Essential Laboratory Skills: A Guide for Beginners

Laboratory technicians are behind the scene heroes of a laboratory. The demand for lab technicians is increasing day by day in the UK. Educational qualifications are mandatory in every profession. Yet, skills related to this job are more important than educational qualifications.

What You Need To Know About A Laboratory Technician

Before we start about the skills of your interest, let us focus on some related topics. 

1. Working scope of a lab technician

A total of 80,000 lab technicians are working now in the UK under national and local government. As a lab technician in the UK, you will find jobs at:

  • Educational institutions
  • Research and Development projects
  • Diagnostic Centre 
  • Medical and Clinical laboratories
  • Manufacturing and services
  • Universities, colleges and schools

2. What will be your salary & working hours?

Glassdoor provides the Statistics of salary and working hour of a lab technician. An entry-level technician can expect £15K to £22K per year. Accordingly, you will be working for 35 to 40  hours per week. The salary varies in different organizations. You can expect an average salary of £25K per annum. This range will increase up to £50K-£60K per annum depending on your skills and experience.

3. What qualifications do you need?

NHS (National Health Service) offers job openings for NHS medical laboratory assistant. It doesn’t need any educational or institutional qualifications. At the same time, there are possibilities for on-job training. But not every employer appreciate that. You need to gain some skill to impress employers.

Under recent circumstances, the challenges are increasing day by day. And, you are not the only candidate for the job. To stand out from other applicants a Diploma in this sector will help you a lot. You can even earn a Diploma by taking an online course on Laboratory Technician.

4. What will be your job responsibilities?

Opportunities refer to the facts and fields in which you can focus. You will shine in your respective sector if you emphasis on the opportunities. As a lab technician, you have many open doors to walk into. For example; in a medical centre both the doctors and patients depend on a lab technician to diagnose the disease. Or in a research lab, the researcher does the calculations for his research. But he/she will depend on a lab technician as the analysis of the results depends on the test results. Your primary concern is to conduct the test with care and deliver the results on time.

Essential Laboratory Skills To Become A Lab Technician

Let’s get started with the burning question of the blog, Essential Laboratory Skills for a Lab Technician in the UK. You will find a list of skills that defines the qualities of a good lab technician.

essential laboratory skills infographic

1. Laboratory operating skills

Do you know what is the obvious skill that a lab assistant must own? The answer is the ability to operate the equipment of the laboratory with efficiency.

Sustainability of the equipment depends on the technician’s maintenance. The institution or the company will bear the cost. But the duties of maintenance lie on the shoulder of the lab assistant. As a lab assistant, your duty includes:

  • Handling machines like Microscopes, Incubators, Freezers, Heaters, and Heating Mantles etc.
  • Collect, analyse, summarise and submit test results.
  • Sterilisation and Disinfection of the pieces of equipment.
  • Decontaminate Reusable Medical Devices.
  • Adjust and maintain fragile laboratory equipment with proper safety measures.
  • Calibrate and test the equipment periodically to check their efficiency.

2. Time management and multitasking

As a laboratory technician, you must own the ability to manage your time effectively. Multitasking ability is a key element to save time. It is helpful to complete your given task efficiently. Organise your to-do list, keep track of the task at hand and put the important one at top of the list.

Let’s say you are working on a test and you have to wait a couple of hours for the result. Doing nothing and waiting for the result will gain you nothing but a waste of time. It’s better to start another task which will need less time than the previous task. If those tasks aren’t linked together, it will always be a wise decision.

3. The skill of being patient

Patience is an essential quality of a technician in the laboratory. It is hard to do nothing but wait for hours for a test result. Here are some pro-tips that you can do by that time:

  • Conduct daily safety check-up of laboratory equipment.
  • Clean the types of equipment that are used on a regular basis.
  • Check the stock of pieces of equipment. Make ensure that the laboratory has all the necessary tools at hand when required.
  • Organize your tools and equipment. Also, make a list of availability so that anyone can find them while you are not around the corner.
  • Last but not the least, always keep an eye on the test that is going on.

4. Ability to control and prevent contamination in the laboratory

You have to be very much careful while collecting the specimen. You might have to collect a specimen from a patient or the subject under study. A lab assistant has to come in contact with the specimen as they prepare samples for various tests. To control the contamination, various safety equipment is necessary for laboratories. Depending on the type of the lab you have to follow different safety measures.

Personal protective equipment that you will be using in a lab:

PPE - Essential Lab Skills

Safety Glasses

Safety glasses and goggles are the basic safety equipment of all types of laboratory.  Lab technicians use to protect the eye either from contamination or from the contact. It saves eyes from chemicals, heat or hazardous substances.

Lab coats or apron

Another basic safety gear is an apron. It will save the skin and cloth from the split of chemicals like acid or base. A coat should cover the upper part of the body up to the knee.

Gloves

Gloves are mandatory gear in almost all types of laboratory. In Medical labs, people generally use one time gloves. Again in hazardous labs, it is wise to use full sleeve gloves (covers partial or full hand).

Mask

In a non-hazardous lab like medical labs, you can use one-time usable face masks. But in chemical labs N-95 respirator, Full or Half face air-purifying respirator (FF AFR or HF APR) are used. It depends on the need of the environment.

Day-to-day tasks in a lab

Moreover, it is also important to take care of the safety lab room. After all, personal safety will depend on it. To avoid accidents you should do the followings in a lab:

  • Use warning signs of hazardous materials where necessary.
  • Do not smell or taste anything known or unknown if it is not part of the test.
  • Always cover up the containers of chemicals.
  • Keep the safety equipment at an accessible place near the station.
  • While working, do not eat food, drink or chew gum in the laboratory.
  • Turn off all flammable source if you are the last person to leave the room.

5. Communication skill

As a lab assistant, you might need to work with people of different backgrounds depending on the lab type. In an educational lab, you will be working with research students and teachers. You might need to assist undergraduate students also. 

Then again in a medical lab, you will find colleagues as you have to work in the same lab. Whatever the type of lab is, it is wise to be friendly. Then again you should maintain professionalism while communicating with others in a lab.

You need to own great communication skills. It will make your working environment better.  You will always find interns and recruits in a research lab or a test lab. Keep the mentality of supervising junior staff and recruits.

6. Prior basic knowledge of subjects understudy

Another important quality is to own sound knowledge in related fields. This includes Biology, Chemistry, Mathematics, Microbiology, Physics etc. 

You may not be part of the research of the medical or educational field. The knowledge will help you to understand the purpose of a given test. A thorough understanding of your field will develop within yourself.

7. Ability to maintain laboratory etiquettes

To maintain the quality of the tests of the laboratory you must follow some etiquettes. 3 basic etiquettes for the laboratory are:

  • Limit the visitors:  You should not allow any unnecessary visitors in the laboratory. If it is necessary then train the person. The person should know the rules, regulations and knowledge of the laboratory.  
  • Routine inspection: Reliable laboratory equipment provide quality results. And a periodic routine inspection will increase the effectiveness of the machines.

Security: In many laboratories, tests are conducted on sensitive materials. Sound and secure data management will help to increase data integrity and security.

Closing Note

Your presence here denotes your dedication toward the profession. Put yourself in your employer’s customers shoe. Think about what behaviour you would expect from your employee. Eventually, you will figure out the skill that you should own. So, this is the end of this discussion. Do you have some more skills in mind? Share your thoughts and let us know more in the comment section.

November 17, 2020

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