How to Become a Histology Lab Assistant

Mar 10, 2020

Research the requirements to become a histology lab assistant. Learn about the job description and duties, and read the step-by-step process to start a career in histology.

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Histology Lab Assistant Career Info

Degree Level Certificate or associate's degree
Degree Field Histology, histotechnician education, or a closely related program
Licensure/Certification Licensure required in some states; voluntary certification available through the American Society for Clinical Pathology Board of Certification
Experience None
Key Skills Problem-solving and verbal and written communication skills; patience, detail-oriented, and ability to work under pressure; label-making, spreadsheet, and medical software; must be able to operate and maintain laboratory equipment such as microtomes, knife holders, and tissue processors
Salary $52,330 (2018 median salary for medical and clinical laboratory technicians)

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Histology lab assistants, also referred to as histology technicians or histotechnicians, aid pathologists in the analyses of body tissue. They might work in hospitals, labs, doctors' offices or universities. Those who work in facilities that are open around the clock might work during the night or on weekends. Histology lab assistants must carefully follow safety precautions to prevent injury or illness when working with infectious specimens or those that produce dangerous fumes.

In addition to the appropriate training, histology lab assistants should have a few key skills. These include problem-solving skills, attention to detail, patience, the ability to work under pressure, written and verbal communication skills, experience with spreadsheet and medical software, and the ability to operate and maintain laboratory equipment. Medical and clinical laboratory technicians in general earned a median annual salary of $52,330 in 2018, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Complete a Degree or Certificate Program

Aspiring histology lab assistants might choose to complete a certificate program accredited by the National Accrediting Agency for Clinical Laboratory Sciences (NAACLS). These programs take about a year to complete and cover subjects such as chemistry, histology, immunology and medical ethics. Another option is an associate's degree program, which generally will include supervised hands-on histology training. The Associate in Applied Science in Histology is an example of a degree awarded to graduates of these programs.

Earn Licensure and/or Certification

Some states require licensure to work in a clinical or medical laboratory, and requirements vary by state. Qualifications typically are similar to those for voluntary certification in the field, including completion of a state-approved education program and passage of an exam.

Many employers prefer histology lab assistants who hold voluntary certification through an organization such as the American Society for Clinical Pathology (ASCP) Board of Certification (BOC). To obtain ASCP certification, individuals must complete an NAACLS-accredited histology assistant program or earn a specified number of college credits. A year of histology laboratory experience is required for candidates who have earned college credits but not completed an accredited program. Candidates must also pass a certification exam, which measures areas such as technical knowledge, laboratory techniques, communication skills and problem-solving abilities.

Maintain Certification

Histology lab assistants must complete a Certification Maintenance Program (CMP) every three years. Completing formal education courses and/or college coursework, authoring a book or preparing a workshop presentation are some methods that assistants can use to earn CMP points. Once all necessary certification and licensure requirements are fulfilled, technicians can focus their careers on areas such as disease prevention or biochemistry.

In conclusion, those who are looking to become histology lab assistants should earn a certificate or associate's degree in histology before pursuing licensure or certification as well as on-the-job experience.

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