Histology is the study of the microscopic structure of tissues. Those who work as histotechnicians and histotechnologists use this knowledge to help prepare materials to discover, diagnose, treat and prevent diseases and issues related to organic tissue. In this article, we discuss what a histotechnologist and a histotechnician are and the similarities and differences between the two professions.
What is a histotechnician?
A histotechnician is a clinical laboratory technician who prepares body tissue samples for examination by a pathologist. After collection by another medical professional, histotechnicians use special tools to process a sample, mount it on a slide and prepare it for further analysis under a microscope. They may specialize in areas such as immunohistochemistry, staining, frozen sectioning, dermatology specimens or specific organ biopsies.
What is a histotechnologist?
A histotechnologist is a specialized medical lab professional. Similarly to histotechnicans, they prepare tissue slides for pathologists. They may also perform some testing on tissues and serve as supervisors for other lab staff. Histotechnologists may conduct some research or test alternative preparation methods for lab use.
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Histotechnologist vs. histotechnician
The job descriptions of histotechnologists and histotechnicians differ in multiple ways, including:
Histotechnologists generally complete more post-secondary education and training that histotechnicians. For this reason, they can advance into leadership, supervisory or teaching positions within the histology field. Histotechnicians can gain these career advancement options by completing schooling or training to become a histotechnologist.
Histotechnicians need a vocational education or an associate degree to secure a position in their field. Sometimes histotechnicians may need just a high school diploma and two years of related work experience. Many histotechnicians receive an Associate in Applied Science (AAS) degree from community colleges or similar institutions. These programs take about two years to complete and include classroom instruction and practical training.
In contrast, histotechnologists need a bachelor's degree in a related field such as biology or chemistry to get a job. Most colleges and universities offer these and other similar degree programs. They may take about four years to complete. Like AAS programs, many bachelor's degree candidates take part in both in-classroom learning and hands-on training before graduation.
On average, there is about a $12,000 difference in salary per year between histotechnologist and histotechnician positions. Histotechnologists make approximately $46,492 per year, while histotechnicians make approximately $58,838 per year. Actual salaries may vary depending on your years of experience, job title, location and employing organization.
Histotechnologists undergo additional training and schooling to teach them more in-depth concepts of histology. This training may include the knowledge of how and why medical professionals collect and process tissues. This extra training may allow them to review and evaluate procedures and techniques used within the lab and develop or implement new ones. This may also allow them to manage unexpected laboratory situations such as equipment malfunctions, testing errors or detection of underlying conditions that may lead to abnormal test results.
Similarities between histotechnologists and histotechnicians
Histotechnologists and histotechnicians share a variety of similarities in their jobs, including:
Basic job duties
Though histotechnologists may have additional training and more responsibilities, the basic job duties of both professions are the same. Histotechnicians and histotechnologists both prepare slices of tissue for analysis by:
- Examining the sample and preparing it for preservation
- Conducting the embedding process of surrounding the tissue with paraffin wax
- Cutting the tissue sample to get a better fit
- Mounting the tissue sample on a slide
- Dying or staining the sample to reveal abnormalities
Histotechnologists and histotechnicians may see similar items in their employment benefits packages. They may include:
- Dental insurance
- Health insurance
- License reimbursement or loan forgiveness
- Relocation assistance
- Vision insurance
- 401(k) with matching or 403(b)
Though their degree levels differ, most histotechnicians and histotechnologists study similar subjects in school and training. Some key areas may include:
- Medical ethics
Education and training programs for both histotechnologists and histotechnicians operate under the National Accrediting Agency for Clinical Laboratory Sciences (NAACLS) board. This organization accredits histology training and degree programs to ensure they teach fundamentals in the classroom and provide laboratory training for all candidates.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, both histotechnicians and histotechnologist fall into the category of clinical laboratory technologists and technicians. They expect this field to grow by 7% in the next ten years, which is faster than average as compared to other industries in the United States.
Licensing and certification
Some states require both histotechnicans and histotechnologist to get a license either individually or through their laboratory facilities. The exact licensure requirements may vary by state. Certification for both jobs is voluntary but recommended. Histotechnicians may consider the American Society for Clinical Pathology (ASCP) certification. Histotechnicians may become certified through their NAACLS or Committee on Allied Health Education Accreditation (CAHEA) programs. Most certifications require completion of a certification maintenance program (CMP) for continuing credentials.
Histotechnicians and histotechnologists share many similar skills to best perform their job duties, including:
- Ability to work successfully under pressure
- Attention to detail
- Familiarity with spreadsheet, word processing and medical software
- Knowledge of anatomy, biology and chemistry
- Manual dexterity
- Operational procedures of laboratory equipment such as histological knives, tissue choppers and microtomes
- Problem solving
- Verbal and written communication
Because histotechnologists and histotechnicians work in medical settings, they must follow safety precautions while at work. Employees for both positions may wear protective equipment such as goggles, gloves or lab coats. They can also take additional precautions when working with potentially infectious samples. Those who work in histology may know how and when to use safety devices such as eye-washing stations and decontamination showers.
Most histotechnologists and histotechnicians work indoors with specialized equipment. They can work in the medical and veterinary fields. They may also work in botany or with other nature samples. Some places and organizations of employment may include:
- Clinical pathology labs
- Doctors' offices
- Government agencies
- Reference libraries
- Research laboratories
- Veterinary offices and clinics
Depending on the organization, histotechnologists and histotechnicians may work early mornings, evenings, weekends or holidays.