Cells, cells, cells — that's the work of the cytotechnologist. The skilled cytotechnologist examines human cell samples under the microscope, looking for early signs of cancer and other diseases.

The cytotechnologist traces the clues to disease in the cytoplasm and nucleus of cells that have been stained with special dyes. With expert eyes, the cytotechnologist looks for the smallest abnormalities in color, shape and size that can be clues to the presence of disease.

The cytotechnologist issues the final report on gynecological cytology (Pap smears) specimens that contain normal cells. When abnormal cells are present, the cytotechnologist works with a pathologist to arrive at a final diagnosis.

The cytotechnologist works independently with little supervision. He/she must be patient, precise and have relatively good eyesight. Above all, the cytotechnologist must enjoy making decisions and taking responsibility, since his/her findings will directly affect a patient's course of treatment.

Job opportunities
Today, there are more jobs for cytotechnologists than educated people to fill those jobs. The future long-term employment looks bright. The need is great everywhere throughout the country.

Cytotechnologists have an unlimited choice of practice settings. Hospitals, for-profit laboratories, clinics, public health facilities, and industry currently have positions open for qualified cytotechnologists.

The national average salary for cytotechnologists is approximately $50,000, although salaries vary by area of the country. Cytotechnologist supervisors average approximately $60,300. However, salaries are increasing due to increased demand and high vacancy rates in many areas of the country.

What it takes to be a cytotechnologist
All cytotechnologists have certain common characteristics. They are problem solvers. They like challenge and responsibility. They are accurate, reliable, work well under pressure and are able to finish a task once started. They communicate well, both in writing and speaking. They set high standards for themselves and expect quality in the work they do. But, above all, they are deeply committed to their profession, and are truly fascinated by all that science has to offer. For someone who chooses a career as a cytotechnologist, the exploration never ends.

Career preparation
To prepare for a career as a cytotechnologist, you should have a solid foundation in high school sciences — biology, chemistry, math and computer science. You'll also need a combination of formal education leading to a baccalaureate degree, plus clinical education in a cytotechnology (CT) program accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP).

Preparing for a career as a cytotechnologist is a good investment in your future. Unlike many other careers, your education in cytotechnology will prepare you directly for a job. While you're going to school, you may be able to work part-time in a laboratory to earn extra money. And you could start working full-time the day after you graduate.

To be sure that laboratory workers are competent and able to perform high quality laboratory tests, the Board of Registry of the American Society for Clinical Pathology gives a national certification exam. Students take this exam after meeting their academic and laboratory education requirements. Those who pass the exam for cytotechnology may use the initials, CT(ASCP), after their name to show they are proficient in their field.

Opportunities for Specialization
A cytotechnologist with a baccalaureate degree and five years' experience, or a master's degree and four years' experience, or a doctorate degree and three years' experience can qualify to be a Specialist in Cytotechnology. These specialists are skilled in examining all types of body specimens including needle aspirates and fine needle aspirates. Senior cytotechnologists, supervisors or educators are generally Specialists in Cytotechnology.

Learn more about becoming a cytotechnologist

Educational requirements/certification requirements:
Contact the ASCP Board of Registry,
P.O. Box 12277, Chicago, IL 60612-0277
Phone: 800-621-4142, ext.1345
In Illinois, 312-738-4890, ext. 1345
Fax: 312-738-5808

Accredited programs in cytotechnology:
American Society of Cytopathology,
400 West 9th Street, Suite 201,
Wilmington, DE 19801
Phone: 302-429-8802.

Scholarships or Loans:
Contact schools offering accredited programs.

A career in cytotechnology:
Visit laboratory professionals at your local hospital or laboratory. Talk with biology teachers and career counselors in your school.

This information is one in a series describing laboratory careers. For more information on a career in laboratory science contact the American Society for Clinical Pathology at:

American Society for Clinical Pathology
Attn: Career Information
2100 W. Harrison Street
Chicago, IL 60612
Phone: 1-800-621-4142 or 1-312-738-1336
Fax: 1-312-738-0102

Last updated: May 2004