MLO’s 2018 Annual Salary Survey of laboratory professionals

Feb. 22, 2018

The United States Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) states that employment in “Healthcare Occupations” is projected to grow 18 percent from 2016 to 2026, much faster than the average for all occupations. Healthcare occupations will add about 2.4 million new jobs to the workforce. In fact, healthcare is projected to add more jobs than any of the other occupational groups. This projected growth is mainly due to an aging population which leads to greater demand for healthcare services. According to BLS, the 2016 median pay was $50,930 per year, or $24.48 per hour, for medical and clinical laboratory technologists and technicians.

The median annual wage for healthcare practitioners and technical occupations was $63,420, which was higher than the median annual wage for all occupations in the economy of $37,040. Healthcare support occupations had a median annual wage of $27,910, lower than the median annual wage for all occupations in the economy.

Medical laboratory technologists and technicians both fall under the Bureau’s “Healthcare Practitioners” category. Most worked in hospitals in 2016, while others worked in medical and diagnostic laboratories or doctors’ offices. The median annual wage for technologists was $61,070, while the median annual wage for technicians was $38,950.

As we know, medical laboratory technologists typically need a bachelor’s degree. Technicians usually need an associate degree or a postsecondary certificate. Some states require technologists and technicians to be licensed.

Phlebotomists typically enter the occupation with a postsecondary non-degree award from a phlebotomy program. However, almost all employers look for phlebotomists who have earned professional certification. The median annual wage for phlebotomists was $32,710 per year, or $15.72 per hour.1

Salary by Region and Gender

All of which provides context for the 2018 MLO Annual Salary Survey. As in every March issue, we are pleased to report the results!

This year we had 21 percent more respondents than last year. However, we had less Lab Directors/Managers/Administrators/Supervisors respond, all of whom tend to be higher-paid employees. We had more responses from MLTs/MTs and phlebotomists, who tend to be lower-paid employees. Additionally, 76.8 percent reported they did not receive a bonus in 2018, compared to 71.5 percent last year; indicating 5.3 percent less received bonus monies. These factors likely lowered the overall average salary in 2018.

In terms of education, we captured six percent fewer post-graduate degree holders this year compared to last, and the survey showed a four percent increase in AA degrees. Both of these factors may have also contributed to the salary wage gap between the 2017 and the 2018 surveys.

In a nutshell

  • Only 33.8 percent of survey respondents are Lab Managers/Administrators/Supervisors, compared to 53.6 percent last year.
  • 7.9 percent of survey respondents are Lab Directors, whereas 16.8 percent identified as such last year.
  • MLS/MLTs made up 18.5 percent of respondents this year, compared to 6.8 percent in 2017.
  • More than 55 percent have worked in the industry for more than 30 years.
  • Almost 40 percent have worked with their current employer for 20 years or more.
  • Just over 60 percent have worked with their current employer for less than 20 years.
  • About three-quarters work in a hospital-affiliated lab.
  • About seven in ten respondents are female.

Salary basics

The average salary as reported by the MLO 2018 survey is $79,006; that is a significant decrease from the 2017 average salary of $84,654. However, interestingly, 68 percent of survey respondents reported an increase in salary during 2018.

The discrepancy seems to be a result of a distinction that can be drawn between survey respondents who work in a facility other than a hospital lab (26 percent) and those who work in a hospital lab (74 percent). Hospital lab workers reported an average salary of $81,757, while “other” workers reported an average salary of $71,127.

Another factor to consider is an influx of lab newbies in the workforce. In 2018, 2.6 percent of respondents had been employed for three to five years in the lab industry, whereas only 1.6 percent had been employed for that span in 2017. Also, in 2018, 14.1 percent of respondents have been employed for six to nine years; the corresponding number was 12.1 percent in the 2017 survey.

An additional factor contributing to the lower average salary may be that there were more respondents who were paid hourly in 2018 (45 percent) versus in 2017 (31 percent).

New government data released offered some good news about salary discrepancies among men and women: 2017 was the largest recorded narrowing of the gender wage gap in the U.S. in a decade. Women in 2016 made 80.5 percent of what men did on average—up from about 80 percent in 2015, and from less than 60 percent in the 1970s.2

Overall, reported 2018 salaries were lower by most measures as compared to 2017. The average salary for a female laboratorian was $75,629 ($83,199 last year). The average salary for a male was $89,084; believe it or not, the same number as last year.

As has been the case most years, there were significant differences in average salary among the regions of the U.S. (see Salary by Region and Gender map).

Nearly three out of four respondents (74.1 percent) work in hospital-affiliated labs, as opposed to a slightly larger percentage last year (78.2 percent). The largest number of respondents this year (26.7 percent) work in labs with one to 10 employees. Labs with 21 to 50 employees came in a close second at 21.1 percent. In last year’s survey, just under 23 percent worked in labs with one to 10 employees, and just under 25 percent worked in labs with 21 to 50 employees.

Salary and education

With regard to highest academic degree, 62.9 percent hold a bachelor’s degree, up slightly from last year’s 61.6 percent. The average salary for these laboratorians is $75,145, lower than last year’s $79,616. Just over 25 percent hold post-graduate degrees, down from 30.8 percent last year, and their salaries averaged $101,375, compared with $100,896 the year prior. 10.5 percent hold associate degrees, compared to 6.6 percent who held two-year degrees in last year’s survey. Associate degree holders’ 2018 salary averaged $52,162—substantially lower than last year’s figure of $62,206.

Salary by Education and Gender 2017 vs. 2018

Age distribution

The highest number of respondents in the 2018 survey are in the 56-to-65 age group; 43.9 percent. This is in the same range as the 2017 survey, when the corresponding number was 42.3 percent.

This year, 24.4 percent of respondents are in the 46-to-55 age group, compared to 28.3 percent last year.

There was a downturn in the number in the 36-to-45 age group, from 13.3 percent last year to 11.4 percent this year. The number in the 26-to-35 age group increased, from 5.8 percent a year ago to 7.7 percent this year.

Salary by geographic region

Geographically, the salary breakdown is as follows:

  • The Pacific Coastal region is the highest-paying, with an average salary of $112,327 ($117,911 for women and $106,620 for men).
  • In the Mountain region, the average salary is lower this year: $72,200 ($72,871 for women and $67,500 for men).
  • In the Central region, the average salary is lower this year: $70,695 (a decrease to $68,644 for women, and an increase to $82,210 for men).
  • In the Northeast, the average is lower this year: $82,504 (a significant decrease to $77,901 for women, $94,730 for men).
  • In the Southeast, the average is lower this year: $70,462 ($69,662 for women, $72,433 for men).

The historical trend in the survey has been that salaries seem to drop from west to east, with some recovery in the Northeast; this is probably at least in part a reflection of the cost of living in the different regions of the nation. Also repeating last year’s pattern, women’s salaries were higher than men’s in the Pacific and the Mountain regions, but men’s were higher in the other three regions.

Salary vs. Type of Facility

Increases and benefits

Nearly seven in ten respondents (68 percent) reported a salary increase in 2018, while 28.9 percent said their pay remained the same, and 3.1 percent saw their salaries decrease. These numbers are comparable to last year’s, except more than twice as many laboratorians saw a decrease than last year (when the number was 1.4 percent).

Seventeen percent of survey respondents say they expect no pay increase in 2018. Last year, the corresponding number was 14.2 percent. 42.8 percent expect a raise of two to four percent; 26 percent predict a raise of less than two percent; and 3.2 percent think they will receive a raise of five percent or higher.

In terms of benefits, 97.9 percent of survey respondents received health insurance through their employer. 92.9 percent have dental; just over 90 percent have a 401(k) or pension plan; 83.4 percent have life insurance; and 87 percent have vision insurance. Seven in nine respondents (78.5 percent) have disability insurance.

With regard to holidays, 66.7 percent have paid holiday time, and 44.5 percent received overtime pay. Only 23.3 percent of our survey respondents received bonuses last year, as opposed to 28.5 percent the year prior.

Instead of and/or in addition to offering monetary compensation, labs often provide their employees other incentives, such as travel to and from conferences, department awards, and other employee recognition programs.

Service and staffing

Overall, Bureau of Labor Statistics figures say that employment of medical laboratory technologists and technicians is projected to grow 13 percent from 2016 to 2026, faster than the average for all occupations. Employment of phlebotomists is projected to grow 25 percent during the same period—much faster than the average for all occupations. An increase in the aging population is expected to lead to a greater need to diagnose medical conditions through laboratory procedures.3

55.8 percent of survey respondents have been in the lab workforce for 30 years or more, and another 24.9 percent have had between 20 and 30 years of service. This totals more than 80 percent of our survey respondents! What we are seeing is a lot of workers in the later stage of their careers; concerns within the industry about an aging workforce and a future shortage of laboratorians seem to be justified.

The number of laboratorians who have been in the industry between 10 and 20 years is 11.7 percent; nine years or less came in at 7.6 percent, and only four percent of respondents indicated they have been in the industry for less than five years.

Just under 40 percent of survey respondents have worked for their current employer for 20 years or more—loyal, to say the least. On the other side of the spectrum, 14 percent have been with their current employer three years or less; that is up from 10.9 percent a year ago.

Survey participants who have been in the clinical lab 30 years or more make the most money on average: $82,728, vs. $90,529, last year. The newest employees—three years or less in the industry—averaged $58,944 in 2018 versus $67,929 in 2017. That’s considerably less—$8,985, to be exact. Those in the industry three-to-five-years are averaging $60,156; while the six-to-nine folks make a shade more, averaging $61,614.

According to the survey, 64.4 percent work a standard eight-hour shift, but about 28 percent work nine-, ten-, or twelve-hour shifts.

Years in Industry 2017 vs. 2018

Certification and continuing education

As in the past, the large majority of our 2018 survey participants (77 percent) received their accreditation through the American Society for Clinical Pathology (ASCP). State certification came in a distant second at 15.8 percent, and the National Credentialing Agency for Laboratory Personnel (NCALP) placed third with 11.7 percent. Of course, many respondents had multiple certifications.

Almost 50 percent (46.6 percent) of certifications are medical technologists (MT). MT was followed by clinical laboratory scientists (CLS) at 17.2 percent, medical laboratory technicians (MLT) at 13.8 percent, and medical laboratory scientists (MLS) at 11.1 percent. Specialists in blood banking (SBB) made up 4.3 percent of our survey respondents.
Continuing educations remains very important to laboratorians. The survey reports that just over half of respondents took ten or more CE classes (53.7 percent), while only 8.2 percent took no CE classes.

Test volume and automation

It is difficult to summarize the volume of tests performed annually by all laboratories in the U.S. Moreover, it is even more difficult to obtain stratification of this test volume by specialty and subspecialty of clinical or anatomic pathology. However, when we asked, “What is the annual volume of testing performed at your lab?” the results were as follows:

  • 15.3 percent run more than two million tests per year.
  • 20.7 percent run one to two million tests.
  • 16.4 percent run between 500,000 and a million tests.
  • 7.6 percent run less than 25,000 tests annually.

Automation in the lab saves time and money. Just over half (51.6 percent) of survey respondents indicated that their lab had automated or further automated processes during the last year. This is up slightly from 50.3 percent last year.

Personnel shortages continue to affect the lab, but not to the point of most labs deciding to outsource as a response to that problem.18.3 percent of laboratories were outsourcing as a result of personnel shortages last year. That is higher than last year, when 13.1 percent outsourced. Although outsourcing lab services can save money, it can also mean longer turnaround times for lab results and a hospital’s loss of control over lab services. There are sound arguments that can be made that outsourcing limits profit in the long run.

Molecular diagnostics (MDx) has certainly made its mark in the microbiology laboratory: 65.8 percent of survey respondents stated MDx has been embraced in their lab.However, it has been slower to make progress in Chemistry (11.7 percent), Hematology (6.1 percent), and Blood Bank (4.7 percent).

Salary by Job Function

Job security and satisfaction

The number of survey respondents who reported they are either very or somewhat secure in their work is 92.4 percent. Only 7.6 percent said they are somewhat or very insecure in their job. 86.5 percent reported themselves as either very or somewhat satisfied with their job, while 13.5 percent indicated they were somewhat or very unsatisfied. These numbers are comparable to last year.

According to Clinical Laboratory Management Association (CLMA), medical laboratory students said the following influenced them the most in terms of accepting employment offers: competitive salary, tuition reimbursement, sign-on bonus, health benefits, certification and/or licensure reimbursement, flexible hours, and vacation time.

Years in Industry vs. Years in Current Facility

Something less tangible, but no less important, was how they were treated if/when they were in the lab for a clinical rotation. In addition, some students expressed discomfort in settings where staff did not comply with safety regulations or there was unprofessional treatment of co-workers.4

The quality of medical laboratory operations is driven by technical skills, quality management systems, and the motivation provided by lab leaders. But the bottom line is the people; the employees. The 2018 MLO Salary Survey gives us a snapshot of the lab workforce in real time.


  1. United States Department of Labor Bureau of Labor Statistics. Occupational Outlook Handbook.
  2. Rapp R, Vandermey A. This is the job where women make the most compared with men. Fortune. September 26, 2017.
  3. Medical laboratory technician salaries.
  4. CLMA. Message from Sue Graham regarding attracting new graduates.