Medical Laboratory Technician
Kaihangarau Taiwhanga Rongoā
Medical laboratory technicians take medical samples and run tests under the supervision of scientists and pathologists.
Trainee medical laboratory technicians usually earn
$42K-$50K per year
Qualified medical laboratory technicians usually earn
$47K-$60K per year
Source: APEX and Northland Pathology, 2021 and DHBs/PSA, 2020.
Pay for medical laboratory technicians varies depending on experience.
- Trainee medical laboratory technicians usually earn from minimum wage to $50,000 a year.
- Qualified medical laboratory technicians usually earn $47,000 to $60,000.
- Supervising medical laboratory technicians can earn up to $64,000.
Sources: APEX and Northland Pathology, 'Collective Employment Agreement', 2021; and District Health Boards/PSA, 'Allied, Public Health and Technical Multi-Employer Collective Agreement', 2020.
(This information is a guide only. Find out more about the sources of our pay information)
What you will do
Medical laboratory technicians may do some or all of the following:
- take blood and other samples such as fingernail scrapings
- label samples
- reassure and care for patients they are taking samples from
- prepare slides of blood and other body fluids, and perform tests on these samples
- match blood for transfusions
- test for bacteria that can cause disease in patients
- perform antibiotic sensitivity and allergy testing.
Skills and knowledge
Medical laboratory technicians need to have:
- practical skills for performing experiments and operating scientific equipment
- thorough understanding of laboratory safety
- basic understanding of biological science
- the ability to follow scientific procedures.
Medical laboratory technicians:
- usually work regular business hours, but may also do shift work or work weekends
- work in community, hospital, commercial or veterinary diagnostic laboratories
- may travel locally to take samples at doctors' surgeries, hospitals, rest homes, patients' homes and workplaces.
What's the job really like?
Medical laboratory technician video
Faezaeh talks about her career as a microbiology and molecular technician – 4.25 mins.
Laboratory technicians do different testing to find out what is causing a disease or an infection. We are basically like science detectives who are trying to help the doctors to diagnose and choose the correct treatment for the patient. It makes me feel like I'm doing something good in this world.
So microbiology is the study of micro-organisms, which could be things like bacteria or fungi. Molecular is just the same thing, but we’re looking for the genetic material of those micro-organisms. The difference is that in microbiology you have a sample that you can grow, and because you can grow, then you can do antibiotic testing that’s suitable for that bacteria, but in molecular you have a target, which could be a DNA and RNA, and that’s what you’re finding.
When you’re a laboratory worker you do shift work. I do 8am until 4.30. Sometimes I'll have to do 1pm until 10pm. I would look at what area I am covering and how many samples I have in the day that I need to be finishing before I go. But you can never predict the workload. It can always change day to day and season to season.
In my department I work with 40 people. We test community and hospital samples. So we do a variety of tests on different samples and those samples could be blood, urine, faeces. We do a lot of different kinds of swabs, which could be throat swabs, genital swabs, wound swabs and you get a lot of different bacteria and micro-organisms from all of these.
Today I’m doing faecal PCR. So these are for people who have gastrointestinal problems. They could have salmonella, they could have campylobacter. So that’s what we’re trying to find out by doing this testing.
I like how I have a variety of work because there’s so many areas that I can cover. Week to week we always get different micro-organisms, which makes it more interesting. I like how in microbiology things are colourful and every bacteria grows in different conditions. I like how sometimes it can challenge you to think in a different way.
I’m looking at some faecal results now. Someone analysed it earlier and I’m just doing a second check on it now before we finalise the result. This patient is positive for giardia. This patient is positive for campylobacter. This patient is positive for shigella. And I'm happy with all of them. Perfect. That is all done.
This role would suit someone who is passionate and interested in human health, and they like thinking in a scientific way, and they are up for a challenge. It’s also important to know it involves shift work. It’s physical. You could be on your feet all day, and it involves a lot of sample handling.
This looks like it’s so many samples but this is actually only for seven samples, and we’re on sample 27 and normally we do more than a hundred so it’s going to be lots of plates.
To get in this job you need a science-related Bachelor and after that you have to sit for an exam, which is a medical laboratory exam by the Medical Council. From there you need to work full time for one year to become a registered medical laboratory technician. From being a lab technician you can also get into research, or going into different labs to expand your experience.
We even have people here who are team leaders and managers but they used to be lab technicians. Keep in mind in some labs you can work full time and study part time to become a scientist. I’m passionate about helping people and that’s what I'm doing here. For me that’s the part that I enjoy the most – that I'm helping people.
Two ways to become a medical laboratory technician
To become a medical laboratory technician you need to:
- work as a trainee medical laboratory technician in an approved laboratory for two years
- gain the Qualified Medical Laboratory Technician (QMLT) Certificate.
Alternatively, you can:
- gain a Bachelor of Science with a relevant major in biological science
- work as a trainee medical laboratory technician in an approved laboratory for one year.
You also need to hold a full driver's licence and be registered with the Medical Sciences Council of New Zealand.
- Medical Sciences Council of New Zealand website - information on qualifications for medical laboratory technicians
There are no specific secondary education requirements to become a medical laboratory technician. However, biology, chemistry, health education, physics and maths are useful.
Medical laboratory technicians need to be:
- accurate, with an eye for detail
- able to work alone or in a team
- good at record-keeping
- sensitive when dealing with patients.
Medical laboratory technicians should not be squeamish, as their work involves body samples.
Useful experience for medical laboratory technicians includes:
- laboratory work
- work in the health sector
- work with computers and information systems.
Medical laboratory technicians need to be registered with the Medical Sciences Council of New Zealand.
- Medical Sciences Council of New Zealand website - information on registration as a medical laboratory technician
Find out more about training
- Medical Sciences Council of New Zealand
- (04) 801 6250 - firstname.lastname@example.org - www.mscouncil.org.nz
- New Zealand Institute of Medical Laboratory Science (NZIMLS)
- (03) 313 4761 - email@example.com - www.nzimls.org.nz
What are the chances of getting a job?
Opportunities best for experienced medical laboratory technicians
Chances of getting a job as a trainee medical laboratory technician are average due to high competition for entry-level roles.
However, chances are good for experienced medical laboratory technicians due to:
- less competition for those roles
- more job vacancies
- staff turnover created by experienced medical laboratory technicians moving into other roles or retiring.
According to the Census, 1,491 medical laboratory technicians worked in New Zealand in 2018.
Types of employers varied
Medical laboratory technicians work for:
- private laboratories
- the New Zealand Blood Service.
- APEX and Northland Pathology, 'Collective Employment Agreement', August 2021, (www.apex.org.nz).
- Broadbent, J, continuing professional development and membership co-ordinator, New Zealand Institute of Medical Laboratory Science, careers.govt.nz interview, February 2021.
- Medical Sciences Council of New Zealand, 'Medical Laboratory Technician', accessed January 2021, (www.mscouncil.org.nz).
- New Zealand Blood Service website, accessed January 2021, (www.nzblood.co.nz).
- Stats NZ, '2018 Census Data', 2019.
(This information is a guide only. Find out more about the sources of our job opportunities information)
Progression and specialisations
Experienced medical laboratory technicians may progress into managerial positions.
With further training, they may become medical laboratory scientists.
Medical laboratory technicians may specialise in a number of roles, including:
- Donor Technician
- Donor technicians collect blood and plasma from blood donors.
- Phlebotomy Technician
- Phlebotomy technicians collect blood and samples from patients for laboratory testing or for blood banks.
- Specimen Services Technician
- Specimen services technicians take blood, urine and tissue from patients to test in a laboratory. They also perform tests and procedures on patients.
Last updated 12 July 2021