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Histotechnologist

For many people, a trip to the dermatologist’s office means getting moles or tissue biopsied. But have you ever stopped to think about where the tissue that has been removed is sent and who reviews it, before you are called back and informed that it was benign or malignant? The job of a histotechnician is to prepare and stain tissue slides so they can be reviewed and diagnosed under the microscope by a pathologist. In preparing these slides, histotechs may preserve tissue using special dye, so it can be examined later without decaying. Special dyes are also used so the pathologist is able to distinguish different structures within tissue when looking through a microscope. They may also perform electron microscopy or enzyme biochemistry procedures on the tissue. There are some instances where a histotech will prepare frozen tissue sections for the pathologist so they can perform a rapid diagnosis.

The job of a histotech is focused mainly on preparing the tissue for a pathologist to review. The pathologist can then determine if

What is histotechnology?

The early practitioners in this field include Robert Hooke who in 1664 cut sections of cork to observe under a microscope. Leeuwenhoek, in 1670, used a razor to cut sections from a bovine optic nerve, a quill, and dried flowers. The field of histotechnology as we know it today involves studying the composition of abnormal and normal tissue. In this field, histotechnologists use a variety of dyes and chemicals to stain the tissue. Histotechs must have a solid understanding of the composition of these chemicals and how they interact when combined so as not to mix the wrong ones. In addition, histotechnologists must also understand the composition of tissue.

Where do histotechs work?

The majority of histotechs work in the operating room of hospitals or private histotechnology labs, preparing tissue for examination by the pathologist. They can also work in research facilities, veterinary pathology, marine biology, some doctor’s offices, pharmaceuticals, and forensic pathology.

What types of instruments do histotechs use?

Histotechs must know how to use specific instruments to perform certain techniques. There are hundreds of different antibodies and special kinds of stains histotechs use for embedding. The more commonly used instruments include:

  • Microtone—This is a machine with a handle that when turned causes the specimen to move. The microtone also is used to cut tissue sections.
  • Embedder—This machine is used to embed the tissue into wax so it is able to be cut on the microtone.
  • Water bath—This is used to float the tissue and remove the wrinkles. Tissue is then dried in the oven before preparing it on a slide.
  • Automatic stainer—this is a robotic machine that stains slides.
  • Tissue processor—turns tissue from raw to hard so it can last forever, rather than decaying.

What type of education is required to become a histotechnician?

In most cases, a minimum of an associate’s degree is necessary to earn a position as a histotech. Most histology programs include a clinical internship experience working in a hospital or private histotechnology lab setting. Some histotechs opt to complete a bachelor’s degree, which further prepares them for success and marketability in this exciting field.

What types of histology schools are available?

Histology programs are offered through community colleges, technical schools, some four-year universities and some online universities.

Is certification in this field required?

A national certification exam administered through the American Society for Clinical Pathologists is required for histotechnologists. This exam includes 100 multiple-choice questions and a passing rate of at least 75% is required. “HT” is the credential awarded to those who pass the certification exam. Those with a bachelor’s degree have HTL as their credential. Continuing education units are not required in the histotechnology field at this point. Once you have been certified, there is no renewal necessary. However, there are a variety of opportunities to earn continuing education through the National Society for Histotechnology for those interested in keeping abreast current happenings in the field.

Is a state license required in this field?

Currently, Florida is the only state that requires licensure for histotechs. All other states only require the national certification credential.

Are there specialties in this field?

A histotechnologist interested in pursuing a specialty within this field may choose to explore electron microscopy, which involves working with much smaller tissue that requires the use of a microscope to cut. By using advanced techniques, these specialized histotechs are able to cut sections of tissue thin enough to show cellular ultrastructure using an electron beam. Another specialty within the field of histotechnology is immunohistochemistry. This field involves identifying tumor cell lines within tissue by staining antigenic sites.

A major part of providing in-depth, comprehensive patient care is the diagnoses of illnesses and diseases. That process is commonly handled by the pathological examination of blood, tissue, body fluids and more. Collecting and preparing those samples for testing fall under the purview of histotechnicians, also known as histologic technicians, histotechnologists, pathology specialists, clinical laboratory technologists and more, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS.gov).

Salary overview for histotechnicians

Salary data from the BLS shows the national median wage for medical and clinical laboratory technologists was $58,430 in 2013. As wages can be influenced by factors such as experience, location and certification, the overall salary range for laboratory technologists varied in 2013, from approximately $39,000 to $80,000.

The national salary range from the BLS can be seen below:

  • 10% - up to $39,940
  • 25% - $49,100
  • Median - $58,430
  • 75% - $69,900
  • 90% - at least $80,820

Completing the wage data from the BLS is an earnings report from the American Society for Clinical Pathology (ASCP), which published a 2013 survey of wage data for clinical laboratories in the United States. The ASCP report detailed both hourly and annual wages for both histotechnicians and histechnologists.

Histotechnicians. According to the report, the national average hourly wage for histotechnicians is $23.96. However, those numbers fluctuate, depending on experience and title:

  • Staff: $23.96
  • Lead: $26.81
  • Supervisor: $31.29

The national annual wage for histotechnicians was $49,837. Again, those numbers adjust, based on experience and title:

  • Staff: $49,837
  • Lead: $55,769
  • Supervisor: $71,457

In addition to title, certifications may also impact earning potential. The AACP report revealed that individuals holding a credential or certification earned approximately 6.5 percent per hour more than those without certifications:

  • Certified: $26.09 per hour
  • Non-certified: $24.48 per hour

Histotechnologists. According to the AAPC report, histotechnologists earned a national hourly wage of $26.63. Like histotechnician positions, earnings may vary based on title:

  • Staff: $26.63
  • Lead: $28.76
  • Supervisor: $32.41

The national average wage for staff technicians was slightly over $55,000. The breakout by title is as follows:

  • Staff: $55,390
  • Lead: $59,820
  • Supervisor: $80,857

Histotechnician certifications

As reported by the AAPC, certifications can impact earning potential for histotechnicians. Certifications are available from several organizations, including American Medical Technologist and the National Society for Histotechnology.

The National Society for Histotechnology offers multiple certification tracks for Technicians, Technologists and Specialists. Example certifications in each track include the following:

Technologists:

  • Medical Technologist, MT (ASCP)
  • Cytotechnologist, CT (ASCP)
  • Hematology, H (ASCP)

Technicians:

  • Medical Laboratory Technician, MLT (ASCP)
  • Histotechnician, HT (ASCP)
  • Ashpheris Technician, AT (ASCP)

Best paying states for histotechnicians

State-level data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics reveals the top states for annual income included California ($79,710), Connecticut ($70,110), Massachusetts ($69,000), New Jersey ($65,930) and Vermont ($65,630).

Seventeen of the top 20 states had annual average salaries between $60,000 and $69,000, with California and Connecticut both topping $70,000 annually. Rounding out the top ten best paying states for histotechicians include:

  1. Alaska: $65,450
  2. Rhode Island: $65,160
  3. Oregon: $64,950
  4. New York: $64,440
  5. Nevada: $63,750

Employment projections for medical and clinical laboratory technologists

The outlook for career growth within the field of medical laboratory technology is positive. Nationally, employment openings are projected to reach 22 percent between 2012 and 2022, according to job data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

At the state level, the ten states with the largest projected employment increases for histotechnicians include the following:

  1. Utah: 26.1%
  2. Texas: 23.3%
  3. Colorado: 22.3%
  4. Alaska: 21.8%
  5. Indiana: 21%
  6. Washington: 20.2%
  7. Virginia: 19.9%
  8. Idaho: 19.7%
  9. Arizona: 19.6%
  10. Minnesota: 17.3%

With multiple career paths, an expanding industry and solid earning potential, histology is a field worth exploring for prospective students.

Sources

American Medical Technologist, Certifications, http://www.americanmedtech.org/GetCertified.aspx

National Society for Histotechnology, 2013 Wage Survey of Clinical Laboratories in the US, http://www.nsh.org/sites/default/files/2013%20ASCP%20Wage%20Survey.pdf

Bureau of Labor Statistics, OOH, Medical and Clinical Laboratory Technologists and Technicians, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/medical-and-clinical-laboratory-technologists-and-technicians.htm

Bureau of Labor Statistics, OES, Medical and Clinical Laboratory Technologists and Technicians, http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes292011.htm

ONET, Histotechnologists and Histologic Technicians, http://www.onetonline.org/link/summary/29-2011.03

Histotechnology Schools