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In the long list of lesser-known careers in healthcare, the jobs of a cytotechnologist may be one of the most interesting. Sometimes referred to as the “disease detective,” 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 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, an affiliate of the American Job Network, conducted a survey of practicing cytotechnologists and found that 62 percent had post-baccalaureate certificates while 38 percent 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
University of Cincinnati
The George Washington University (Health Sciences)
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. Following is a selection of accredited cytotechnology programs.
UCLA Medical Center (certificate) – The UCLA Medical Center offers a cytotechnology certificate program out of 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 system, but non-CSU 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.
Thomas Jefferson University (BS, MS) – Located in Philadelphia, 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. Notably, TJU allows students to complete a range of different pathways to the career, including allowing high school seniors to apply to the BS program via the Plan a College Education (PACE) program.
Old Dominion University (certificate, BS) – Based in Norfolk, Virginia, Old Dominon University offers various training programs 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. Applicants can apply as degree-seeking students for either a first or second bachelor of science degree, or can choose a non-degree option and complete the program for a certificate.
Mayo Clinic (certificate) – 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. Gradautes of the program will receive a certificate of completion. Those who are in the process of completing their BS will receive that degree from their institution and not from the Mayo Clinic itself. 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.
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
There are not any 100 percent online cytology schools due to the essentially clinical nature of the discipline. However, there is one CAAHEP-accredited institution offering online coursework for aspiring cytotechnologists.
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, Illinois; 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.
|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 Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP). Cytotechnology programs may also be accredited by the National Accrediting Agency for Clinical Laboratory Sciences (NAACLS), but tis accreditation does not make graduates eligible for certification.
The American Society for Cytotechnology (ASCT) notes that there are around 30 accredited programs in cytotechnology. Twenty-two of these programs are accredited by CAAHEP and can be found through their convenient search tool.
In addition to CAAHEP accreditation, students should look for a bachelor's degree program that has earned institutional accreditation. In many cases, cytotechnologists may earn a BS from one institution that is followed by a CAAHEP-accredited cytotechnology certification program. Institutional accreditation is typically awarded by regionally-based accrediting organizations such as the Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE) or the New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC).
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS 2017), job opportunities in cytotechnology (categorized as medical and laboratory technology) are expected to see 12 percent growth between 2016 and 2026, much higher than the average increase projected for all occupations (7 percent). It is, however, important to note that the BLS statistics include a variety of career paths and the specific rate of growth for cytotechnologists may be significantly different.
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:
Cytotechnology programs at universities
Private medical device companies that sell equipment and reagents
The BLS (2017) details the annual salary data for all medical and clinical laboratory technicians, with the lowest paid 10 percent earning less than $29,640 and the top paid 10 percent earning more than $79,530. The median pay for medical and clinical laboratory technologists and technicians was $51,770.
|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, June 2018|
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)
The CT certification is appropriate for new cytotechnologists while the SCT certification requires three years of 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 that outlines what is on the most current version of the exam.
According to the American Society of Cytopathology (ASC), there are some states that require the licensure of cytotechnologists, including:
In addition, there are a number of states that are currently or have previously considered requiring the licensure of laboratory personnel, so it is essential to check the most recent legal climate of different geographic areas.