Students in cytotechnology programs try to solve cellular mysteries. They
learn to use their technically trained minds and eyes to single out malignant
or pre-malignant cancer cells.
To become a cytotechnologist in the U.S., you need either a four-year
bachelor's degree in cytology (cell biology), or a bachelor's degree in a
related field (like biology) plus a one-year cytology certificate. You
must also pass a state exam to become a certified cytotechnologist.
Because cytotechnology involves detecting tiny changes in cells, students
must pay close attention to detail.
"Cytotechnologists are looking at microscopic changes in cells," says Mary
Ann Weller, director of the medical laboratory sciences program at Oakland
University in Michigan. "They must be able to distinguish subtle characteristics."
Weller's program is four years long -- three at university, and one full
year of internship.
"However, internship positions are not guaranteed as part of the university
degree -- the students must compete for them," Weller says.
High school students can begin preparing for this career by paying attention
in biology, chemistry, mathematics, physics, computer science and English
"At the high school level, we can expect more general biology courses and
standard chemistry courses to be available," says Eric Thompson, advisor and
director of the University of North Dakota's cytotechnology program. "But
these are good bases for taking college-level bioscience courses in hematology,
physiology, anatomy, histology and cell biology."
Students should also know how to write. "Writing skills are so important
in communication -- spelling, grammar," Weller emphasizes. "Health-care workers
need to communicate precisely."
Volunteer positions could include taking care of the sick or elderly.
"Hopefully, the experience would teach them how vital quality health care
is and how important their job will be," Weller says.
Generally, textbooks and equipment for any health-related education are
expensive. Specialized books tend to be more expensive, but they will double
as reference books in years to come.
Occupational Outlook Handbook
For more information related to this field of study, see: Clinical
Laboratory Technologists and Technicians
American Society of Cytopathology
Find out about education options and other resources
An international journal and resource linking cytotechnologists
around the world