Cytology is the study of cells. Cytotechnologists perform microscopic evaluation of patient samples, looking for clues to disease within cells. Studying cells from nearly every organ of the body, cytologists search for patterns and abnormalities that might be evidence of cancer or other medical conditions, such as viral or bacterial infections. Cytologists work closely with pathologists, the physicians who diagnose the causes and nature of disease. The information cytotechnologists provide is vital to the speialists responsible for making an accurate diagnosis and for developing an appropriate treatment plan.
When a patient’s cells need to be studied, a sample is taken and sent to a cytotechnologist for testing. Slides are prepared for examination, and scrutinized through a microscope, looking for subtle distinctions in the color, size and shape of cell structures. By noting differences, cytotechnologists identify which cell variations are normal and which might indicate disease or the precursors to disease. Cytotechnologist and Cytology Supervisor, Catherine Pudenz, says it’s work that requires meticulous attention to detail. “You have to be the kind of person who will follow procedure, and while you’re following that procedure, look for – ‘where are the critical steps? What’s different about this particular situation that I may need to accommodate and yet not compromise the overall quality of what’s being done?’ People who have that kind of analytic skill are particularly good at this.” As cytotechnologists examines a patients’ slides, they locate and mark cells of diagnostic significant, provide an interpretation of their findings, and refer the slides to a pathologist who makes the final diagnosis. The work of cytotechnologists helps save lives by discovering certain diseases early when treatment is most effective.
- Medical and diagnostic laboratories
- Physician offices
- Outpatient care centers
Cytotechnologists spend a good deal of time at the microscope, examining cells for disease and abnormalties. Those working in smaller labs might actually prepare the slides of the cells for examination, but those working in larger labs have assistants do this preparatory work. Technologists must adhere to standard lab safety and infection control procedures to protect against exposure to hazardous chemicals or infectious substances. Work schedules will vary depending on the particular work setting. Although daytime, weekday work may be the most typical schedule, technologists working in hospitals and laboratories with continuous operations may work evenings, nights, or some on-call, weekend or holiday hours.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics does not collect data on cytotechnologists specifically, but includes them under the broader category of medical and clinical laboratory technologists. That broader category is expected to see 14% growth between 2008 and 2018, faster than the average for all occupations. With the growing elderly population and an increasing number of people expected to access healthcare due to healthcare reform measures, it seems likely that there will be an increased need for cytotechnologists.
- Ability to learn the principles and methods of cytotechnology
- Strong math ability to do tests and understand technical literature
- Excellent communication skills, both verbal and written, to consult with pathologists and prepare reports.
- Ability to work well under pressure
- Ability to make decisions based on data, handle a variety of duties and work with exact standards
- Ability to focus on details, do precise work accurately and timely
- Good manual dexterity, space and form perception, and ability to see differences in color
Admission to a cytotechnology program requires the applicant to possess a 4-year bachelor’s degree with 20 semester hours of biology, 8 semester hours of chemistry, and 3 semester hours of math.
Cytotechnologists must be certified by the Board of Registry of the American Society of Clinical Pathologists (ASCP). Licensing is not required by the State of Nebraska, however licensure requirements vary by State.
Programs in Nebraska
- University of Nebraska Medical Center – Omaha (Post-Baccalaureate Certificate)
Related / Links
Other careers that involve laboratory work or research:
For more information about a career in cytotechnology:
Career information adapted in part from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, US Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handook, 2010-2011 Edition on the Internet at www.bls.gov