Cytotechnologist

Not all diseases can be diagnosed through a lab test or with medical imaging. There are many diseases and cancers that can only be diagnosed by trained laboratory specialists called cytotechnologists. These inquisitive and detail-oriented professionals have the skills and training to prepare cell samples, determine abnormalities in cells, and write detailed reports so pathologists can make a diagnosis. They can also identify bacteria, viruses, and precancerous cells.

Education for cytotechnologists generally starts with completing an associate or bachelor’s degree. It can be either in cytotechnology or a related field. Students who complete an undergraduate degree in a related field will need to complete a cytotechnology program. As part of a bachelor’s program, cytotechnology studies encompass the last two years. As part of a stand-alone program, a cytotechnology certificate takes between one to two years. Students will learn how to identify different types of cells with hundreds of hours of education behind a microscope and extensive practicum experiences.

Opportunities for cytotechnologists, who are considered “clinical laboratory technologists and technicians” by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, are growing. There is an anticipated 7 percent increase in jobs in this field between 2019 and 2029, nearly twice as fast as the expected growth among all occupations nationally during the same period (4 percent). This increase is primarily due to the increases in cancer and other disease rates in the US. Between 2010 and 2020, there was a 24 percent increase in diagnosed cancer cases alone.

Cytotechnologists are critical players in disease diagnosis. Continue reading to learn more about what it takes to become one, including top education programs, what certifications are necessary, and how to become licensed.

Cytotechnologist Specializations & Degree Types

Cytotechnologists are required to have completed at least a bachelor’s degree. Aspiring professionals can complete a bachelor’s of science cytotechnology. Alternatively, they can complete a bachelor’s in a related field such as biology, pre-med, or math and earn a post-baccalaureate certificate. Bachelor’s programs take four years to complete, while certificate programs can be completed in as little as a year.

Admissions Requirements for Cytotechnologist Programs

Admission requirements for cytotechnology programs can be stringent. Most programs encompass just cytotechnology courses, requiring that students have completed extensive prerequisite coursework before applying for admission.

Bachelor’s degree programs, which are typically only the last two years of a degree, require students to have completed all their general coursework in addition to prerequisites. Required coursework can include math, biology, chemistry, microbiology, and anatomy. Often, students must have a minimum GPA, as well. Other admission requirements can include a statement of intent, letters of recommendation, an application fee, and a completed application. International students must supply proof of English proficiency with either a TOEFL or IELTS exam score.

Cytotechnologist Program Accreditation

Cytotechnologist programs are programmatically accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP). Completing a CAAHEP-accredited program is required for certification and may be required for state licensure. Prospective cytotechnologists should also ensure the bachelor’s degree program they complete is regionally accredited by an accrediting body recognized by the Department of Education as this is required for admission to most cytotechnology programs.

On-Campus Cytotechnologist Degree Programs

Loma Linda University – School of Allied Health Professions

Students can complete a bachelor’s of science in cytotechnology at Loma Linda University’s School of Allied Health Professions. This program is just the last two years of a bachelor’s degree—a degree completion program—so the first two years must be completed before applying for admission. The first two years can be completed at Loma Linda or another accredited university. The emphasis of this program is on pathology, laboratory management, and critical thinking.

During the first year of the program, students participate in lectures and laboratory courses. Students are required to complete clinical practicums during the second year, culminating with an 11-week full-time intensive internship. Graduates of this program are eligible to sit for the American Society of Clinical Pathology’s Board of Certification (ASCP-BOC) exam. The pass rate for graduates of this program for 2015 to 2019 is 100 percent.

  • Location: Loma Linda, CA
  • Duration: Two years
  • Accreditation: Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP)
  • Tuition: $33,100 per year

University of Wisconsin Madison – College of Agricultural and Life Sciences

The University of Wisconsin Madison College of Agricultural and Life Sciences offers a three-semester certificate in cytotechnology for students who have already completed a bachelor’s degree in a related field. This program features small cohorts of less than 12 students guaranteeing lots of individual attention. The first two semesters are classroom and lab-based, with over 400 hours sitting at a microscope. The last semester prepares students to work in a lab with full-time clinical rotations.

In addition to completing the required coursework, students will also receive help charting a career path. This prestigious program is well connected with cytopathology labs across the country and often recommends students for open positions. Required courses students must complete include the gastrointestinal system, seminar in clinical cytology, and effusions, to name a few.

Admission requirements include having already completed a bachelor’s degree, have a minimum 2.5 GPA, submit a letter describing interest in cytotechnology, and provide three letters of recommendation.

  • Location: Madison, WI
  • Duration: Three semesters
  • Accreditation: Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP)
  • Tuition: $1,513.88 per credit-hour

Mayo Clinic- College of Medicine & Science

The Mayo Clinic College of Medicine & Science offers a one-year cytotechnologist program that can be completed as a stand-alone program or as the final year of a bachelor’s program. There are currently five affiliated bachelor’s programs where students can complete the first three years of their education prior to enrolling in the cytotechnology program. Regardless of the path chosen, students must complete extensive prerequisites in biology, chemistry, and math.

Time in this program is divided nearly evenly between classroom settings, labs, and clinical experiences. By the time students graduate, they will have over 750 hours of hands-on experience with a variety of specimens and types of technology.

More than half of graduates from this prestigious program go on to be employed at numerous Mayo Clinic facilities while the other half are employed in labs across the country. Due to the reputation of this program, graduates are in high demand.

  • Location: Rochester, MN
  • Duration: One year
  • Accreditation: Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP)
  • Tuition: $16,960

Online or Hybrid Cytotechnologist Degree Program

Due to the hands-on nature of a cytotechnology degree or certificate, there are currently no fully online programs. Some programs offer satellite learning where students can study at one of many sites across the country. One such program is detailed below.

University of Nebraska – College of Allied Health Professions

While not a completely online program, the University of Nebraska College of Allied Health Professions has eight satellite locations for its cytotechnology program, allowing students to study all across the country. At the satellite locations, classes are delivered online and live. Lab wors is completed through a combination of virtual microscope work and hands-on training. Each site is unique, and training is tailored to the current cohort. Cohorts are small, with only one to six students at each location.

Required coursework is the same no matter which site a student selects. These classes include an intro to cytotechnology and cytopreparation, cytology of body fluids and cerebrospinal fluid, fine needle aspiration cytology, and more.

In the final semester of the program, students complete a full-time lab practicum. This program’s admission requirements include at least a 2.8 GPA, a completed bachelor’s degree, completed prerequisite coursework, three letters of recommendation, and a personal essay detailing the motivations for applying for the program.

  • Location: Omaha, NE
  • Duration: Three semesters
  • Accreditation: Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP)
  • Tuition: $14,065 per semester

How Long Does it Take to Become a Cytotechnologist?

It takes between four to six years post graduating high school to become a cytotechnologist. The amount of time it takes depends on the type of degree pursued. A bachelor’s in cytotechnology will only take four years, whereas a bachelor’s in a related field and a post-baccalaureate certificate will take between five to six years.

How To Become a Cytotechnologist – Step-by-Step Guide

Step 1: Graduate from High School or Complete a GED (Four Years)

Aspiring cytotechnologists will need to first complete high school or obtain a GED. Having a high school diploma or GED demonstrates a minimum level of education and prepares students for further education. Students who want to become cytotechnologists should focus on classes such as biology, math, and chemistry.

Step 2: Complete Cytotechnologist Education (Four to Six Years)

Cytotechnologists must earn a bachelor’s degree in cytotechnology. Alternatively, students who complete a bachelor’s of science in a related field such as math, chemistry, biology, or pre-med can complete a post-baccalaureate cytotechnology program.

Programs completed after earning a bachelor’s degree typically take one to two years to complete. Students will be required to complete classroom and lab work and complete intensive practicums that will give them hands-on experience in a lab.

Step 3: Earn a Cytotechnologist Certification (Timeline Varies)

Certification is optional for cytotechnologists; however, it is an industry standard and required by most employers. PRofessionals are certified by the American Society of Clinical Pathology’s Board of Certification (ASCP-BOC) as either Certified Cytotechnologists (CT) or Specialist in Cytotechnology (SCT).

Details on how to obtain certification are listed below.

Step 4: Obtain State Licensure (Timeline Varies)

Only a handful of states require cytotechnologists to be licensed. However, legislation can change at any time, so aspiring professionals should check with local licensing boards to get the most up to date information.

Licensing requirements vary by state and can include completing education, passing a national exam, paying a licensing fee, and completing an application. More details about state licensing can be found below.

What Do Cytotechnologists Do?

Cytotechnologists work in hospitals, labs, and universities. They typically work under the supervision of a pathologist. Day-to-day duties vary based on place of employment, but typical responsibilities include:

  • Preparing slides with samples using standard scientific practices
  • Using a microscope to examine cells on slides
  • Identifying abnormal cells in the samples
  • Writing detailed reports about the cells examined
  • Comparing cells to determine if there have been changes over time
  • Working closely with fellow lab workers and pathologists

Cytotechnologist Certifications & Licensure

The American Society of Clinical Pathology’s Board of Certification (ASCP-BOC) certifies cytopathologists as either Certified Cytotechnologists (CT) or Specialist in Cytotechnology (SCT).

To be eligible for the CT exam, candidates must complete a bachelor’s degree from a regionally accredited institution and a cytotechnology program from a CAAHEP accredited institution.

To be eligible to sit for the SCT exam, candidates must meet the same educational requirements as for the CT exam and have either three years of work experience or three years of teaching in cytotechnology.

The CT exam costs $240, and the SCT exam costs $290. Both exams are two and a half hours long and consist of 100 multiple-choice questions.

Cytotechnologists are required to be licensed in Alabama, Alaska, California, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Illinois, Louisiana, Maine, Massachusetts, Montana, Nevada, New York, Rhode Island, Tennessee, and West Virginia. Licensing requirements vary by state, so candidates should check with their local boards to ensure they have the necessary qualifications. In New York, for example, the requirements are:

  • Complete an application
  • Pay $175 application fee
  • Complete an educational program registered with the department
  • Pass an exam approved by the board
  • Be 18 years old
  • Be of good moral character

How Much Do Cytotechnologists Make?

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics classifies cytotechnologists as “clinical laboratory technologists and technicians” who earn $54,780 per year on average. Because of the specialized education and training required for cytotechnologists, they tend to make a bit more than general laboratory technicians. According to Salary.com, the median wage for cytotechnologists is $79,110 per year.

The percentiles for wages for clinical laboratory technologists and technicians, according to the BLS, are:

  • 10th percentile: $30,920
  • 25th percentile: $39,030
  • 50th percentile (median): $53,120
  • 75th percentile: $68,100
  • 90th percentile: $81,530
Kimmy Gustafson

Kimmy Gustafson

Writer

Kimmy is a freelance writer with extensive experience writing about healthcare careers and education. She has worked in public health, at health-focused nonprofits, and as a Spanish interpreter for doctor’s offices and hospitals. She has a passion for learning and that drives her to stay up to date on the latest trends in healthcare. When not writing or researching, she can be found pursuing her passions of nutrition and an active outdoors lifestyle.

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