Thompson Rivers University
Thompson Rivers University

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What is a Medical Laboratory Assistant?

    A Medical Laboratory Assistant (MLA) works both in hospitals and private laboratory settings. They are responsible for:

    • Interaction with patients
    • Specimen collection, primarily blood although urine, stool and other body fluids will be distributed by the MLA
    • Fundamental computer skills, especially data entry
    • Fundamental knowledge of medicine and medical terminology
    • Effective communication with patients and health care team
    • Confidentiality and professionalism
    • Safe work practice
    • Specimen processing
    • Performance of pre-analytical procedures including reagent and media preparation
    • Performance of basic electrocardiograms (at some sites)
    • Quality assurance
  • Is this a recognized program and profession?

    This national program is accredited by the Canadian Medical Association (CMA). Graduates of the TRU-OL Medical Laboratory Assistant National Certificate program are eligible to write the Canadian Society for Medical Laboratory Science national exam for Medical Laboratory Assistants.

  • Which MLA program should I take: the MLA or MLA National Certificate Program?

    Students in the Atlantic Provinces (NB, NL, NS and PEI) must be admitted to a Medical Laboratory Assistant (MLA) program accredited (or undergoing accreditation) by the Canadian Medical Association (CMA) in order to write the CSMLS national certification exam, which is required for employment in these provinces;

    Students in provinces and territories other than BC, NB, NL, NS and PEI should contact the Program Administrator, Science to determine which program stream is right for them.

  • What are the employment prospects?

    The employment rate of TRU graduates from the MLA program is 95% or more. The main reason the rate is so high is because the program is employment driven; most laboratory sites will only sign up students for practicum placements when they foresee future hiring needs

    Applicants should fully investigate the job opportunities in their area before starting the program.

  • Where can I arrange a practicum placement?

    In most locations, it is the sole responsibility of the student to locate and arrange their own clinical placement for the laboratory training aspect of this program. For more information about clinical placements, it is recommended to contact the OL Program Administrator, Science before contacting the lab in your area.

    For placements in Nova Scotia: If you are approved for a placement by the provincial placement coordinator it will be for anywhere in NS, then closer to your practicum date a site will be assigned. Every attempt will be made to honour your choices when the time comes to book the placement, but this is not guaranteed.

    Students should ensure that they can meet the typing requirement before contacting any laboratory.

  • Do I need to already be working in the healthcare field?

    Previous health care experience is not required, although it is an advantage.

  • Why is typing required for an MLA?

    Achieving a moderate typing speed of 40 wpm is important for employment as an MLA since computers are used on a regular basis.

    As technology becomes more commonplace in the workforce, more people need to know how to type accurately and quickly. Some professions require faster typing speeds than others: a secretary or receptionist must type 55 – 80wpm. 40wpm is a moderate speed and will ensure that the MLA candidate will be able to accomplish the required computer work effectively.

    To be efficient on the job, the MLA must:

    • Be able to type without looking at the keyboard.
    • Not be thinking about which key is where on the keyboard.
    • Be free to watch what is happening on the screen as you type/mouse around. Patient software screens can be complicated and need your full attention.

    Anyone with a speed less than 40 is often a hunt-and-peck typer, or two-finger typist. Anything less than 40wpm is categorized as a slow speed.

    If your typing skills need improving, try the following:

    1. There are lots of free typing tests available online. Find one that has free 5-minute tests.
    2. Find a typing game online. They are fun and are good practice.
    3. Consider taking a computer skills course in-person or online if you type 30wpm or less.


    1. Use a regular keyboard, not a laptop, since official tests are on a keyboard.
    2. Watch your posture. Sit straight and keep your elbows bent at a right angle.
    3. Limit your hand and finger movement only to what is necessary to press a specific key. Keep your hands and fingers close to the base position (home row). This reduces stress on the hands and improves typing speed. Keep your hands as relaxed as possible.
  • How do I take the typing test when I live in another province?

    Under Admission Requirements on the MLA webpage, you will find a link to Testing Off Campus. This webpage will explain how to coordinate the typing test with the TRU Assessment Centre and a typing assessment centre near you. The test is usually taken at a college, public or private, but can also be taken at a high school or public library. Once complete, the results are sent directly to Open Learning Admissions.

  • How do I learn to take blood through a distance course?

    During the course of their studies, students are taught the anatomy, proper terminology and techniques through textbooks, interactive CDs and online demonstrations.

    The workshop course in Kamloops is not required for the National Certificate Program, although all students are welcome to attend. Some students attend a phlebotomy training workshop held in their own province. Other students received initial blood draw training from the lab supervisor at the start of their practicum placement.

  • Does the program qualify for financial assistance?

    This program does not qualify for Canada student loan assistance.

  • Can I get credit for some of the courses if I have related experience or courses?

    Transfer credit:

    • credits must have been completed in the last five years with C+ or greater
    • courses must have been credit courses
    • courses must clearly be of similar content and title
    • courses must have been taken at an institution that is recognized by TRU
    • students must have official transcripts sent to TRU to assess (Note: Student transcripts must be sent to TRU directly by the training institutions registrar without passing through the student's hands)

    Should you wish to pursue this route, please have the originating institution send your transcripts to Admission Services.

    Prior Learning Assessment and Recognition (PLAR) is intended to assess recent informal learning and not-for-credit courses taken through Continuing Education.

  • What is the difference between a Medical Laboratory Technologist (MLT) and a Medical Laboratory Assistant (MLA)?

    MLA duties cover the pre-analytical tasks in the lab, including collection of blood specimens; delivery of other specimens to the appropriate technical section of the laboratory; and clerical duties, including multi-media communication and computer data entry.

    Technologists perform the analysis of the specimens. The MLT program is an on-site program lasting just over two years and is offered at select institutions in Canada.

  • Other Questions?

    Refer to the Open Learning Student Handbook at this link:

    TRU-OL Student Handbook

    or call Enrolment Services at 1-800-663-9711