Medical Laboratory Technologist and Scientist

Medical laboratory technologists and scientists conduct medical laboratory tests to provide information for diagnosing, treating and preventing disease. They work as part of a team with doctors, pathologists, scientists, technicians and laboratory assistants. They may be required to supervise the work of other technical officers and assistants and advise medical practitioners on the interpretation of tests.

Medical laboratory technologists assist doctors and pathologists in the diagnosis of diseases by performing all kinds of clinical laboratory tests. The three main lines of work are: diagnostic work; research work; and the preparation of serum and vaccines. The medical laboratory technologist does not work directly with patients. He or she forms part of a laboratory team, assisting a “professional officer” who has a degree. Some technologists identify disease-causing organisms, parasites, fungi, viruses and cancer cells, some do research and develop new laboratory techniques, while others teach at tertiary institutions. Medical laboratory technologists train and supervise laboratory aides and other technologists.

Medical laboratory technologists and scientists study blood and its diseases, count blood cells and examine blood slides with a microscope. They identify blood diseases such as anaemia and leukaemia and determine the suitability of blood for transfusion by cross-matching the blood with the patient and checking for the presence of diseases such as hepatitis and AIDS. They test blood for blood group antibodies that may cause disease in newborn babies and check the compatibility of bone marrow, kidney and other organs for transplantation.

Medical laboratory technologists also determine the chemical composition of specimens such as blood and urine, which is important in the diagnosis and treatment of kidney disease, liver disease and diabetes. They grow disease-causing organisms such as bacteria, viruses and fungi that are taken from a variety of clinical specimens. They prepare body tissues (taken from the body during surgery or post-mortem examinations) for microscopic examination by pathologists. They prepare body fluids for microscopic examination and diagnose abnormalities.

They isolate and examine genetic material (DNA and RNA) for alterations specific to genetic diseases and cancer, which assist in the diagnosis and treatment of these conditions.

Some areas of specialisation include:

  • Blood Banking and Transfusion Science
  • Chemical Pathology
  • Clinical Biochemistry
  • Cytogenetics
  • Cytology (Cancer Diagnosis)
  • Forensic Pathology
  • Haematology (study of blood cells)
  • Histopathology
  • Immunology
  • Microbiology
  • Parasitology
  • Pharmacology
  • Virology
There is a great demand for qualified medical laboratory technologists as a result of the phenomenal development of medical science and this is likely to continue because of constant research and advancements in this field. Medical laboratory technologists often take further education courses, attend seminars or read professional journals to keep up with these changes. Since some research is financed by private and government sources, opportunities in the research field may be influenced by the economic conditions in the country.

Medical laboratory technologists work indoors in laboratories that are usually well-equipped, spacious and well ventilated. Considerable attention is given to sterilisation of surroundings and apparatus.

Personal Requirements

  • good judgement and decision-making ability
  • responsible, conscientious and extremely accurate workers
  • interest in and aptitude for medical science
  • concern for human welfare
  • good health
  • manual dexterity
  • normal colour vision
  • able to make clear and precise observations
  • able to work accurately with attention to detail
  • good verbal and written communication skills
  • able to identify and analyse problems and develop practical solutions
  • able to perform under pressure
  • able to organise and prioritise work

How to Enter

Schooling & School Subjects

Compulsory Subjects: Mathematics, Physical Science 
Recommended subjects: Life Sciences

  • Pass matric with a Bachelor's pass
  • Meet the admission requirements (APS) set by the university
  • All applications for admission to MBChB and Medical degrees are subject to selection.
  • Due to the limited number of spaces available, only a small percentage of applicants are admitted.

What to Study

Diploma: N.Dip: Medical Technology or Biomedical Technology - CPUT, DUT, TUT, VUT.

Postgraduate - MTech and DTech - TUT

The duration of the course is three years. After obtaining the diploma, the student is then required to apply to a laboratory, which is registered as a training laboratory with the HPCSA (Health Professions Council). This enables the student to complete a fourth year of practical training in medical technology. Once the above is completed the student must pass a final examination to enable him to register and practise as a medical technologist.

A graduate with a BSc degree (which includes the relevant subjects) who wishes to qualify as a medical laboratory technologist should contact the HPCSA


  • hospitals
  • research organisations
  • government health departments
  • private clinics
  • private pathologists
  • universities (medical and veterinary)
  • industrial firms
  • blood transfusion services
After a two-year period of practising as a medical technologist you can apply to the HPCSA (Health Professions Council) to practise privately. You can either work for yourself or enter into a group practice with a medical doctor.

Further Information

Administrative Officer
Society of Medical Laboratory Technologists of South Africa
Unit A28
Pinelands Business Park
New Mill Road
Pinelands 7405
Cape Town
Tel: (021) 531-1231

Health Professions Council of South Africa (HPCSA) 
(553) of Hamilton and
Madiba Streets,
Arcadia, Pretoria
Tel: (012) 338-9300

Getting Started

  • try to obtain vacation or part time work in a hospital, clinic or doctor’s office
  • volunteer to work in a hospital or clinic
  • try to get laboratory experience by taking science courses, which offer laboratory facilities

Programmes by Study Institutions

Related Occupations

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