Cytology generally refers to the study of cells for purposes of identifying signs of abnormality or disease. Cytotechnologists work in the laboratories of clinics and hospitals, assisting pathologists and other lab personnel. In order to become a certified cytotechnologist or laboratory manager, applicants need to earn a bachelor's or master's degree from an accredited cytotechnology program and pass a certification exam.
Degree programs in this field are uncommon and highly competitive, and require strong knowledge of the sciences. Graduates may be required to gain licensure before seeking employment depending on the state in which they wish to work. Bachelor's degree programs require a high school diploma for admission, while a bachelor's degree is necessary for a master's. Many schools will admit students with an unrelated degree provided they have completed a certain number of classes in biology, chemistry, math and communications.
Bachelor of Science in Cytotechnology
Students who want to earn a Bachelor of Science in Cytotechnology usually spend their first three years gaining experience in the sciences and math. They must apply and be accepted into a cytotechnology training program by their senior year. Their final year usually consists of professional courses on techniques used in cytology labs, a survey of cytopathology, a practicum and a research project. Common courses in these programs explore lab management and different types of cytology, including:
- Neoplasia and gynecology
- Respiratory cytology
- Gastrointestinal cytology
- Fine needle aspiration cytology
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Master of Science (M.S.) in Cytotechnology
A Master of Science in Cytotechnology program provides the professional training and research skills necessary for the field. Most programs include clinical practicums and research experience. In the first year of a M.S. cytotechnology program, studies consist mostly of classes on cytology and the identification of abnormal cell growth. The final year is devoted largely to research for a master's thesis and to gaining practical experience in the laboratory. Coursework can include:
- Sample preparation of cytology
- Cytopathology and neoplasia
- Medical ethics
- Advanced molecular diagnostics and biochemistry
Popular Career Options
Most graduates first find work as an entry-level cytotechnologist, but with experience or additional specialized education, graduates can qualify for higher-level positions, such as:
- Lab manager
- Academic researcher
Employment Outlook and Salary Information
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), employment of medical and clinical laboratory technologists and technicians, like cytotechnologists, was expected to increase by 16% between the years 2014 and 2024. This is much faster than average job growth. The BLS also reported that as of May 2015, these professionals earned an median salary of $50,550.
Continuing Education Information
Though not always required, most employers seek candidates that have earned certification as a cytotechnologist through the American Society for Clinical Pathology (ASCP). Candidates must have completed a bachelor's degree as well as a cytotechnology program accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP).
Bachelor's and master's degree programs in cytology usually include research, practicums and direct lab experience, in addition to lecture courses. Graduates may work as lab managers or cytogeneticists.