Peering through a microscope isn't everybody's idea of a good time, but if you have that kind of scientific curiosity and attention to detail you could find a number of rewarding careers in health care. For example, pathology laboratories use specialized staff called cytotechnologists and cytogenic technologists to detect medical conditions through cellular abnormalities. The two disciplines are different, but closely related.
Defining what's "normal" and what isn't is tricky for a psychiatrist, but not for a cytotechnologist. You'll be trained to recognize the the typical structure and function of cells from throughout the body, and to recognize any abnormalities on sight. You view cell specimens under a microscope's powerful magnification, looking for signs that indicate cancer or other medical conditions. When you find indications that a cell is malfunctioning, you make notes of your findings for the pathologist to review. In the case of a simple Pap test you can make the final ruling on a patient's health, but otherwise you'll forward your slides and notes to a pathologist for final review.
Cytotechnologists look at a cell's normal structures for signs of medical conditions, but as a cytogenetic technologist you'd look even deeper. You'll study the chromosomes in a cell's DNA, looking for characteristics that indicate genetic irregularities. Some genetic markers indicate a predisposition to specific diseases, such as breast cancer. You can even diagnose genetic disorders such as Down's Syndrome before a child is born. Like a cytotechnologist, you'll pass your slides and notes to a pathologist or other physician for further review.
To become a cytotechnologist, you need a bachelor's degree from an accredited university. Your course work should include statistics or other advanced math, and you'll need a strong grounding in organic chemistry and biology. You'll also need to graduate from a cytotechnology program approved by the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs, or CAAHEP. That can be taken separately as a one-year certificate program after your bachelor's degree or integrated into your bachelor's degree program. You don't need to be certified to work in the field, but taking the American Society for Clinical Pathology's certification exam can be a good career move.
Becoming a cytogenetic technologist is a pretty similar process. You can take a bachelor's degree and add a cytogenetics training program accredited by the National Accrediting Agency for Clinical Laboratory Sciences. Alternatively you can incorporate that coursework into your bachelor's degree, with or without a major in biological sciences. You could also earn a master's or doctoral degree in genetics or microbiology, if you're ambitious and want to be the boss some day. To be certified in cytogenetics by the ASCP, you'll need to work for nine months to one year in an accredited cytogenetics laboratory and then pass the certification exam.
- American Medical Association: Health Care Careers Directory -- Cytotechnologist
- American Medical Association: Health Care Careers Directory -- Cytogenetic Technologist
- Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs: Cytotechnology
- National Accrediting Agency for Clinical Laboratory Sciences: Cytogenetic Technology (CG) Accreditation Information
- American Society for Clinical Pathology: U.S. Certification
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