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In 2008, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) published a guide to lesser-known careers in healthcare on the rise. Among these hot jobs was the cytotechnologist, or the “disease detective.” Since these medical professionals must be well-trained in detecting cell abnormalities with a microscope, the programs at cytotechnologist schools are generally offered at the baccalaureate and post-baccalaureate levels in colleges and hospital settings.
Some students apply for these rigorous programs of study during their junior or senior year in university. Although course requirements may vary, students generally can expect at least one year of professional instruction in cytotechnology after completing prerequisites such as biology and chemistry. After enrollment, students typically complete 28 credits of sciences in addition to a course in mathematics or statistics. Some of the classes at accredited cytotechnology programs may include cytopreparation of cell samples, cytologic evaluation of cell samples, and introduction to principles of management. In order to qualify for the national certification exam, candidates must have at least a baccalaureate degree in cytotechnology or a degree in a related discipline plus a cytotechnology certificate. The Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP) is the most common accrediting organization for cytotechnology school programs.
It should be noted that employers normally prefer candidates who not only have completed accredited programs, but those who are nationally certified as well. The American Society of Clinical Pathology (ASCP) is the primary organization that offers certification to individuals upon completion of an accredited cytotechnology program and exam. State licensure rules vary and it is crucial that entry-level cytotechnologists check the most recent standards of certification to ensure their candidacy.
O*NET (2014), an affiliate of the American Job Network, conducted a survey of practicing cytotechnologists and found that 62% had post-baccalaureate certificates while 38% had completed bachelor’s degrees in cytotechnology.
Lastly, it should be noted that there are differences between cytotechnologists and cytogenetic technologists. The former typically look at magnified cell structures for abnormalities, whereas the latter dig a little deeper. Cytogenetic technologists complete more extensive training and degree programs in order to get down to the level of chromosomes or DNA to monitor patients’ predispositions for various conditions.
Degree & certification Programs
There are a number of degree and certificate programs for people interested in becoming cytotechnologists. Some students decide in college to complete a bachelor’s degree in cytotechnology while others get degrees in related disciplines and complete a post-baccalaureate cytotechnology certificate.
One prestigious program for aspiring cytotechnologists is at the MD Anderson Cancer Center at University of Texas in Houston. It is a CAAHEP-accredited one- to two-year program which admits students at the junior or senior level. It boasts an impressive 100% graduation rate, 100% national exam passing rate (first attempt), and 100% job placement for its graduates between 2009 and 2013. In addition to a supervised clinical internship, students typically complete courses such as:
Introduction to Cytotechnology
Theory and Practice of Cytopreparatory Techniques
Non-Gynecologic Exfoliative Cytopathology
Fine Needle Aspiration Cytology
Students receive a bachelor of science degree upon completion of the program and are qualified to sit for the ASCP national certification exam.
Another renowned program is offered through California’s UCLA Medical Center at the Greater Los Angeles County Cytotechnology Training Consortium. This school of cytotechnology was founded in 1991 and is CAAHEP-accredited. It is a one-year certificate program that teaches a variety of laboratory and diagnostic procedures crucial for entry-level cytotechnological readiness. It typically accepts students through the California State University (CSUDH) system, but non-CSUDH students are encouraged to apply as well. To qualify, candidates must have at least a bachelor’s degree from an accredited college or university and a minimum of 20 semester (or 30 quarter) hours of biological sciences and eight semester hours of chemistry. The complete course prerequisites are listed below:
Quantitative Analysis (preferred)
In Pennsylvania, Thomas Jefferson University offers a well-reviewed cytotechnology program where students learn diagnostic theory and the interpretation of magnified cellular structures. This curriculum combines clinical and laboratory study with real patient specimens under the supervision of qualified cytotechnologists. Thomas Jefferson highlights five distinct areas it teaches through coursework, labs, and clinical practicums:
Cell collection, preparation, and staining procedures
Evaluation of cell and biopsy specimens from a range of body organs and tissues
Correlation of clinical analyses and the patient’s history with diagnosis
Management of a cytology laboratory, including budget, personnel, and inventory
Reviewal of how automated cell analysis and molecular diagnostic systems are changing the landscape of cytology
Since 2009, 100% of these graduates have passed the certification exam.
At Old Dominion University of Virginia, there are various training programs offered for aspiring and practicing cytotechnologists. Most programs combine rigorous didactic instruction with clinical experiences at a range of cytology laboratories throughout the region. Similar to other programs, upon completion, students are qualified to sit for the ASCP examination.
There are various program options offered at Old Dominion depending on a candidate’s previous experience and career goals:
Certificate in Cytotechnology
Prerequisites: B.S. degree, minimum of 20 semester hours of biology, eight semester hours of chemistry, and three semester hours of math
Typically completed in students senior year
Bachelor of Science in Health Sciences (cytotechnology tract)
Prerequisites: Old Dominion University’s general education requirements, minimum 20 semester hours of biology, eight hours of chemistry, three hours of math, laboratory management, research methods, and medical terminology
Bachelor of Science in Health Sciences (cytotechnology tract for degree-holders)
Prerequisites: minimum 20 semester hours of biology, eight hours of chemistry, three hours of math, laboratory management, research methods, and medical terminology
Master’s in Clinical Sciences (cytotechnology, accelerated tract)
Open to students entering the cytotechnology program that meet GPA and coursework requirements
Contact the program director for details
Master’s in Science (cytotechnology)
Open to practicing cytotechnologists to allow for further education
Contact the program director for details
In Rochester, Minnesota, the Mayo Clinic offers a CAAHEP-accredited program to both candidates with bachelor’s degrees or seniors at Mayo-affiliated colleges who choose to complete their fourth year as an intensive cytotechnology program. The affiliated academic institutions are:
Luther College (Decorah, Iowa)
Minnesota State University, Mankato (Mankato, Minnesota)
Saint Mary’s University of Minnesota (Winona, Minnesota)
University of Minnesota Rochester (Rochester, Minnesota)
University of Wisconsin-Green Bay (Green Bay, Wisconsin)
This advanced program offers experience at a range of world-class outpatient facilities. Since the class size is small, it offers more one-on-one instruction for superlative training.
Finally, the University of Utah offers a bachelor of science in cytotechnology which is the only accredited program of its kind in the intermountain area. It is sponsored by the University of Utah School of Medicine at the Health Sciences Center, which includes the Colleges of Health, Nursing, and Pharmacy, and the Spencer S. Eccles Health Science Library. Students spend much of their time at the Associated Regional and University Pathologists (ARUP) Laboratories. The prerequisites for this program include a minimum of 21 combined semester hours of biology and chemistry and a minimum GPA of 2.75.
In sum, most cytotechnology programs are offered as either part of a bachelor degree or as a post-baccalaureate certificate. These programs are generally accredited by the CAAHEP and qualify graduates to sit for the national certification exam with the ASCP.
List of Cytotechnologist Schools
|School||City||State||Website||Total grads (2013)|
|Mayo School of Health Sciences||Rochester||Minnesota||http://www.mayo.edu/mshs/||10|
|Indiana University-Purdue University-Indianapolis||Indianapolis||Indiana||http://www.iupui.edu||8|
|George Washington University||Washington||D.C.||http://www.gwu.edu||8|
|University of Mississippi Medical Center||Jackson||Mississippi||https://www.umc.edu/||7|
|University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences||Little Rock||Arkansas||http://www.uams.edu||7|
|Albany College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences||Albany||New York||http://www.acphs.edu||7|
|University of Puerto Rico-Medical Sciences||San Juan||Puerto Rico||http://www.rcm.upr.edu||6|
|The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center||Houston||Texas||http://www.mdanderson.org||6|
|Central Piedmont Community College||Charlotte||North Carolina||http://www.cpcc.edu||6|
|The University of Tennessee-Knoxville||Knoxville||Tennessee||http://www.tennessee.edu||5|
|Thomas Jefferson University||Philadelphia||Pennsylvania||http://www.jefferson.edu/index.html||4|
|University of Kansas||Lawrence||Kansas||http://www.ku.edu||3|
|Loma Linda University||Loma Linda||California||http://www.llu.edu/index.html||3|
|SUNY College at Plattsburgh||Plattsburgh||New York||http://www.plattsburgh.edu||2|
|Saint Louis University||Saint Louis||Missouri||http://www.slu.edu||1|
|Oakland University||Rochester Hills||Michigan||http://wwwp.oakland.edu/||1|
|Northern Michigan University||Marquette||Michigan||http://www.nmu.edu||1|
|Marian University||Fond Du Lac||Wisconsin||http://www.marianuniversity.edu||1|
|Saint Mary's University of Minnesota||Winona||Minnesota||http://www.smumn.edu||1|
Hybrid & online programs
University of Cincinnati
While there aren’t any 100% online cytology schools due to the essentially clinical nature of the discipline, there are a number of options for students seeking the flexibility of distance-learning.
The University of Nebraska is a self-proclaimed “leader of virtual microscopy” and offers students thousands of annotated images online available to screening at anytime. It has several satellite sites which gives students the flexibility to complete clinical training in various areas. These include the Carle Foundation Hospital, Urbana, IL; the University of California Davis Medical Center; and the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center.
This one-year program teaches students through assignments such as case studies, multi-headed microscope sessions, screening exams, patient procedure observation, and other methods of instruction. Courses such as anatomy, physiology, histology, and cytology offer students some options for online work. This didactic training is rounded out with a 22-week clinical practicum under the supervision of a certified cytotechnologist.
The University of North Dakota boasts amenities not found at other programs throughout the country, including an impressive array of top-of-the-line equipment such as ergonomically adaptable BX45 Olympus microscopes, personal computers at student stations, blackboard online learning opportunities, and SurePath® & ThinPrep® liquid based training.
There are two options for students looking to prepare themselves for careers in cytotechnology:
Open to current undergraduates at UND who have met all program prerequisites
Awards a bachelor of science in cytotechnology
Open to people with a bachelor’s degree in a related discipline who have met program prerequisites, many of which can be completed online
Awards a certificate in cytotechnology
Both routes are accredited and prepare students to sit for the national certification exam.
|School||City||State||Website||Total grads (2013)|
|University of Nebraska Medical Center||Omaha||Nebraska||http://www.unmc.edu||6|
Core & Elective Courses
Prior to enrolling in an accredited program at a cytotechnology school, students typically need to complete science course prerequisites. The specific required courses will vary by program, but they typically include the following:
Advanced math and/or statistics (preferred)
Once enrolled in an accredited cytotechnology program, students can expect to take at some of the following core classes:
Non-gynecologic Exfoliative Cytopathology
Fine Needle Aspiration Cytology
These courses are often completed in conjunction with a supervised clinical internship or externship to get the student exposure to real life laboratory procedures.
Before pursuing an education in cytotechnology, it is crucial to check the accreditation status of the institution. In order to receive a national certification through ASCP, cytotechnologists typically must have a bachelor’s degree or a certificate from a program accredited by the National Accrediting Agency for Clinical Laboratory Sciences (NAACLS) or more commonly, the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP).
The American Society for Cytotechnology (ASCT) notes that there are around 30 accredited programs in cytotechnology. Twenty-seven of these programs are accredited by CAAHEP and can be found through their convenient search tool.
O*NET notes that cytotechnologists have a “bright outlook” in employment relative to other professions. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS 2013), job opportunities in cytotechnology (categorized as medical and laboratory technology) are expected to see 14% growth between 2012 and 2022, much higher than the average increase projected for all occupations (11%).
There are several reasons for the estimated surge in demand for these medical professionals. The United States has an increasing number of elderly people which is leading to a greater need to diagnose medical conditions such as diabetes and cancer. The cytotechnology laboratory training is essential for diagnosis and treatment of these conditions. Additionally, as federal health legislation such as the Affordable Care Act (ACA) continues to expand medical access to an increasing number of Americans, these laboratory, diagnostic, and preventative health services will be in greater demand.
These professionals are employed in a variety of settings including:
NOTE: The BLS reports that more than half of cytotechnologists work in hospitals
Cytotechnology programs at universities
Private medical device companies that sell equipment and reagents
The BLS (2013) details the annual salary data for cytotechnologists, classified as medical and clinical laboratory technologists:
10th percentile: $39,940
25th percentile: $49,100
50th percentile (median): $58,430
75th percentile: $69,900
90th percentile: $80,820
The BLS (2013) also presents the states with the highest numbers of these medical professionals:
New York: 9,830
|Related Careers||Medical and Clinical Laboratory Technologist, Histotechnologist, Pharmacy Technician, Neurodiagnostic Technologist, Medical Assistant|
|Common Job Titles||Cytotechnologist, Cytotechnician, Cytogenetic Technician, Cytogenetic Technologist|
|Technology & Equipment||Benchtop Centrifuges, Binocular Light Compound Microscopes, Distillation Pipings Or Columns Or Fittings, Fluorescent Microscopes, General Purpose Refrigerators Or Refrigerator Freezers, Histology Paraffin, Laboratory Flasks, Microbiology Analyzers, Steam Autoclaves Or Sterilizers, Medical Software (E.G., Aspyra Cyberlab; Cpsi Cpsi System; Fortius Lab Systems Clinical Lis; Sunquest Information Systems Sunquest Laboratory)|
|Sourced from BLS, January 2015|
Licensing & Certification
Upon the successful completion of an accredited degree or certificate program in cytotechnology, students may be eligible to sit for the national certification exam, offered by the American Society of Clinical Pathology’s Board of Certification (ASCP-BOC).
There are two main certification options for prospective professionals in cytotechnology:
Certified Cytotechnologists, CT (ASCP)
Specialist in Cytotechnology, SCT (ASCP)
Option for those interested in becoming instructors, supervisors, and laboratory managers
Minimum requirement: baccalaureate degree and three years’ experience in the field
The honorary letters CT and SCT can be used after people’s names upon passing the exams.
The ASCP has an exam preparation guide for students. This is what is currently being tested on the national certification exams:
CT, 38%; SCT, 20%
CT, 10%; SCT, 9%
CT, 10%; SCT, 8%
Body Cavity Fluids
CT, 10%; SCT, 9%
Other (e.g., alimentary, eye, skin, anal, etc.)
CT, 2%; SCT, 2%
Fine Needle Aspirations
CT, 12%; SCT, 16%
CT, 18%; SCT, 36%
According to the American Society of Cytopathology (ASC), there are some states that require the licensure of cytotechnologists, including:
There are a couple of states that require the “certification” of cytotechnologists:
Licenses clinical laboratories and certifies technologists
Similar to requirements for licensure (e.g., individual application, fees, revocation, suspension), but is termed “certification”
There are a number of states that are currently or have previously considered requiring the licensure of laboratory personnel, so it’s essential to check the most recent legal climate of different geographic areas.