The Histotechnologist and Histotechnician
Cancer can often be detected in the arrangement of cells in a tissue sample. Once a sample tissue is taken from the patient, it is sent to the histotechnician (HT), who prepares the tiny sections of body tissues for microscopic examination by a pathologist. Working closely with the pathologist, the histologic technician processes tissue biopsies removed during surgery. The tissue is cut into very thin slices, mounted on slides and stained with special dyes to make the cell details visible under the microscope.
By examining the section of tissue, the pathologist and the surgeon can
learn if disease is present, or if it has spread, and decide the best course of treatment for the patient.
The histotechnologist (HTL) has advanced training in how and why specimens are collected and processed for testing. That expertise qualifies the histotechnologist to manage even unexpected situations in the laboratory, such as solving
technical or instrument problems, understanding the underlying health and disease causes of unusual test results, and evaluating new laboratory techniques and procedures.
Histotechnicians and histotechnologists must work quickly, as they are frequently under pressure to deliver results while the patient is in surgery. They work with fragile, delicate instruments as well as knives, chemicals and glass slides. He or she must value precision and be comfortable working with equipment that requires careful monitoring.
To prepare for a career as a histotechnologist or histotechnician, you should get a solid foundation in high school sciences - biology, chemistry, math and computer science. You'll need clinical education in a program accredited by the National Accrediting Agency for Clinical Laboratory Sciences (NAACLS) or an associate degree froma community college and training at a hospital. Preparing for a career as a histotechnologist or histotechnician is a good investment in your future. Your education will prepare you directly for a job. While you're in school, you may be able to work part time in a laboratory to earn extra money. And you could start working full time the day after you graduate.
To be sure that laboratory workers are competent and able to perform high quality laboratory tests, the American Society for Clinical Pathology (ASCP) Board of Registry gives a national certification exam. Students take this exam after meeting their academic and laboratory education requirements. Those who pass the exam may use the initials HTL (ASCP) after their names to show they are proficient in their field. The designation for a certified histotechnician is HT (ASCP). Certification is valid for three years. To demonstrate competency throughout their careers after their initial certification, histotechnologists and histotechnicians must complete a Certification Maintenance Program every three years.
Today, there are more jobs for histotechnologists and histotechnicians than educated people to fill those jobs. The future long-term employment looks bright. The need is great everywhere throughout the country. Hospitals, for-profit laboratories, clinics, public health facilities, and industry currently have positions open for qualified histotechnologists and histotechnicians. Additional opportunities are available in industrial research, veterinary pathology, marine biology and forensic pathology.
According to the ASCP Wage and Vacancy Survey, the average annual salary for histotechnologists in the United States ranged from $55,390 for staff to $80,857 for managers in 2013.
Do you have what it takes?
All histologic technicians have certain common characteristics. They are problem solvers. They like challenge and responsibility. They are accurate, reliable, work well under pressure and are able to finish a task once started. They communicate well, both in writing and speaking. They set high standards for themselves and expect quality in the work they do. Above all, they are deeply committed to their profession, and are truly fascinated by all that science has to offer. For someone who chooses a career in the histology laboratory, the exploration never ends.