Histotechnologist

“This is an in-demand field. Anytime someone has surgery or something removed from their body that needs to be checked out, like a biopsy, that tissue needs to be examined, which is a histotechnologist’s job.”

Karen Stiffler, MA, Histotechnology Program Director at Lakeland Community College

Medical laboratories employ a variety of professionals that most patients never even knew existed. While most patient interactions at a lab are with front office staff, phlebotomists, and pathologists, a team of staff behind the scenes makes sure that samples are processed and evaluated correctly. One of these key team members is a histotechnologist. 

Histotechnologists prepare patient specimens for evaluation by affixing them to a slide and using reagents, chemicals, and dyes in a specific order to make the cells more visible. The slides histotechnologists have prepared are then evaluated by pathologists to diagnose or rule out diseases. 

The work histotechnologists perform is tedious and meticulous. Histotechnologists must adhere accurately to procedures, keep a clean workspace, and record each and every step they take. Mistakes or cross-contamination can be problematic because often there is a limited sample, and there may not be enough material for a second attempt. Having histotechnologists prepare the specimen for evaluation saves pathologists countless hours and streamlines the workflow in a medical lab. 

Learning the skills necessary to work as a histotechnologist happens primarily in a dedicated histotechnology program. While there is some on-the-job learning, completing an educational program is a must. These programs can be certificates or degree programs (associate, bachelor’s, or master’s) that vary in length. In these programs, students take courses in medical terminology, chemistry, biology, and histology techniques. Most programs also include clinical experience and extensive hands-on labs. 

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS May 2023), histotechnologists are classified as clinical laboratory technologists and technicians and earn $62,870 per year on average. Opportunities in the field of laboratory technologists and technicians are expected to grow 5 percent between 2022 and 2032, primarily due to the aging Baby Boomer population’s increased demand for healthcare (BLS 2023). 

Continue reading to learn more about this essential laboratory job, including typical job duties, certification requirements, and top online and on-campus programs.

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Ask an Expert: Karen Stiffler, MA, HTL

Karen Stiffler is the histotechnology program director at Lakeland Community College. Prior to this role, she worked in a research lab, gaining valuable hands-on experience. She eventually transitioned to the healthcare sector by joining the Cleveland Clinic, where she further honed her skills in histology. 

Stiffler holds a bachelor’s degree in biology from Case Western Reserve University and a master’s of arts in education from Western Governors University. 

HealthcareDegree.com: What is something you wish the public understood about histotechnology?

Stiffler: This is an in-demand field. Anytime someone has surgery or something removed from their body that needs to be checked out, like a biopsy, that tissue needs to be examined, which is a histotechnologist’s job. They put the samples or tissues on a slide so that the doctor can look at them and determine if they have a disease and can prescribe a treatment that might be helpful. This is especially critical if it’s cancer so they can figure out the exact type of cancer it is. But people often don’t know what happens to your tissue after the surgery or biopsy. 

Healthcare Degree.com: What advice would you give to aspiring histotechnology students?

Stiffler: Take biology, chemistry, and math in high school to prepare for your next level of studies. When you are ready to enroll in a program, visit the National Accrediting Agency for Clinical Laboratory Science (NAACLS) to find an accredited program in your state. Lastly, set up a time to shadow a histotechnologist, where you go in for a day or two to the labs, and they can see exactly what they do. Sometimes, this career can be hard to explain, so seeing it firsthand helps.

Histotechnologist Specializations & Degree Types

Those interested in this field can complete four types of education programs: a certificate, an associate’s, a bachelor’s, or a master’s. A bachelor’s degree is required to obtain a histotechnologist certification, although it can be in any science-related field. With an associate’s degree, graduates can earn certification as a histotechnician. 

The most common programs aspiring professionals complete are certificates or associate’s degrees, as they cost the least and can be completed relatively quickly. Students who complete a bachelor’s of science in a field other than histotechnology can complete an online intensive histotechnician certificate program to gain the necessary skills to enter this field. 

Master’s programs are relatively rare, and professionals who complete one of these advanced degrees often do so in conjunction with cytotechnology or cytopathology, which is the analysis of the specimens prepared using histological techniques.

Admissions Requirements for Histotechnologist Programs

The admission requirements for a histotechnologist program vary based on the type of program. Counterintuitively, many certificate programs have higher requirements than an associate’s or bachelor’s degree as they require students to already be working in a medical laboratory and have completed extensive prerequisite coursework in science and math. 

Associate’s degree programs have the leanest admission standards, often only requiring a high school diploma or GED to apply. Most bachelor’s degree programs require students to have a GED or high school diploma, standardized test scores, and specific high school coursework.

Histotechnologist Program Accreditation

Ensuring a certificate or degree is accredited is an essential step in selecting a quality education program. There are two types of accreditation: national or programmatic. National accrediting agencies ensure colleges and universities meet a high level of quality in faculty, facilities, and curriculum. These accrediting bodies are recognized by the Department of Education. 

Programmatic accreditation assures students that the program they are completing meets high standards for the specific industry they will be entering. The National Accrediting Agency for Clinical Laboratory Science (NAACLS) is responsible for accrediting histotechnology programs. Completing a NAACLS program provides students with the necessary skills to find entry-level work in this field as well as qualifies them to sit for the American Society for Clinical Pathology (ASCP) histotechnologist exam.

On-Campus Histotechnologist & Histologic Technician Degree Programs

Lakeland Community College

The associate’s of applied science degree in histotechnology at Lakeland Community College is a traditional on-campus program. This program can be the first step towards a bachelor’s degree in order to earn the credentials necessary for a histotechnologist certification. Skills required to succeed in this program are problem-solving, attention to detail, scientific interest, and the ability to handle challenges.

Most students complete this degree in two years. However, students who have completed at least 22 credits in the appropriate coursework can complete their studies in three semesters instead. Class sizes are intentionally kept small to allow students plenty of one-on-one attention. The program culminates in a 16-week clinical experience. 

  • Location: Kirtland, OH
  • Duration: Five semesters
  • Accreditation: National Accrediting Agency for Clinical Laboratory Science (NAACLS)

West Virginia University – School of Medicine

The bachelor’s of science (BS) in biomedical laboratory diagnostics at West Virginia University School of Medicine offers a concentrated major in histotechnology. This competitive program only accepts five students each year. During the first year of this program, students will focus primarily on didactic coursework along with some labs. The second year is much more hands-on, culminating in a practicum. 

Students must complete two years of general education requirements at West Virginia before applying for the biomedical sciences major. Admission requirements include prerequisite coursework, letters of recommendation, a minimum 2.5 GPA, and an interview. Summer courses are required for this major. 

  • Location: Morgantown, WV
  • Duration: Four years
  • Accreditation: National Accrediting Agency for Clinical Laboratory Science (NAACLS)

Clover Park Technical College

In just four quarters, students can complete a medical histology technician associate of applied technology degree at Clover Park Technical College. This degree is sufficient to qualify to sit for a histotechnician certification, or if a student transfers and completes a bachelor’s, then they can qualify for the histotechnologist certification. 

The three-year averages for this program sit at an impressive 95 percent for graduation, 97 percent for employment, and 96 percent pass-rate on the histotechnician certification exam. The balance between classroom learning, lab work, and clinical rotations prepares students adequately for entry-level work in this field. 

  • Location: Lakewood, WA 
  • Duration: Four quarters
  • Accreditation: National Accrediting Agency for Clinical Laboratory Science (NAACLS)

Houston Community College

The associate of applied science histologic technician degree at Houston Community College can be completed in just two years. This program is an excellent stepping stone towards a career as a histotechnologist, as long as the student completes a bachelor’s degree as well. Students must complete 60 semester-credits to earn this degree, including six credits of practicum and a five-credit capstone. 

Graduates of this program are well prepared to sit for the ASCP histotechnician exam. In 2020, 100 percent of students passed the exam on the first try. To be considered for admission, students must complete prerequisite coursework in math, English, biology, and chemistry. 

  • Location: Houston, TX
  • Duration: Two years
  • Accreditation: National Accrediting Agency for Clinical Laboratory Science (NAACLS)

University of Tennessee – College of Health Professions

For students looking for a more advanced degree, the University of Tennessee College of Health Professions offers a master’s of cytopathology practice. This two-year degree is the only one in the country that prepares graduates for certification in both histotechnology and cytopathology. 

Upon completion of this program, students will be experts at preparing and processing samples and tissue for examination, as well as having the skills to interpret the findings. 

As this program is highly specialized, students must complete 85 credits of prerequisite coursework and already hold a bachelor’s degree. Applicants must also submit letters of recommendation, write a statement of purpose, and attend an in-person interview. 

  • Location: Memphis, TN
  • Duration: 21 months
  • Accreditation: National Accrediting Agency for Clinical Laboratory Science (NAACLS)

Online or Hybrid Histotechnologist & Histologic Technician Degree Program

Indiana University – School of Medicine

The Indiana University School of Medicine offers an online associate of science degree in histotechnology. All coursework is completed through distance learning, while hands-on work is completed in a lab near the student’s home. In total, students must complete 60 credits to earn this degree. Thirty of those credits are in general education, while the remainder are in medical laboratory science and histotechnology specific. 

In order to be admitted to this program, students must first secure a qualified training laboratory and a supervising histotechnician or histotechnologist. Most of these training sites are paid jobs, although some locations take on unpaid interns. 

  • Location: Bloomington, IN
  • Duration: Two years
  • Accreditation: National Accrediting Agency for Clinical Laboratory Science (NAACLS)

Goodwin University

Both the certificate and associate degree programs in histotechnology at Goodwin University are offered in a flexible hybrid format. This combines the best of on-campus learning with the ability to complete some coursework at the student’s own pace. Graduates of these programs are eligible to sit for the ASCP histotechnician exam. However, if they possess a bachelor’s degree, they can sit for the histotechnologist exam. 

General education classes are the primary difference between the certificate and the associate degree programs. Both programs require students to complete courses in medical terminology, histological techniques, chemistry, and biology along with in-depth laboratory classes and a clinical experience. 

  • Location: East Hartford, CT
  • Duration: One to two years
  • Accreditation: National Accrediting Agency for Clinical Laboratory Science (NAACLS)

Harford Community College

Harford Community College offers a convenient online histologic technician certificate. This program is exclusively for professionals with an associate’s degree, work in a lab, and have completed college-level biology and chemistry classes. Clinical work is a critical component of this program, and students will complete it at the laboratory where they work. 

To complete this program, students must have a histological technician or technologist as their clinical mentor who will supervise lab assignments. Students should anticipate spending at least 20 hours weekly on assignments, lectures, and homework. This program has on-demand start states so students can begin their studies anytime. 

  • Location: Bel Air, MD
  • Duration: Varies but must be completed in a maximum of 10 months
  • Accreditation: National Accrediting Agency for Clinical Laboratory Science (NAACLS)

Mayo Clinic – College of Medicine and Science

The flexible hybrid format of the histology technician program at the Mayo Clinic College of Medicine and Science allows students the flexibility to complete their studies in just nine months. Fifty percent of the time in the program is spent in clinical experiences, 25 percent in classroom lectures, and 25 percent in labs. Students must be located near the Florida, Arizona, or Minnesota campuses in order to be able to attend the in-person portions of this program. 

As one of the best programs in the country, the Mayo Clinic prepares graduates to enter the workforce. Clinical experiences encompass large-scale labs as well as smaller facilities to give students a variety of experiences. 

  • Location: Florida, Arizona, and Minnesota
  • Duration: Nine months
  • Accreditation: National Accrediting Agency for Clinical Laboratory Science (NAACLS)

The University of North Dakota – School of Medicine & Health Sciences

The advantage of the online histotechnician certificate at the University of North Dakota School of Medicine & Health Sciences is that students don’t have to visit campus. In as little as two months of online coursework and a lab completed at accredited medical centers, students can be ready to sit for the ASCP histotechnician exam. 

Since this is just a certificate program, students must complete prerequisite coursework in chemistry, biology, and math to be eligible for admission. Also, before being admitted, students must secure an approved clinical placement for the hands-on portion of their studies. 

  • Location: Grand Forks, ND
  • Duration: Two to three semesters
  • Accreditation: National Accrediting Agency for Clinical Laboratory Science (NAACLS)

How Long Does it Take to Become a Histotechnologist?

Since histotechnologists must complete both a bachelor’s degree and a training program, it takes them five to six years after high school to complete the necessary education to enter this field.

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

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

Earning a high school diploma or GED is the first step toward becoming a histotechnologist. This gives aspiring professionals a base knowledge as well as experience sticking to and completing an educational program. Classes that prepare students for further studies include biology, chemistry, and math. 

Step 2:  Obtain a Bachelor’s Degree (Four Years) 

Histotechnologists must have earned at least a bachelor’s degree. There are a number of majors students can pursue, including histotechnology, pre-med, math, chemistry, biology, and more. Working in a lab while completing their degree can help students gain valuable hands-on experience that can improve employability upon graduation. 

Step 3: Complete Histology Education or Work Experience (Timelines Vary)

If students complete a general bachelor’s degree, rather than one in histology, then they must complete a certificate or associate’s degree in histology. These programs vary in length from a couple of semesters to two full years, depending on the courses required and degree earned. In these programs, students will gain the skill necessary to become a histotechnologist. 

In lieu of completing a program in histology, aspiring histotechnologist can complete at least one year of work experience in a histopathology laboratory within the last five years.

Step 4: Obtain Certification (Optional, Timelines Vary)

Certification is optional, although highly recommended. Professionals who earn an ASCP histotechnologist certification demonstrate a high degree of knowledge and competency in this field. Many employers highly value certification as well as it is a stamp of approval. More details about certification can be found below.  

Step 5: Obtain State Licensing if Required (Timelines Vary)

Some states classify histotechnologists as medical clinical laboratory scientists and may require professionals to obtain a local license. Requirements vary by state and are constantly evolving, so aspiring histotechnologists should contact their local state licensing board to learn what qualifications are necessary to work in this field.

What Do Histotechnologists Do?

Histotechnologists work in labs in a variety of settings, from large hospitals to small clinics and research centers. Some may even work in crime labs. They typically work alongside a pathologist and rarely have any interaction with patients. Day-to-day duties for histotechnologists include:

  • Receiving specimens for analysis
  • Grossing (trimming) a specimen and affixing it to a microscope slide
  • Processing the sample on the slide to preserve it
  • Sectioning a sample in order to better be able to see the cells
  • Applying stain to a sample according to established procedures
  • Carefully following multistep lab procedures
  • Ensuring a clean workspace to avoid cross-contamination
  • Maintaining careful records to ensure samples are handled accurately

Histotechnologist Certifications & Licensure

The primary credential earned by professionals in this field is the histotechnologist certification (HLT) from the American Society of Clinical Pathology’s Board of Certification. To be eligible for this certification, candidates must have a bachelor’s degree and meet one of the following qualifications:

  • Complete a NAACLS-accredited histotechnician or histotechnologist program in the last five years
  • Have one year of full-time work experience in a histopathology laboratory, or veterinary, industry, or research experience in a histopathology laboratory within the last five years
  • Hold an ASCP histotechnician certificate (HT) and have six months of full-time work experience in a histopathology laboratory or veterinary, industry, or research experience in a histopathology laboratory within the last five years

The ASCP HLT exam costs $240 and consists of 100 questions that must be answered in two and a half hours. Topics covered include:

  • Fixation 
  • Processing 
  • Embedding/microtomy 
  • Staining 
  • Laboratory operations

While histotechnologists do not need a license to practice in most states, there are a few states, such as Florida and Nevada, that do require it. States that require licensing classify histotechnologists as medical laboratory scientists. Qualifications for licensing vary by state but can include education requirements, exams, fees, and an application. Candidates should contact their local board to ensure they have taken the necessary steps and have the required licenses to practice in their state.

How Much Do Histotechnologists Make?

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS May 2023), histotechnologists are considered clinical laboratory technologists and technicians. The 334,380 professionals in this classification in the US earn $62,870 per year on average. Here are the percentiles:

  • 10th percentile: $36,770
  • 25th percentile: $45,080
  • 50th percentile (median): $60,780
  • 75th percentile: $78,120
  • 90th percentile: $93,900

Histotechnologists Career Alternatives

Here are a few alternatives to a career as a histotechnologist. 

Become a Pharmacy Technician

In busy pharmacies, pharmacy technicians work alongside pharmacists inputting prescriptions, filling orders, processing payments, and answering questions, and dispensing medications. This job requires specialized training in the form of an associate’s degree or certificate.  

  • Typical Education: Certificate or associate’s 
  • Licensing or Certifying Organization: Pharmacy Technician Certification Board (PCTB)

Become a Cytologist

While there is a lot of overlap between histotechnologists and cytologists, there are some key differences. Cytologists have the training and skills to detect viral changes, nutritional disorders, or changes from therapies. 

Like histotechnologists, they can prepare samples onto slides for evaluation, but they take it one step further and examine the cells in a microscope. Their results are usually reviewed and confirmed by a pathologist. 

  • Typical Education: Bachelor’s and a cytology program
  • Licensing or Certifying Organization: American Society of Clinical Pathology’s Board of Certification (ASCP-BOC) 

Become a Medical Laboratory Scientist

Medical laboratory scientists perform a variety of diagnostic medical tests in laboratories. These tests may be to diagnose diseases, part of a medical study, or for research purposes. Often, medical laboratory scientists will confer with physicians to discuss the results of the test they perform.  

  • Typical Education: Bachelor’s
  • Licensing or Certifying Organization: American Society for Clinical Pathology (ASCP)
Kimmy Gustafson

Kimmy Gustafson

Writer

At HealthcareDegree.com, Kimmy Gustafson has delivered in-depth and insightful articles since 2019, aiding prospective students to navigate the complexities of choosing the right healthcare degree. Her recent work includes topics such as the ethics of gene editing and physician assistant’s fight for autonomy.

Kimmy has been a freelance writer for more than a decade, writing hundreds of articles on a wide variety of topics such as startups, nonprofits, healthcare, kiteboarding, the outdoors, and higher education. She is passionate about seeing the world and has traveled to over 27 countries. She holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Oregon. When not working, she can be found outdoors, parenting, kiteboarding, or cooking.

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