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How to Become a Cytotechnologist

How to Become a Cytotechnologist

Cytotechnology is the study of cell samples. A cytechnologist examines slides of microscopic cell samples. This CareerStint article will tell you how to become a cytotechnologist.
CareerStint Staff
"There will always be a need for laboratory services, and that need is only going to go up. That is why our school is focusing on training medical laboratory technologists, cytotechnologists, histotechnologists, medical assistants, and phlebotomists. The demand for health care professionals, particularly in the laboratory space, will only continue to increase over the next few years and decades."
― Dr. Stephen W. Chang, Capital College, Virginia

The study of cellular structures and their characteristics under the influence of various chemicals is termed as cytotechnology. The people who specialize in this field are called cytotechnologists or cytologists. They work closely with the pathologists to arrive at a diagnosis regarding the cell structures, in case they find any abnormalities. An experienced cytologist may even report the findings himself if he finds nothing wrong.
Cell structures are examined for the presence of precancerous or malignant tumors. Like the designations of most medical laboratory technicians, this job too involves heavy responsibility. If you have a passion for health care and are meticulous and observant, read the following paragraphs, which provides information on how to make a career as a cytotechnologist.
Job Profile
  • As mentioned before, a cytotechnologist examines cellular structures.
  • Cell samples are collected from patients for a biopsy and are sent to the lab.
  • Cytotechnologists then trim and process the samples and study them under the microscope.
  • If they detect the presence of any malignant cells, bacterial, or viral infection, the findings are reported to the pathologist, who then accurately diagnoses the patient's condition.

General Requirements
  • Extreme attention to detail
  • Problem-solving skills
  • Decision-making ability
  • Ability to work under pressure
  • Scientific aptitude and accuracy

Education Requirements

Qualifications
  • Since the field is related to medicine, you are expected to have a strong background of biological subjects.
  • You should have good school grades in subjects, like biology, anatomy, etc.
  • You must enroll for a bachelor's degree cytotechnologist program accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP) or the National Accrediting Agency for Clinical Laboratory Sciences (NAACLS).
  • Many cytotechnologist schools or community colleges offer this program.
  • In this course, you will be trained in disciplines, like endocrinology, physiology, cytology, histology, immunology, cytochemistry, analtomy, clinical medicine, etc.
  • By the end of the program, you need to have at least 28 credits in the main subjects (biology/chemistry) and at least 3 credits in math. Only then will you be eligible to attend the hospital-based accredited program in cytotechnology, which may last up to one or two years.
  • In this program, you will be taught advanced methods of molecular and cellular sampling, processing, and examining. You will be trained to use required tools properly.
  • After a few years of experience, many people opt for a master's degree as well.

Certification
  • After the completion of your baccalaureate degree and accredited cytotechnology program, you may be eligible for a certification in cytotechnology (CT).
  • Though not mandatory, it is always an advantage to have a certification from the American Society of Clinical Pathology (ASCP).
  • This certification comprises even more advanced techniques and lab operations.

License
  • Not all states require a license, and the ones that do, have their own rules and regulations.
  • The requirements for a license are the same as those required for a certification.
  • You need a bachelor's degree and an accredited program to qualify for a license.
  • Having the accredited certification gives you an advantage to obtain a license.
  • You will then need to fill out an application and take the licensing exam.

Salary
  • According to the BLS, cytotechnologists earn between USD 30,000 to USD 50,000 and more.
  • In certain states, like Connecticut and Illinois, the salaries are higher, while they tend to be lower in states, like Hawaii and Idaho.
  • In higher positions, like supervisors etc., the salaries may extend up to USD 70,000.

Job Outlook
  • The work of a cytotechnologist is typically centered in the laboratory.
  • You need to get used to the odor of chemicals and stains, and get accustomed to operating lab equipment efficiently.
  • In case of emergencies, you may have to work long hours.
  • This field has a projected job growth of 14% between 2012 to 2022.

To be a successful cytotechnologist, you must have a combination of skill and dedication. More so, you need to be constantly aware of the fact that your study and diagnosis may affect someone's life. While examining a tissue sample may be a day's work for you, the results matter a lot in the life of the patient. A tiny error could result in a serious misdiagnosis. Therefore, if you seriously want to pursue this profession, give it your 100%.