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What is a Cytotechnologist?

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Solving Medical Mysteries One Cell at a Time

A cytotechnologist looks at human cells in order to detect disease or abnormalities. Cell samples are collected by a patient's physician, then sent to a laboratory for examination. Even though they rarely have direct patient contact, cytotechnologists can be important members of a health-care team. Though most positions are full time, regular work hours make cytotechnology one of the more family-friendly occupations in the medical field.

Job Description

A cytotechnologist examines human cells obtained from various parts of the body, such as lungs, digestive tract or the female reproductive system. Cells are affixed to glass slides so the cytotechnologist can study them under a microscope. Findings are reported to pathologists, who use the information to help physicians diagnose and treat their patients. Depending on the size of the facility, a cytotechnologist may specialize in one type of pathology, such as cancers, or may examine all types of cells.

Education Requirements

To become a cytotechnologist, you must earn a bachelor's degree from an accredited college or university, then complete a training program accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs. Some students are admitted to training programs during the junior or senior year of baccalaureate studies. Although specific requirements vary by program, students generally must complete 28 credit hours that includes chemistry, biological science, mathematics and statistics. The certification program prepares students to sit for a national examination administered by the American Society for Clinical Pathology Board of Registry.

Not all states require certification and licensing, but it is becoming more common for them to do so. Employers may require certification even when the state does not. For cytotechnologists certified after 2004, renewal is required biannually with documentation of continuing education credits. Lab professionals can earn credits through classes, seminars and conferences at colleges and hospitals and through professional organizations.

About the Industry

Cytotechnologists are usually employed in hospitals and commercial laboratories. After gaining experience in the field, cytotechnologists may be employed in management, research or academia. With three years of experience as a cytotechnologist, you're eligible to take a higher-level exam; upon passing, you'll earn the designation SCT(ASCP), signifying you're a specialist in the field.

Cytotechnologists generally work during regular business hours. There's not much physical activity associated with the job. Cytotechnologists often spend long hours seated looking at specimens through a microscope. Most people in the field work full time.

Geographic location is the most important factor affecting rate of pay. Cytotechnologists earn the most in California, averaging $73,350 annually. The state with the lowest average pay is Oklahoma, where cytotechnologists average $46,590 per year.

Years of Experience

The annual median salary for a cytotechnologist is $73,897. That means half in the profession earn more, while half earn less. Here's what you can expect based on years of experience:

  • Less than one year of experience: $68,951 to $72,888
  • 1 to 2 years of experience: $69,456 to $73,393
  • 3 to 4 years of experience: $71,878 to $75,639
  • 5 to 6 years of experience: $73,393 to $77,277
  • 10+ years of experience: $73,897 to $77,798

Job Growth Trends

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics does not collect statistics on cytotechnologists specifically, but tracks occupational data for medical and clinical laboratory technologists. According to the Bureau's estimates, the job outlook should remain stronger than average when compared to all other occupations.