The science of histology deals with the formation of tissues and organs from cell structures. Histology technicians, also known as histotechnicians, prepare tissue slides for microscopic examination by pathologists to either diagnose or dismiss disease. Histology technicians play an important role in the scientific investigations of both establishing and confirming patient diagnoses, according to the National Institutes of Health Office of Science Education.
Education and Training
Those interested in a career in histology should have a background in high school sciences such as biology, chemistry, computer science and math, according to the American Society for Clinical Pathology. You will also need to either a) complete a histotechnician program accredited by the National Accrediting Agency for Clinical Laboratory Sciences or b) complete an associate's degree with one year of acceptable full-time experience in histopathology under the supervision of a pathologist. Many histology students are able to work part-time in a laboratory while in school. You can expect to immediately begin working full time as a histotechnician upon completing your education, according to the National Society for Histotechnology.
Duties and Responsibilities
A histology technician job consists of five basic steps, according to the National Institutes of Health Office of Science Education. First, the histotechnician removes the tissue from a preservative solution and removes water from the sample and replaces it with paraffin wax. Next, the technician embeds the sample in a larger block of wax to prepare it for slicing, before mounting it on an instrument known as a microtome. The technician then slices, or sections, the sample with a very sharp knife. The sample then is stained with special dies and mounted on a slide for viewing with a microscope. The sample then is given to a pathologist who attempts to determine the development and cause of disease at the microscopic level.
Histology technicians may work with either human, animal or plant tissue, depending on the type of laboratory or facility in which they work. Tissue specimens are acquired from autopsies, routine surgeries or scientific investigation. Histology technicians are on their feet for extended periods and on occasion are called on to either lift or turn disabled patients. In addition, histotechnicians may be exposed to infectious specimens or toxic fumes. Most histotechnicians work full time, which could include evenings, weekends or overnight hours, according to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Salary and Employment Outlook
In 2010, the median wage for a histology technician was $47,174 per year, according to the American Society for Clinical Pathology Wage and Vacancy Survey. Employment of all medical laboratory technicians is expected to grow by 15 percent from 2010 to 2020, according to the BLS. Career opportunities for histotechnicians are especially good, according to the Mayo School of Health Sciences, as the need for certified individuals far exceeds the number of trained technicians.
- Mayo School of Health Sciences: Histology Technician
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics:
- National Institutes of Health Office of Science Education: Technician or Technologist, Histotechnician-technologist
- National Society for Histotechnology: How Do I Become a Histotechnologist?
- American Society for Clinical Pathology’s 2010 Wage Survey of U.S. Clinical Laboratories
Michael Kerr is an award-winning freelance writer living in Portland, Oregon. He writes about business, health and travel for a number of publications including Portland Business Journal, Healthline Networks and USAToday, among others.