Frequently Asked Questions
What is a medical laboratory assistant (MLA)?
A medical laboratory assistant (MLA) works both in hospitals and laboratory settings and is 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?
Yes. This program is approved by the BC Society of Laboratory Science and is recognized in Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Ontario.
Which MLA program should I take: the MLA Certificate or the MLA National Certificate program?
If you live in the Atlantic provinces (NL, NS and PEI) or in NT, you must be admitted to an MLA program accredited by Accreditation Canada to write the CSMLS national certification exam, which is required for employment in those provinces/territory.
Currently, TRU has no accredited training sites in NB or in NT.
The MLA National Certificate program is accredited by Accreditation Canada.
What is the workload like for the MLA program?
Distance education gives you the flexibility to study at your own pace and set your own schedule — but it also requires motivation, commitment and perseverance.
Distance learning is much more difficult than learning in a classroom setting, so be prepared to set aside a lot of quiet time in a space where you can focus for hours at a time on your studies. This means no TV or social media for the time you are in the program.
An instructor is available for each of your courses to provide answers to questions, but overall you are on your own to read, read, read before completing the at-home quizzes and prepare for the final invigilated exam.
To complete the entire program within one year, you will have to make time in your schedule for 15-20 hours of study a week, per course. You will need to increase this time if you want to complete the course in less time you are funded and your funder requires you to complete in a specific time frame it’s a particularly difficult course, such as the first course in the MLA program.
Have a look at this blog outlining the top 33 tips for distance learning.
What are the employment prospects?
The employment rate of TRU graduates from the MLA program is 87% or more. The main reason the rate is quite high is because the program is employment driven. Most laboratory sites accept students for practicum placements only when the sites foresee future hiring needs.
As an applicant, fully investigate the job opportunities in your area before starting the program.
Also note that almost all entry-level MLA positions are casual/on-call, which means you must be available for work seven days a week and for different shifts.
Where can I arrange a practicum placement?
A confirmed practicum placement is required for program admission.
Obtain a placement from your permanent home area, since practicum sites hope to hire those whom they train.
Practicum placements are not available in all areas of each province. Labs in large urban areas such as Vancouver, Victoria, Calgary and Edmonton tend to only take students from the local face-to-face MLA college program, and in other areas there may be a wait list to obtain a placement, since this is a very popular program.
For clinical practicum information in your area, contact the Program Administrator, Science before contacting a local laboratory about a placement.
Ensure you can meet the typing requirement before contacting any lab.
Do I need to already be working in the health care field?
Previous health care experience is not required, although it is an advantage.
Top Qualities of an MLA: What skills are required to be an MLA?
A great health care professional excels at soft skills as well as technical skills.
- Empathy – In the healthcare field, the MLA must to be able to empathize with the pain and suffering faced by patients, to feel compassion and provide comfort.
- Communication Skills – Being able to communicate well and appropriately with patients and colleagues is vital. Communication skills include speaking, listening, entering data 100% accurately, following direction closely and demonstrating appropriate body language.
- Interpersonal Skills – The MLA is part of a team; you need to be able to ‘play nicely’ with others and genuinely encourage and support your colleagues.
- Dealing With Pressure – Pressure is a daily part of many healthcare careers; you have to be able to handle it, and think quickly and address problems as they arise. MLAs must work quickly and efficiently in a very fast paced, high pressure environment. MLAs may collect blood from forty or more patients in a day. MLAs may also encounter traumatic situations, suffering, and death.
- Attention to Detail - For healthcare professionals working with patients, meticulous attention to detail is an absolute necessity. Any errors or omissions could cause harm to a patient.
- Positive Mental Attitude – There will be difficult days ahead; you have to be able to see the bigger picture otherwise this field could bring you down. Friendly, cheerful, caring smiles and positive language must be available at all times regardless of you may be feeling inside.
- Flexibility – Can you cover an extra shift? Can you stay late? MLAs often work shift work, including weekends and evenings.
- Time Management – Important in any career, but lives could literally depend on your timeliness and the ability to prioritize tasks. Reliable and punctual.
- Self-Confidence – Nobody wants to think they are being cared for by a novice, so you need to project self-confidence in your abilities no matter how experienced you actually are.
- Dealing With Criticism – You don't know everything, and in lab things are always changing. You need to have the ability to accept and learn from criticism, especially as a student.
- Physical Abilities – MLAs are able to tolerate standing all day. Back problems are common in this field due to the need to lean forward when collecting blood or doing other procedures. Very steady hands and excellent fine motor skills are required.
- Computer Skills - Computer functionality is a MUST. Meeting the minimum typing requirement is not sufficient to excel at using the patient information system. If you are not familiar with using different software, consider taking a Basics of Computers course at your local high school or library, while you are studying for this program.
- Professionalism – MLAs must be composed and calm at all times and respect people and rules. They are mindful of confidentiality requirements and are comfortable working with a diverse group of patients including geriatrics, pediatrics, and people with disabilities or illness, and those from different cultures and traditions. And they respect the wishes of the patient.
Remember the healthcare profession, though challenging, is a rewarding and fulfilling career. It is very important for you to be able to showcase these soft-skills as a student and when searching for a practicum placement – this may be what sets you apart from others.
Describe the work environment of an MLA?
The healthcare setting of the MLA is fast-paced, intellectually demanding and can be stressful.
Computer functionality is a MUST. Meeting the minimum typing requirement is not sufficient to excel at using the patient information system.
Physically, MLAs are on their feet all day long so must have good stamina. It can be hard on the back, neck and arms since your arms are often both extended to draw blood while bending over slightly.
Clinic vs Hospital
In some locations, students must choose between doing their practicum in a private clinic or in a hospital setting. Clinics and hospitals each have their own advantages and disadvantages; what one person sees as a positive attribute may be considered a negative one by someone else.
Pros of Working at a Clinic:
- The hours are viewed as better to most, with little to no holiday or weekend work required.
- The nature of the work is more routine than in a hospital, so you more or less know what to expect on a daily basis.
Cons of Working at a Clinic:
- Benefits are typically less than that of hospitals.
- The more predictable routine can become boring for some.
- The scope of practice is more limited than at a hospital: no emergency ward, psyc ward, or very ill patients
Pros of Working at a Hospital:
- Typically offer higher benefits.
- Always something new to learn.
- Work alone much of the time travelling around to different floors and wards.
Cons of Working at a Hospital:
- Require longer work hours with an inconsistent schedule that often involves rotating between days, evenings, and overnights.
- Involves working on weekends and holidays.
- You will be regularly exposed to uncomfortable and/or depressing situations, such as death and trauma. If you are overly compassionate and are easily affected by bleak situations, you may find this difficult.
Why is typing required for an MLA?
Achieving a moderate typing speed of 40 wpm (words per minute) 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 – 80 wpm. 40 wpm ensures that you will be able to accomplish the required computer work effectively.
To be efficient on the job as an MLA, you 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 wpm is often a hunt-and-peck typer, or two-finger typist. Anything less than 40 wpm is categorized as a slow speed.
If your typing skills need improving, try the following:
- There are lots of free typing tests available online. Find one that has free 5-minute tests.
- Find a typing game online. They are fun and are good practice.
- Consider taking a computer skills course in-person or online if you type 30 wpm or less.
- Use a regular keyboard, not a laptop, since official tests are on a keyboard.
- Watch your posture. Sit straight and keep your elbows bent at a right angle.
- 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 web page, there is a link to Testing Off Campus. It explains 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 OL Admissions.
How do I learn to take blood through a distance course?
During the program, you are taught anatomy, proper terminology and techniques through textbooks, interactive CDs and online demonstrations.
Students in BC and many students in Alberta attend the five-day workshop in Kamloops to learn how to take blood. All students must participate as volunteers for each other to learn this skill.
The workshop is held in a laboratory environment and includes the use of an outpatient collecting room, ECG and laboratory equipment, and a tour of the laboratory.
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?
- credits must have been completed in the last five years with a grade of 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 (transcripts must be sent to TRU directly by the issuing institution without passing through the student's hands)
Should you wish to pursue this route, please have the originating institution send your transcripts to OL Admissions.
Prior Learning Assessment and Recognition (PLAR) is intended to assess recent informal learning and not-for-credit courses taken through Continuing Education.
How do I write the CSMLS exam if I did not take the MLA National Certificate program?
Students graduating from the MLA program, not the National program, must apply to the CSMLS Prior Learning Assessment (PLA) department (see www.csmls.org) to write the CSMLS national exam for MLAs.
This PLA process will evaluate your academic credentials, clinical training, and work experience to determine if they are equivalent to the MLA competency profile.
The fee is $160 (2018).
What is the difference between a medical laboratory technologist (MLT) and a medical laboratory assistant (MLA)?
MLAs 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.
MLTs 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.
Contact the Program Administrator, Science, or call Student Services at 1-800-663-9711