technicians are trained to collect blood specimens, prepare different types of patient specimens for testing, prepare and streak culture media, prepare reagents used in testing, load analyzers with quality control and patient specimens, perform maintenance on equipment, perform electrocardiograms, recognize problems and errors in lab procedures, run point-of-care tests, and perform limited testing on small analyzers under the supervision of MLTs. MLA/Ts play an active role in the diagnosis process as integral members of the clinical laboratory team.

Anderson College’s Medical Laboratory Technician program has a 6-year EQual™ accreditation, representing a significant achievement that reflects the quality of the program’s development, delivery and practical training, in keeping with rigorous national standards. This program is facilitated using state-of-the-art simulated labs and a real-world practical experience to prepare students to write the  Canadian Society for Medical Laboratory Science (CSMLS) and the Medical Laboratory Professionals’ Association of Ontario (MLPAO) certification exams, ensuring graduates are career ready.

What does a Medical Laboratory Technologist (MLT) do and how do they become trained?

Medical laboratory technologists are trained to analyze a variety of patient specimens including blood, body fluids, swabs, and tissues using specialized equipment and instrumentation. They interpret test results which aid in the diagnosis, treatment and maintenance of diseases and disorders, contributing to high-level patient care. Medical technologists must be detail oriented, sustain a high level of attention, be multitaskers, and may work irregular shifts if employed in a hospital lab.

Anderson’s MLT program, is based on the CSMLS national competency profile, is two years, full time and fast paced. It is designed to train students to become skilled in applying the scientific, technical, and medical principles needed to perform and evaluate laboratory testing in a healthcare setting and prepare them for writing the national CSMLS certification exam. Graduates will be ready for entry-level positions in clinical laboratories, both public and private, research labs or scientific supply companies.

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What are the differences between an MLAT and an MLA?

While some of their job responsibilities overlap, there are more differences between these roles than you may realize.

  • The level of education they receive reflects the different roles and responsibilities that are expected on the job.
  • Medical laboratory technicians collect and prepare patient samples for analysis. They perform some limited lab testing and instrument/equipment maintenance.
  • Medical laboratory technologists are trained to perform in-depth testing and analysis of patient samples in multiple lab departments. MLTs may also contribute to testing research and explore new testing methods that can improve on current testing procedures.
  • Technologists are often supervisors in charge of training technicians in the lab.
  • Technologists primarily work behind the scenes in the lab performing testing; technicians are considered the public face of the lab and have direct contact with patients.
  • The level of education received as well as entry requirements for acceptance into the programs differ as well. The Medical Laboratory Technician program at Anderson only requires a high school diploma, while the Medical Laboratory Technologist program at Anderson has a host of science prerequisites.

Both these roles are essential to an industry that has never needed healthcare professionals in this fundamental area of patient care more. If you are looking to enter the health care field, or have your sights set on expanding your career, you have found your opportunity. But as you can see from the brief introduction above, the school you choose to complete either you MLT or MLA/T program matters. You want to learn within an accredited program, ensure you are learning from industry leaders, and have the best practicum experience possible with potential employers.

If you’re interested in exploring your Medical Laboratory Technology or Medical Laboratory Technician career, book a virtual appointment today and let’s get you started!

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