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?
40 - 42 hours per week
Medical laboratory assistants work 37.5 hours a weekon a rota. This means that you may be expected to work evening shifts and weekend shifts as part of your normal working hours. 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.
How much can I earn as a Medical Laboratory Assistant?
The average annual salary for Medical Laboratory Assistants is between £20,366.
Medical Laboratory Assistant technicians usually start on a salary between £15,000 and £19,000.
As you progress, the average salary is between £24,115 and £30,313 full-time. These wages are on the rise too, with medical laboratory assistants seeing an increase between 1.2 and 3.4% year on year.
£17,652 - £23,761
Average salary through your career as a Medical Laboratory Assistant:
- Laboratory Technician (entry): £15,000-£19,000
- Laboratory Technician (experienced): £24,115 - £30,313
- Laboratory manager: £40,000
Split between men and women working as Medical Laboratory Assistants:
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.