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Histology Technologist


The body is composed of cells, organs, tissues and other anatomical properties. Histology is the science that deals with the structure of cells and their formation into tissues and organs. Histotechnology is a structural science concerned with the demonstration of cellular morphology, chemical composition, and function of normal and abnormal tissue. Sounds scientifically complicated, yet these studies help pathologists identify signs of disease, illness as well as signs of wellness and improvement. It is important that we understand what cells look like when they are both healthy and sick. Histology technologists analyze human, animal and plant tissues to understand disease. They freeze and cut tissues, mount them on slides and then stain them with special dyes to make them visible under the microscope.

Histology technologists work with patients in operating rooms and morgues and in laboratories peering into a microscope. A histology technologist's main responsibility in the clinical laboratory is preparing sections of a patient's body tissue for examination by a pathologist. This includes the preparation of tissue specimens for diagnostic, research, or teaching purposes. They immerse tissues in fluid to prevent decay, replace a specimens water with wax, and set the tissues in wax. They slice tissues, prepare slides, and apply dyes.

Histology technologists are specially trained in the preparation and staining of tissue slides for microscopic examination. The tissue is usually obtained from an operating room, clinic, doctors office, emergency room, or a post-mortem examination. Histology technologists also assist pathologists in the preparation of frozen tissue sections used to provide rapid diagnosis while the patient is still undergoing surgery.

Histology technologists process sections of body tissue by fixation, dehydration, embedding, sectioning, decalcification, microincineration, mounting, and routine and special staining. In addition, they perform the more complex procedures for processing tissues. More specifically, they identify tissue structures, cell components, and their staining characteristics and relate them to physiological functions.

They also implement and test new techniques and procedures, make judgments concerning the results of quality control measures, and institute proper procedures to maintain accuracy and precision.
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  Interests and Skills  
Histology technologists are fascinated with the makeup of the human body and animal and plant structures. They generally have good observation skills, and can work meticulously with fine details. Like other biological technologists, they should have an open and inquiring mind, and good oral and written communication skills. Most histology technologists enjoy synthesizing information, analyzing data, developing models and finding innovative solutions to problems.

  Typical Tasks  
  • Prepare histologic slides from tissue sections for microscopic examination and diagnosis
  • Prepare sections of human or animal tissue for immediate examination, using rapid tissue processing and frozen section techniques to freeze, cut, mount and stain tissue specimens received from surgery
  • Operate computerized laboratory equipment to fix, dehydrate and infiltrate with wax tissue specimens to be preserved for study by a pathologist
  • Prepare slides of specimens using a specified stain to enhance its visibility under a microscope
  • Examine slides under a microscope to ensure that tissue preparation meets laboratory requirements
  • May study slides under a microscope to detect deviations from norm and report abnormalities for further study
  • May supervise the activities of laboratory personnel
  • A typical day for a histology technologist will vary depending on where they work and what they specialize in. Those working with infectious samples and hazardous chemicals must take safety precautions to avoid infection or injury. Again, working hours vary depending on the type of laboratory in which they work. In general, research laboratories usually operate weekdays only, so hours are quite regular.

  Workplaces, Employers and Industries  
  • Many histology technologists work in research laboratories, hospitals, government laboratories institutes related to health, pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies, and rehabilitation medicine centers. Some can teach students about research and histology techniques.

  Long Term Career Potential  
What does the future hold for histology technologists? Those with experience may gain higher levels of responsibility and begin performing more advanced experiments. With further educaiton, they can also advance to become histologists, quality control technicians, senior supervisors or staff management. Some histology technologists who take additional training can teach in technical institutes. Others may work as technical medical writers.

  Educational Paths  
There is no mandatory educational path in becoming a histology technologist. Some attend a one- to two-year community college program in histology technology, whereas othes have a Bachelor of Science degree. Volunteer work and on-the-job training are the best experience one can obtain.

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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