Histotechnologist Education, Schools, and Career Overview
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.
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. 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.
In a nutshell, job of a histotech is focused mainly on preparing the tissue for a pathologist to review. The pathologist can then determine if disease is present and if it is spreading, to decide the best course of treatment for the patient.
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.
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.
How 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.
Histology programs are offered through community colleges, technical schools, some four-year universities and online colleges.
Certification for Histotechnicians
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.
A national certification exam administered through the American Society for Clinical Pathologists is typically 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.
The National Society for Histotechnology offers multiple certification tracks for Technicians, Technologists and Specialists. Example certifications in each track include the following:
- Medical Technologist, MT (ASCP)
- Cytotechnologist, CT (ASCP)
- Hematology, H (ASCP)
- Medical Laboratory Technician, MLT (ASCP)
- Histotechnician, HT (ASCP)
- Ashpheris Technician, AT (ASCP)
Licensing requirements vary by state, though most states typically require national certification.
Salary and Career Outlook for Histotechnicians
Healthcare jobs in general are expected to grow in the coming years. Here’s an idea of the job growth and salary you might expect for histotechnician careers:
- 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