Histotechnologist

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 take specimens that have been collected from patients and prepare them for evaluation. They do this by affixing the sample to a slide and then using reagents, chemicals, and dyes in a specific order in order to make the cells more visible. The slides histotechnologists have prepared are then evaluated by pathologists in order 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 2020), histotechnologists are classified as clinical laboratory technologists and technicians and earn $55,990 per year on average. Opportunities in the field of laboratory technologists and technicians are expected to grow 7 percent between 2019 and 2029, primarily due to the aging Baby Boomer population’s increased demand for healthcare (BLS 2021). 

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

Histotechnologist Specializations & Degree Types

There are four types of education programs histotechnologists can complete. They are either a certificate, an associate’s, a bachelor’s, or a master’s. It should be noted that a bachelor’s degree is required to obtain a histotechnologist certification, although it can be in any science-related field. 

The most common programs aspiring professionals complete are a certificate or an associate’s 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 in order 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

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)
  • Tuition: $1,211 per credit 

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)
  • Tuition: $290.16 per credit 

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)
  • Tuition: $322 per credit hour

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)
  • Tuition: $48,090 per year, including room and board

Lakeland Community College

The associate 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)
  • Tuition: $344.10 per credit 

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)
  • Tuition: $210.68 per credit

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. 

The primary difference between the certificate and the associate degree programs is general education classes. 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)
  • Tuition: $707 per credit 

Harford Community College

Harford Community College offers a convenient online histologic technician certificate. This program is exclusively for professionals who already hold 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. 

In order 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 a week on assignments, lectures, and homework. This program has on-demand start states so students can begin their studies at any time. 

  • 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)
  • Tuition: $4,945 for the entire course

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 in order to give students a variety of experiences. 

  • Location: Florida, Arizona, and Minnesota
  • Duration: Nine months
  • Accreditation: National Accrediting Agency for Clinical Laboratory Science (NAACLS)
  • Tuition: $7,690 for the entire program

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 in order to be eligible for admission. Also, prior to 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)
  • Tuition: $485.92 per credit 

How Long Does it Take to Become a Histotechnologist?

Since histotechnologists must complete both a bachelor’s degree and a training program, it takes between five to six years post-high school in order 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 towards becoming a histotechnologists. 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 for professionals in this field is the histotechnologist certification (HLT) through the American Society of Clinical Pathology’s Board of Certification. In order 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 2020), histotechnologists are considered clinical laboratory technologists and technicians. The 326,220 professionals in this classification in the US earn $55,990 per year on average. Here are the percentiles:

  • 10th percentile: $31,450
  • 25th percentile: $39,680
  • 50th percentile (median): $54,180
  • 75th percentile: $69,650
  • 90th percentile: $83,700

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 Cytotechnologist

While there is a lot of overlap between histotechnologists and cytotechnologists, there are some key differences. Cytotechnologists 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 cytotechnology 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

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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