Would you like to contribute to medical research that could save lives? Do you enjoy working as part of a team? Read on to learn more about the field of histology and the education you'd need to become a histologic technician.
Histologists use medical equipment to create human or animal tissue samples, which are then examined by pathologists for medical diagnosis or research. As a histological technician, you'd operate precision equipment, prepare tissue samples and use special stains to make the samples more visible. Good hand-eye coordination is important. You'd need to pay scrupulous attention to detail to be sure samples are done correctly, and carefully follow safety protocols to protect yourself and others from potentially infectious materials. Effective communication skills are useful, since histologists work on a team of medical specialists.
Histology jobs can be found in a variety of settings, including hospitals, forensics labs, veterinary labs and medical research labs. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projected a job growth rate of 14% for clinical laboratory workers in general between 2008 and 2018 (www.bls.gov). Although the increase was moderate, the field was expected to have more available jobs than applicants. According to the U.S. Department of Labor's career database, O*NET OnLine, the BLS reported that the median annual wage for histologic technicians and histotechnologists was $56,130 in 2010 (onetonline.org).
Education requirements vary based on your job responsibilities. O*Net research shows that most histology technicians have an associate's degree in histology. You may need to be licensed to perform medical laboratory work in some states. Additionally you might improve your job opportunities by becoming certified by a professional organization, such as the American Society for Clinical Pathology. You can obtain this voluntary histotechnician certification after completing required college courses or a degree program and passing an exam (www.ascp.org). You can pursue advancement opportunities, such as a histology technologist position, with a bachelor's degree and some experience.
To enroll in a histology program, you might have to fulfill prerequisites in chemistry, biology and math. Once in the program, you'd take histology courses, such as cellular biology, fixation chemistry, immunohistochemical staining and microtomy. Clinical practice in the campus lab and laboratory facilities would be a big part of your training. Other course topics might include biomedical ethics, bacteriology and clinical chemistry. An associate's degree in clinical laboratory technology might also be a good choice if you aspire to become a histological technician.