How Can I Become a Histologic Technician or Histotechnologist?

Explore the career requirements for histologic technicians and histotechnologists. Get the facts about job duties, education requirements, certification and employment outlook 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 Are Histologic Technicians and Histotechnologists?

Histologic technicians and histotechnologists are specialized medical laboratory workers. They are experts in the preparation of slides of cell and tissue samples for examination by pathologists, who can use them for medical diagnostic or academic research purposes. It is important to note that technologists hold higher positions in the lab than technicians, so in large labs, they may supervise the work of histologic technicians. Take a look at the following chart for an overview of how to enter this field.

Histologic Technician Histotechnologist
Degree Required Associate's degree Bachelor's or master's degree
Education Field of Study Histology, clinical science Histology, clinical science
Key Responsibilities Prepare slides of cells & tissues for analysis by pathologist Prepare slides of cells and tissues for analysis by pathologist; perform tests on cells and tissues
Licensure/Certification Certification voluntary but recommended; some states require licensing Certification voluntary but recommended; some states require licensing
Job Growth (2014-2024) 18% (all medical and clinical laboratory technicians)* 14% (all medical and clinical laboratory technologists)*
Average Salary (2015) $41,420 (all medical and clinical laboratory technicians)* $61,860 (all medical and clinical laboratory technologists)*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

What Is Histology and What Would I Do as a Technician or Technologist?

Histology is a medical laboratory science in which the structure of human cells and tissues is examined in order to help form a diagnosis. As a technician or technologist in a histology lab, you would prepare slides with a patient's tissues, treating the cells with dyes or chemicals to facilitate the identification of abnormalities in the sample. You'd need to focus on precision, attention to detail and manual dexterity due to the immediate and fragile nature of the work. Paired with your skills working with sophisticated equipment, your knowledge of biology, anatomy and chemistry should aid you in performing the tasks of a histologic technician or technologist.

What Education Do I Need?

To begin your career in histotechnology, you should concentrate on biology, math, chemistry and computer science classes in high school. You can then enroll in a clinical sciences degree program. The National Accrediting Agency for Clinical Laboratory Sciences (NAACLS) accredits histologic technician (HT) programs that typically culminate in an associate's degree and histotechnologist (HTL) degree programs at the bachelor's or master's levels (www.naacls.org). These programs strive to teach you biology and chemistry fundamentals in the classroom and train you for laboratory work in a clinical setting. Many degree programs in histology will qualify and prepare you to take the national examinations to become certified.

Do I Need To Be Certified?

Although you are not required to have a certification to work as a histotechnician or histotechnologist, the American Society of Clinical Pathology (ASCP) offers certifications that can demonstrate your expertise in the field (www.ascp.org). Before taking the examination to gain the HT certification, you must have completed either an NAACLS-accredited histotechnician program or 60 hours of academic credit plus one year of full time work experience in a histopathology laboratory. Before taking the HTL exam, you must have a bachelor's degree from an accredited school with 30 hours of chemistry and biology, and completed either an NAACLS-accredited histotechnician or histotechnologist program or one year of full-time experience in a histopathology laboratory. In addition to voluntary certification, some states may require that laboratory personnel be licensed, so check your state's specific regulations.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

Medical laboratory technologist and technician positions are available for those who would rather work as generalists, as well as those who wish to specialize in an area other than histology, such as cytotechnology or microbiology. Another option is to get a job as a forensic science technician in a criminal investigations lab, where you would run chemical and biological tests on samples for law enforcement purposes. Like medical laboratory technologists, these workers need at least a bachelor's degree. If you are interested in contributing to the process of medical diagnosis, you might also want to consider a job as a diagnostic medical sonographer, which involves using specialized equipment to generate images that doctors can use to identify diseases. For this job, an associate's degree or postsecondary certificate is needed.

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