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If the idea of looking through the lens of a microscope at cell samples fascinates you, then you should consider a career as a cytotechnologist. Cytotechnologists are medical technicians who are trained in the identification of cells and cellular abnormalities, such as cancer or other diseases. They practice the science of cytology, that is, examining the structure and function of tiny human cells. Peering through powerful microscopes, their goal is to detect the early signs of cancer.

Technologists prepare cell tissues onto slides, which cytotechnologists then evaluate for abnormalities in structure, indicating either benign or malignant conditions. If cancerous cells are detected early enough by cytotechnologists, than a patient's potential for recovery is high. Cell specimens may be obtained from various body sites, including the female reproductive tract, the oral cavity, the lung or any other body cavity shedding cells.

Using the discoveries of cytotechnologists, the physician is then able to diagnose cancer and other diseases long before they can be detected by other methods. Cytologic techniques are also used to detect diseases involving hormonal abnormalities, such as diabetes or thyroid problems. Recently, new techniques using fine needles have been used to test hard to diagnose lesions, greatly enhancing the ability to diagnose tumors.

Once the cytotechnologist makes a diagnosis, if there are abnormal cells, they work with a pathologist for a second opinion to arrive at a conclusive analysis. This is people's lives they are dealing with and therefore, they must be 100 percent accurate in their decision making. They write their findings in a final report to the doctor. The doctor then passes the good or bad news to the patient.

Cytotechnologists have no or little contact with patients. They may prepare a slide at the patient's side in a hospital but otherwise, they are strictly lab workers working independently with little supervision. They must be patient, precise and have relatively good eyesight. Above all, the cytotechnologist must enjoy making decisions and taking responsibility, since the findings will directly affect a patients course of treatment.

Cytotechnologists deal mainly with cancer. Their cancer-detection role is serious, and the results of an analysis can be tragic. The career is can be very gratifying for those who help people survive cancer because of early detection. Interestingly though, cytotechnologists receive little recognition for their role in preventing disease as they hardly ever see the patients they help.
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  Average Earnings  
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  Interests and Skills  
Cytotechnologists are fascinated with cells and tissues in the human body and in animal and plant structures. They generally have good observation skills, and can work meticulously with fine details. They are usually visual learners with strong eyesight. They have the ability to integrate data from many sources and test hypotheses rigorously. Like other biological scientists, they should have an open and inquiring mind, and good oral and written communication skills. Most cytotechnologists enjoy synthesizing information, analyzing data, developing models and finding innovative solutions to problems.

  Typical Tasks  
  • Stain and study cells of human body to detect evidence of cancer, hormonal abnormalities and other pathological conditions
  • Follow established scientific laboratory standards and practices
  • Prepare microscopic slides from specimens of blood, scrapings or other bodily exudates
  • Fix slides to preserve specimens and enhance the visibility of cells under a microscope
  • Examine slides under a microscope to identify abnormalities in cell structure
  • Report such abnormalities to a pathologist
  • May supervise and coordinate activities of staff of cytology laboratory
  • Cytotechnologists typically work nine to five, Monday to Friday, however some private laboratories may have evening and weekend shifts. A typical day for a cytotechnologist can be a bit isolated and quiet. They spend most of their day examining cell samples under a microscope.

  Workplaces, Employers and Industries  
  • Cytotechnologists are employed by hospitals, research and development laboratories, and consulting engineering companies. They can also be found researching and teaching in the education field or working in all levels of the government.

  Long Term Career Potential  
What does the future hold for cytotechnologists? Those with experience may begin performing more advanced experiments and move into managerial roles in a laboratory. They can also advance to become scientists in other fields of study with further education, quality control technicians, or senior supervisors. Some cytotechnologists also teach at universities and technical institutes. Others may work as technical writers or as community and hospital educators.

  Educational Paths  
The first step in becoming a cytotechnologist is an undergraduate degree in cytotechnology, which is offered at many colleges and universities. Otherwise, some get a general science degree coupled with a single-year certificate program in cytotechnology. In order to become a licensed cytotechnologist, you must pass a qualifying examination.

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-15 Edition, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/
Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Employment Statistics, 2002, http://www.bls.gov/oes/2002/oes_nat.htm

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