How Can I Become a Cytogenetic Technician?

Explore the career requirements for cytogenetic technicians. Get the facts about education requirements, certification, licensure and job duties to determine if this is the right career for you. Schools offering Clinical Laboratory Science degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What Is a Cytogenetic Technician?

A cytogenetic technician is a medical laboratory technician who specializes in the analysis of the genetic material within cells. These professionals analyze chromosomes and other genetic material, and they prepare reports on their findings that doctors can use to help diagnose and treat diseases. They usually perform this work in a medical laboratory at a medical facility or research institution, under the supervision of a medical technologist or lab manager. Check out the chart below for an overview of what you need to know about entering this field.

Degree Required Bachelor's degree for certification
Education Field of Study Molecular biology, genetics, laboratory procedures
Key Responsibilities Test for genetic disorders and inherited diseases
Certification Optional but looked on favorably by most employers
Job Growth (2014-2024) 18% (for medical and clinical laboratory technicians)*
Median Salary (2015) $38,970 (for medical and clinical laboratory technicians)*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

What Would I Do As a Cytogenetic Technician?

Cytogenetics is the branch of medical laboratory science that studies the DNA and genes in patients' cells. As a cytogenetic technician, you would collect, prepare and test cell samples for various genetic disorders. You would use sophisticated techniques and equipment to detect abnormalities in fetal chromosomes that can lead to birth defects and diseases; you could also check patients' genomes for inherited diseases. Doctors and their teams would then use the tests you performed to diagnose diseases and form treatment plans. You could work in a hospital, at a private medical laboratory or for a research company.

What Education Do I Need?

The National Accrediting Agency for Clinical Laboratory Sciences accredits bachelor's degree and post-baccalaureate certificate programs in cytogenetics (www.naacls.org). Though medical laboratory technicians typically earn an associate's degree, most cytogenetic technologists have bachelor's degrees. A bachelor's degree program in diagnostic genetic sciences or cytogenetic technology will likely include courses in molecular biology, chemistry, genetics, laboratory safety and DNA lab techniques. You would study both in the classroom and in a clinical laboratory setting. Many programs are designed to prepare students to take examinations for industry certifications.

What Certifications Do I Need?

Your cytogenetics program will prepare you to start working in a medical laboratory, but there are also some industry certifications you could pursue to demonstrate your professional ability and knowledge. In 2014, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics noted that many employers prefer to hire clinical laboratory personnel who are certified because certifications denote an employee's ability in accordance with the industry standards (www.bls.gov).The American Society for Clinical Pathology (ASCP) Board of Certification offers the Cytogenetics CG and Cytotechnologist CT designations. Eligibility requirements for both certifications include a bachelor's degree, graduation from an accredited cytogenetics program and passing scores on an examination (www.ascp.org). Another route to Cytogenetics CG certification is a bachelor's degree and one year of work experience.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

As a medical laboratory technician, rather than focusing on cytogenetics, you could specialize in a different area of the field, such as histology. Another option is to work as a generalist. Alternatively, you could consider a different diagnosis-related job, such as a career as a diagnostic medical sonographer. In this job, you would use specialized machines, like x-ray and ultrasound equipment, to create images that physicians can use to identify diseases and develop treatment strategies. Like medical laboratory technicians, sonographers usually need to get an associate's degree in order to practice.

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