Histology technicians, also called histotechnicians and histotechnologists, are laboratory professionals who prepare human or animal tissue for microscopic examination. They might work in a number of practice settings, such as hospitals, clinics, clinical laboratories, research labs or forensic pathology. Whether they work with human body parts or marine specimens, attention to detail is essential.
The Hands and Eyes Have It
A steady hand is one of the most important qualities for any histotechnologist. Much of the work requires precision and excellent hand-eye coordination. A histotechnologist must be patient and careful, with strong attention to detail and good vision. She should also have some degree of mechanical ability, as she works with sophisticated laboratory equipment. Histotechnologists should be well-organized and able to apply critical thinking skills to their work.
Cutting and Shaving
The primary duty of a histotechnologist is to prepare very thin slices of tissue for microscopic examination by a pathologist or scientist. The histotechnologist uses a very sharp knife, called a microtome, to shave thin sections from a specimen of skin, tissue or body organ. She places the shavings onto a glass slide and may perform other techniques, such as applying dye or other chemicals -- called staining the specimen -- or embedding the specimen in wax for examination. Once the specimen has been prepared, the histotechnologist checks the slide to ensure that it is clear and ready for the pathologist.
Equipment and Other Issues
Histotechnologists are typically responsible for cleaning and maintaining lab equipment. They may maintain microscopes; mass spectrometers, devices that measure the atomic mass of a sample; immunostainers used for staining specimens; tissue processors; embedding centers; or water baths. They may use equipment that dehydrates, removes calcium from or incinerates the samples once they have been prepared and examined. They may also freeze tissue specimens for further study. At all times, they must ensure that they are protected from blood-borne diseases during their work.
Getting There and Beyond
Histotechnologists typically complete an associate degree in the field, although O_NET Online notes that about one-quarter of histotechnologists have a bachelor’s degree and a small percentage hold a post-secondary certificate. Some states or employers may require certification in histology from the American Society for Clinical Pathology Board of Certification. O_NET reports that histotechnologists will experience average job growth from 2012 to 2022. The median annual salary was $58,430 in 2013.