Clinical Laboratory Science: Cytotechnology


The Cytotechnologist

A cytotechnologist (CT) is a laboratory specialist who is responsible for examining human cell samples under the microscope for early signs of cancer and other diseases. The cytotechnologist analyzes subtle cell changes-both nuclear and cytoplasmic-and compares these changes to normal cell findings for the body site. While screening Pap smears constitutes a vital role, cytotechnologists work collaboratively with pathologists to diagnose benign and cancerous disorders from sites such as liver, lung, thyroid, breast, lymph nodes, bladder, kidney, as well as other organs, tissues, and body fluids.
The cytotechnologist must be familiar with normal anatomy and histology for all the body systems and must be familiar with the disease processes that can affect these body sites. By comparing these facts with clinical history provided for the patient, the cytotechnologist can judge the significance of the cell findings observed. The cytotechnologist can issue the final report for certain specimens that are normal; when abnormal cells are present, the cytotechnologist works with the pathologist to arrive at a final diagnosis. Cytotechnologists work independently with little supervision. They must be patient, precise, and have relatively good eyesight. Above all, the cytotechnologist must enjoy making decisions and taking responsibility, because their correct analysis of microscopic cellular changes can directly affect a patient's course of treatment and may save the patient's life by early detection of cancer.

Career Preparation 

To prepare for a career as a cytotechnologist, you should get a solid foundation in high school sciences - biology, chemistry, math and computer science. When you choose the cytotechnology option, you’ll complete the core course work and then focus on specific techniques used in the clinical setting during the practicum experience. Preparing for a career as a cytotechnologist is a good investment in your future. Your education in cytotechnology 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 CT(ASCP) after their names to show they are proficient in their field. Certification is valid for three years. To demonstrate competency throughout their careers after their initial certification, cytotechnologists must complete a Certification Maintenance Program every three years.

Job Opportunities

Today, there are more jobs for cytotechnologists 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 cytotechnologists.


According to the ASCP Wage and Vacancy Survey, the average annual salary for cytotechnologists in the United States ranged from $64,416 for staff to $82,556 for managers in 2013. 

Do you have what it takes?

All cytotechnologists 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 as a cytotechnologist, the exploration never ends.
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