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What Is a Histotechnologist?

Histotechnologists and histotechnicians are both scientists who specialize in the field of histology, or the study of the microscopic structures that form our bodies’ cells.  You can think of histology as the microscopic version of anatomy- anatomy focuses on structures that are visible to the naked eye. In contrast, histology focuses on only those seen with a microscope.

Histotechnologists and histotechnicians are specialized lab professionals who do the critical work of meticulously preparing bloodwork and other tissue samples onto a microscopic slide.  Their work is then reviewed by a pathologist, who examines the sample in order to make a medical diagnosis.  

The work of histotechnicians and histotechnologists lays the foundation for diagnosis, research, and medical treatment. Without them, identifying and understanding illness and disease would not be possible.

Histotechnician vs Histotechnologist - What’s the Difference?

A histotechnician and histotechnologist can perform many of the same tasks, but a histotechnologist has more extensive education and training than a histotechnician. Because of this, a histotechnologist can perform more specialized and advanced skills. Histotechnologists can also move into leadership, administrative, and educational roles

Browse histotechnologist jobs.

Browse histotechnician jobs.

What Does a Histotechnologist Do?

The primary responsibilities of histotechnologists and histotechnicians include preparing and processing blood and tissue samples that are then examined under a microscope by a pathologist.

Both of these clinical laboratory scientists use specialized equipment, precise skills, and a variety of chemicals and dyes to make the cellular abnormalities that lead to disease visible under a microscope. Histology is a combination of both art and science!

Histotechnicians are skilled in the following histologic techniques:

  • Fixation
  • Processing
  • Embedding
  • Microtomy
  • Staining

Histotechnologists are experienced in performing all of the above techniques, plus more. The complex methods that a histotechnologist specializes in are:

  • Enzyme histochemistry
  • Immunohistochemistry
  • In-situ hybridization
  • Regulations and management concerns impacting histology

A skilled histotechnician or histotechnologist can take a small sample and curate it to allow a pathologist to see everything needed to make the correct diagnosis. Once this happens, treatment can begin. As a histology technician or technologist, your work is vital to diagnosis and understanding a wide range of illnesses- including all types of cancer, degenerative diseases, neuro-muscular diseases, and more.

How Do You Become a Histotechnologist?

To kickstart your career in histology, you’ll need to begin with a high school diploma or equivalent. From here, the paths can vary, as the education requirements are slightly different for a histotechnician and histotechnologist. The following steps are recommended:

  1. Complete an accredited education program.
  2. Take a certification exam.
  3. Maintain your certification through experience and continuing education.

FAQs About Histotechnologists

What skills does a Histotechnologist need?

Histotechnicians and histotechnologists master a wide range of technical skills to do their jobs effectively. Here are some key details:

Technique: Preparing slides correctly takes both fine motor and technical skills. You will be working with various samples, equipment, and histology techniques to get the job done. You will need to know when and where to use each.

Knowledge: Histology technicians and technologists need a strong background in biology, anatomy, chemistry, and medical terminology to effectively prepare tissue and blood samples.

Attention to detail: Every detail counts in histology. You must follow strict preparation protocols and procedures when you perform testing and take extreme care when handling fragile body tissue samples. Being detail-oriented is a must!

Technology: Working in a modern laboratory means that you will be using cutting-edge technology. You need to know how to use complex laboratory equipment and be able to troubleshoot if equipment malfunctions.

Skill in tissue sample handling: The proper handling and storage of samples are crucial to accuracy. You will also need to know the ins and outs of safely working with body fluids to prevent infection to yourself and others.

Work Settings For a Histotechnologist

Histotechnologists and histotechnicians are specialized laboratory technicians who work in a vast range of clinical and non-clinical lab settings. They are able to work in:

  • Hospital laboratories
  • Private labs
  • Research labs
  • Clinical pathology labs
  • Forensic labs
  • Pharmaceutical labs
  • Veterinary labs

Both histotechnicians and histologists typically work very early morning hours so lab samples can be prepared and ready for pathologists. The earlier samples are finished, the sooner doctors can get test results and make diagnoses that impact patient care plans.

Histology technicians and technologists can also work in lab leadership, lab management, and quality control. They are able to teach their craft in both a classroom and clinical setting. Opportunities abound for these specialized scientists!

Common Cases a Histotechnologist Encounters

Histotechnologists and histotechnicians expertise lies in preparing tissue samples for microscopic examination, which is crucial in diagnosing a wide array of conditions and informing appropriate treatment paths. Key areas they impact include:

Cancer Diagnosis: They prepare critical slides of various tissues, helping pathologists identify and differentiate between benign and malignant tumors.

Infectious and Autoimmune Diseases: Through specialized staining techniques, these professionals assist in pinpointing causes of infections and conditions where the immune system attacks healthy cells.

Chronic and Neurological Conditions: From kidney dysfunctions to Alzheimer's and Parkinson's diseases, tissue sample analysis is fundamental in understanding and diagnosing various debilitating conditions.

Molecular Diagnostics and Research: Beyond traditional diagnostics, histotechnologists delve into molecular aspects of tissues, contributing to groundbreaking research and development in treatment approaches.Forensic Pathology: Their skills are also employed in forensic investigations, helping unravel causes of death and other legal inquiries.

How To Advance Your Career as a Histotechnologist?

Both histotechnicians and histotechnologists have the option to specialize further within their professions. They may specialize within an area of medicine- such as dermatology or oncology- or in different areas of the body- such as the heart, lungs, or kidneys.

Histotechnicians and histotechnologists can also advance in different directions, too. If becoming an educator, lab manager, or taking on a leadership role within the field of histology is more interesting- these are all great opportunities available to you.

You can also use the field of histology as a starting point for moving into other areas of healthcare. If you desire to be a pathologist or medical doctor down the road, histology can be an excellent place to begin!

Education Requirements & Helpful Certifications for a Histotechnologist

Histotechnologists will need a bachelor’s degree in histotechnology. Your classes will include chemistry, microbiology, statistics, along with clinical experience. Once your degree is complete you will be ready to apply for entry-level histotechnologist jobs. It typically takes 5-6  years to complete a bachelor's degree and additional training required to be a histotechnologist.

Histotechnicians will need either a certificate or associate degree in histology. You will take classes in science and microbiology, and gain clinical experience. Once you have completed your degree or certificate program, you can apply for entry-level histotechnician jobs. It typically takes two years or less to begin working as a histotechnician.

Once you’ve completed your degree or certificate program and have obtained experience working in your chosen field, formal certification is a significant next step! A histology certification is not always required to work as a histotechnician or histotechnologist, but it is strongly recommended- especially in this competitive field.

The American Society for Clinical Pathology, or ASCP, offers two certifications in histology: the Histotechnician Certification (HT), and the Histotechnologist Certification (HTL).

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