Medical Laboratory Assistant Program Options

By Publisher Last Updated March 10, 2022

Medical Laboratory AssistantReliable, skilled health care professionals are needed on an ongoing basis to support the wellness of Canadians. Completing a medical laboratory assistant (MLA) program at a vocational school can be one of the quicker ways to join the essential and highly valued healthcare industry.

Medical lab assistant and medical lab technician are different job titles representing the same role working in a clinical setting to help patients and support lab technologists. Both types of programs will cover what you need to know about phlebotomy, urinalysis, and other clinical chemistry. Generally, a medical lab assistant course will be equivalent in content and outcomes to a lab technician course.

Read on to learn more about what medical laboratory assistants do, how much they make, what's required to get started in the field, and more.

Medical Laboratory Assistant Program & Career Information

Now more than ever, doctors rely on accurate and timely laboratory test results to make necessary decisions about the treatment of their patients and any actions needed to prevent the spread of communicable illnesses. Canada's modern healthcare system wouldn't function without the many tests performed every day in clinical laboratories across the country.

Making Sense of the Job Titles

In Canada, a medical laboratory assistant (MLA) may also be known by the following titles:

  • Medical laboratory technician
  • Medical laboratory aide
  • Medical laboratory assistant/technician (MLA/T)
  • Medical laboratory technical assistant

Medical laboratory assistants who draw blood samples from patients are also called phlebotomists or phlebotomy aides.

With plenty of variations in the possible job titles for MLAs, it's important not to confuse medical laboratory technologist as an equivalent role. Medical lab technologists perform more advanced work, spend years longer in school, and supervise lab assistants and technicians in their supportive roles.

Training and Education

The most common way to prepare for this career is to complete a short post-secondary laboratory assistant program. Most programs last six to 14 months. One of the great benefits of attending vocational school is that many programs can set you up to receive practical experience in a real medical laboratory setting before you graduate.

Vocational and trade schools also focus entirely on training students to enter the workforce, so the programs are set up to maximize what you can learn in a shorter amount of time. You may also be able to find online training options and take advantage of flexible scheduling and school calendars.

Certification

Technically, certification for medical laboratory assistants is voluntary in Canada. For the most part, this occupation is not regulated. But although the government may not require it, certification is good to obtain anyway.

The Benefits of Medical Laboratory Assistant (MLA) Certification

The main benefit of MLA certification is that most employers require it. They see it as a sign of your competence. Beyond employer requirements, getting certified gives you a recognized professional credential that you and your colleagues can feel proud of.

Certifying Organizations

At the national level, certification comes from the Canadian Society for Medical Laboratory Science (CSMLS). The most common way to qualify for the CSMLS certification exam is to complete a formal lab assistant training program. Some provincial organizations, such as the Medical Laboratory Professionals' Association of Ontario (MLPAO), also award certification.

Medical Lab Assistant Job Description

What is a medical laboratory assistant, exactly?

Medical patients need their doctors to make informed decisions. When it comes to your health, you want any problems to be correctly diagnosed and treated. But it takes medical professionals other than doctors—many working in laboratories—to help make that happen. A medical lab assistant (or technician) assists in collecting, preparing, and testing blood, fluid, and tissue samples. This takes care of much of the laboratory work necessary for getting doctors and their patients the results they need.

The typical job description for a medical lab technician or assistant comprises many different responsibilities related to collecting and testing samples and lab maintenance duties. However, tasks can vary a little from lab to lab and employer to employer.

Job Duties

Depending on the position, job responsibilities and duties can include:

Sample Collection

  • Collecting blood and other bodily fluid samples from patients
  • Performing phlebotomy (i.e., drawing a patient's blood) if necessary
  • Accepting delivery of biopsied tissue samples

Sample Preparation

  • Checking samples to make sure they've been collected in the proper containers
  • Matching patient information with collected samples and test-request forms
  • Rejecting non-matching samples and forms
  • Labelling samples and forms with unique identifying numbers
  • Inputting requested tests, patient info, and identifying numbers into a computer system
  • Assisting with slide preparation for microscopic evaluations

Basic Laboratory Testing

  • Placing samples into a pre-analytical system
  • Requesting new samples if problems are detected (such as the destruction of red blood cells)
  • Reporting sample problems to a supervising medical laboratory technologist if new samples can't be obtained
  • Performing non-microscopic tests on urine samples
  • Setting up more complex tests to be carried out by a medical laboratory technologist

Lab Maintenance

  • Keeping a clean, organized, and tidy workspace to prevent contamination of samples
  • Performing routine lab equipment maintenance
  • Monitoring the temperature of various lab equipment to ensure that samples stay preserved and tests get carried out in appropriate conditions

Many employers also like medical laboratory assistants to be capable of performing tests on patients such as ECGs (electrocardiograms) and PFT (pulmonary function testing).

Medical Lab Assistant Salary

The typical MLA salary in Canada is pretty good. In fact, given the growth of this field and the high demand for laboratory services, the salary you begin your career with may grow significantly as you gain more experience.

National Wage Estimates

According to Government of Canada data from 2019-2021, national wages break down this way:

  • The lowest-earning ten percent (often entry-level positions) made $18.55 per hour or $38,584 annually (for full-time).
  • The median hourly wage was $27.47 or $57,137 annually.
  • The highest-earning ten percent made $40.00 or $83,200 annually.

It's possible to encounter even higher wages depending on your level of experience, any extra qualifications you have, the employer you work for, and your region.

Provincial Wage Estimates

Data isn't available for every province, but according to Government of Canada estimates from 2019-2021, some of the province-by-province median hourly wages look like this:

  • Alberta: $28.34 per hour / $58,947 per year
  • British Columbia: $25.00 per hour / $52,000 per year
  • Manitoba: $24.30 per hour / $50,544 per year
  • New Brunswick: $21.46 per hour / $44,637 per year
  • Newfoundland and Labrador: $29.00 per hour / $60,320 per year
  • Northwest Territories: Details not available
  • Nova Scotia: $23.90 per hour / $49,712 per year
  • Nunavut: Details not available
  • Ontario: $29.00 per hour / $60,320 per year
  • Prince Edward Island: $25.00 per hour / $52,000 per year
  • Quebec: $29.00 per hour / $60,320 per year
  • Saskatchewan: $23.41 per hour / $48,693 per year
  • Yukon Territory: Details not available

Employer Benefits

Many jobs include good benefits like supplemental health insurance, extra paid days off, and life and disability insurance. Plus, some positions are unionized, which can mean additional benefits and job protections.

Medical Lab Assistant Job Outlook

In Canada, the prospects for jobs in this field are bright. According to the Government of Canada, professionals in the category that includes medical laboratory assistants and technicians are projected to be good (3/3 stars) for the 2021-2023 time period.

The demand for medical laboratory assistants is expected to be caused, in part, by advances in medical equipment and technologies that will allow doctors to order a broader range of tests for their patients.

The Best Things About Being a Medical Laboratory Assistant

Medical Laboratory AssistantMLAs enjoy one of the best jobs in the field of healthcare. Here are a few of the benefits of this career choice:

  • Pride from doing something important—Knowing that you're helping patients and their doctors get the information they need can be gratifying.
  • Good pay—The typical medical lab tech salary allows for a nice living, and many employers also provide good benefits.
  • Clear expectations—The nature of the work means that medical lab assistants almost always know exactly what's expected of them.
  • A productive work environment—Medical labs tend to be very orderly and free of distractions.
  • Relatively low stress—Medical lab assistants generally have one of the least stressful roles in the healthcare field, meaning they can mentally leave their work behind them at the end of each day.
  • Lots of employment opportunities—With the increasingly high demand for their services, qualified lab assistants can take advantage of numerous job openings across the country.

Workplaces

Professionals in this field can find employment in many different settings, including:

  • Hospitals
  • Medical clinics
  • Medical research institutes
  • Universities
  • Government research laboratories
  • Blood transfusion labs

Career Advancement

A medical lab assistant can become a medical laboratory technologist with additional education and training. With the right qualifications, you could then also expand into new roles in:

  • Laboratory management
  • Medical lab education
  • Medical research and development

The Difference Between a Medical Laboratory Assistant (MLA) and a Medical Laboratory Technologist (MLT)

Medical Laboratory AssistantMedical laboratory technologists have more extensive training in medical laboratory science and work in senior roles alongside the lab assistants who support them. Here are some more key differences between the two job roles:

  • Education:
    • Becoming an MLT requires more post-secondary education than becoming an MLA/T. MLTs need to complete one of the following:
      • A bachelor of science or medical laboratory science degree program (which usually takes about four years).
      • A two- or three-year medical laboratory technology program plus a period of supervised training in a real-world setting.
    • In contrast, medical lab assistants and technicians can get started by completing a lab assistant training program in as little as six to 14 months.
  • Certification:
    • MLTs are regulated and required to register in eight Canadian provinces.
      • As part of the requirements, they generally must obtain certification through the Canadian Society for Medical Laboratory Science (CSMLS). Nearly all employers also require certification.
    • MLAs are not always regulated. For them, certification is technically voluntary, even though most employers do require it.
  • Job Responsibilities:
    • MLTs are allowed to perform more complex lab tests, experiments, and analyses on a wider range of blood, bodily fluid, and tissue samples. They also have more responsibility because they often supervise medical lab assistants.