Cytotechnology is the process of examining human cell changes to identify diseases such as cancer. Learn about job duties, educational requirements, course topics and salary info for this field.
According to the American Society for Cytotechnology (ASCT), cytotechnology involves studying cells to identify abnormal or changing cell patterns that can indicate disease (www.asct.com). With training in this field, you can pursue a career as a cytotechnologist. You'll work in a lab using a high-powered microscope to examine tissues from the cervix, lungs, liver and other parts of the human body in order to diagnose infectious, benign or cancerous lesions, according to the ASCT. You may work in hospitals, labs, clinics or public health facilities. You may have to work some weekends, holidays or be on call in case of emergencies.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that about 164,300 people worked as medical and clinical laboratory technologists (which includes cytotechnologists) in 2012. The BLS projected that between 2012 and 2022, employment of medical and clinical lab techs would increase by 14%, and the ASCP states that more job openings exist for cytotechnologists than the number of trained professionals.
According to a wage survey conducted by the ASCP in 2013, the average hourly wages among cytotechnologists were $31.45 for staff members and $37.09 for individuals in managerial positions. The BLS reported that as of May 2013, the median annual salary for medical and clinical laboratory technologists was $58,430.
In the U.S., a bachelor's degree in cytotechnology is the minimum required education for a cytotechologist, but certificates in cytotechnology are also available if you already have an undergraduate degree in another field. Through an undergraduate degree program, you'll study pathology, physiology, medical ethics, issues in healthcare, human anatomy, microbiology, immunology and cell biology. In other courses, you'll engage in labs, explore trends in cancer management and participate in clinical experiences. Upon graduation, you can take the ASCP's national certification exam to become a certified cytotechnologist.
Graduate degree programs in cytotechnology are also available, with master's degree programs being more common than doctoral degree programs. Coursework will provide you with practical experience staining slides and examining cytologic samples. You'll explore methods for extracting and examining cells from various parts of the body, including genital, urinary and gastrointestinal tracts so you can compare normal and abnormal cell changes. In addition to becoming a cytotechnologist, you could become a specialist in cytotechnology. To become a specialist, you must have a bachelor's degree and five years of cytotechnology experience, a master's degree and four years of experience or a doctorate and three years of experience, according to the ASCP.
The ASCP states that cytotechnologists should enjoy solving problems, be able to meet challenges, demonstrate responsibility and be reliable (www.ascp.org). The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) adds that to do this job well, you must be able to perform under pressure, have excellent manual dexterity and pay attention to detail (www.bls.gov).