Cytotechnologist: Job Duties and Info About a Career in Cytotechnology

Apr 10, 2019

Learn about what cytotechnologists do. Read on to see what the education and training requirements are. See the career prospects and earning potential to decide if this career is a good fit for you.

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Career Definition for Cytotechnologists

Cytotechnologists (CTs) analyze fluid and tissue specimens for microscopic cellular abnormalities, such as bacterial and viral infections, cancer, meningitis, and other diseases. They work closely with pathologists, who are medical doctors specializing in the study of diseases, but much of their microscopic and analytical work is performed independently. Cytotechnologists analyze the Pap tests that detect cervical cancer. They also collect, prepare, and interpret specimens for other types of fluid and tissue testing. They may be employed by laboratories, hospitals, research facilities or universities.

Education Bachelor's degree in cytotechnology
Certification and Licensure ASCP certification is required by many employers; many states require licensure, but certification may be substituted in some cases
Job Skills Computer literacy, problem solving, stress management, analytical skills, up-to-date knowledge of the field
Median Salary (2018)* $52,330 (medical and clinical lab technologists and technicians)
Career Outlook (2016-2026)* 12% (medical and clinical lab technologists)

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Education Requirements

A bachelor's degree and completion of a university or hospital-based cytotechnology program accredited by the Committee on Accreditation of Allied Health Programs (CAAHEP) is required for entry-level jobs.

Certification and Licensing Requirements

Graduates of accredited programs may take the American Society for Clinical Pathology (ASCP) Cytotechnology (CT) certification exam, which is required by many employers. State licensure is also required by several states, but ASCP registration may fulfill licensing requirements in some states. The American Society for Cytotechnology (ASCT) website provides information about state licensing requirements. An experienced CT with a bachelor's, master's or doctoral degree may obtain additional ASCP certification to become a specialist in cytotechnology, which is generally required for supervisory or academic careers.

Skill Requirements

Cytotechnologists must have strong analytical, problem-solving, and decision-making abilities. They must be able to handle pressure and responsibility, often performing highly detailed microscopic work for long periods of time, either independently or under the supervision of a pathologist. In addition to strong computer skills, cytotechnologists must have in-depth knowledge of the latest diagnostic methods, equipment, and technology, such as computer-assisted screening and molecular diagnostics.

Economic Forecast and Career Outlook

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) predicts faster-than-average job growth for medical and clinical laboratory technologists, including cytotechnologists. The BLS predicts 12% job growth for medical and clinical laboratory technologists for the 2016-2026 period. Automation is rapidly changing the field of cytotechnology, and technologists with advanced diagnostic skills and ASCP certification in related areas, such as molecular pathology (MP), may have the strongest employment opportunities. In May 2018, the BLS reported that medical and clinical laboratory technologists and technicians made a median annual salary of $52,330.

Alternate Career Options

Related careers include:

Biological Technician

A biological technician performs lab research activities under the direction of biologists and medical scientists. Biological technicians prepare and observe samples using instruments like microscopes; they analyze their findings and then prepare the results for presentation to other researchers on their team. Areas of specialization include microbiology and biotechnology. Biological technicians can also participate in a diverse range of projects related to mining, agriculture, energy, the environment, and other areas of research.

A bachelor's degree in biology is required for employment; employers also expect candidates to have extensive undergraduate lab experience. The BLS reports that jobs in this field are estimated to increase 10% from 2016-2026 and that biological technicians earned a median pay of $44,500 in 2018.


Chemists study the properties of substances in a lab, including how substances react to each other, and ways to use that information to develop or improve products or processes. Areas of specialization include organic, inorganic, medicinal, physical, and theoretical chemistry. Entry-level jobs require at least a bachelor's degree in chemistry, although master's and Ph.D. degrees allow for advancement and leadership responsibilities. The BLS estimates that jobs for chemists will increase 6% from 2016-2026; chemist jobs paid a median salary of $76,890 in 2018.

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