Learn to Become a Cytotechnologist

The diagnosis of disease has become more and more specialized and technological. Rather than looking at the outward symptoms of a disease, such as a rash or a cough, many medical scientists are going close to the roots of a disease to learn more about it. One such scientific discipline is cytotechnology. Cytotechnologists study disease at the microscopic level. They get samples from patients, through scraping or collection of fleshy matter, and examine it at the cellular level. They compare healthy slides to patient samples to determine a diagnosis. When you begin to learn about becoming a cytotechnologist, you will find a field ripe with challenge and opportunity.

There are several major uses of cytotechnology that are familiar to most laypeople. Cytotechnologists examine cells for signs of cancer in cells. They use their knowledge of normal cellular growth to identify precancerous and malignant conditions. The Pap smear, an examination of cells from a woman’s cervix, is one of the most common regular checks for cancer in the medical field. Cytotechnology is not only used in cancer detection, however. It can also show bacterial and viral infection and is used increasingly to complement other methods of diagnosing illness.

Cytotechnologists spend most of their working hours in a laboratory setting. Whether it is in a hospital or a private lab, cytotechnologists have little contact with patients. They may be called upon to gather cellular material through scraping or injection, but their interaction with patients will be minimal. They work in conjunction with a health care team who are responsible for communicating directly with patients about their diagnoses. Cytotechnologists’ expertise lay in understanding cellular growth and its flaws. They must be able to communicate professionally and effectively with peers, other member of the health care team, and their supervisors. Many of the standard reporting requirements and regulations of a given company are learned on the job.

Cytotechnologists, like other clinical laboratory workers, are regulated by state-sponsored agencies through licensure and registration. States require an appropriate educational background, the proper clinical experience, and the passage of a national standardized examination about cytotechnology. They also require that cytotechnologists continually update their knowledge and skill sets through continuing education.

Cytotechnologists often receive a certificate or a degree from a school that specializes in medical technologies. Some offer bachelor’s degrees with cytotechnology as a major while others combine a certificate with another more general degree. Certificate programs generally take a year to complete. Degree programs in cytotechnology may require more than 30 credits in the specialty, which is about a year’s worth of classes in cytotechnology in addition to whatever general credit requirements there are. Much of the coursework focuses on the different kinds of biological material to be examined and their cellular structure. There are courses in gastrointestinal, urinary, pulmonary, and gynecologic cytology. Students learn the different methods of collecting samples. They also learn about the history and technology of cytology. Students with a background or complementary degree in biological sciences will be better prepared than those without.

Cytotechnologists can hope to improve their employment options and compensation by closely examining job opportunities. Most professionals in the field work in hospitals and private medical offices. Those who work in research for pharmaceutical companies or the federal government can expect an increase in responsibilities and salary. It does not hurt to join a professional association of cytotechnologists. These are private organizations that offer members continuing education, scholarship opportunities, and the chance to meet and network in the professional community of cytotechnologists.

Last Updated: 05/22/2014