Becoming a Histology Assistant: Salary Info & Job Description

About this article
Histology assistants earn a base salary as low as $31,000. Is this worth the education and training requirements? Learn the truth about this occupation through job postings from real employers and find out the career outlook for this field to decide if becoming a histology assistant is right for you.
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Pros and Cons of Becoming a Histology Assistant

As a histology assistant, you will handle tissue specimen that helps pathologists diagnose medical conditions. Following is a list of pros and cons that can help you decide whether or not becoming a histology assistant is suitable for you.

Pros of Becoming a Histology Assistant
Can get job with no postsecondary degree (21% had some college, 46% had an associate's degree in 2011)***
Can work in a variety of settings (labs, hospitals, etc)*
Increase in aging population likely to create job demand**
Opportunity to advance to higher-level histology positions*

Cons of Becoming a Histology Assistant
Usually on feet for long periods of time**
May handle infectious specimen**
May work evenings, weekends and overnight in 24-hour facilities**
Low base salary (salaries averaged as low as $31,000 as of July 2015)****

Sources: *Job Postings from November and December 2012, **U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, ***O*Net OnLine, ****Payscale.com

Career Information

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) classifies histology assistants as medical and laboratory technicians. These professionals are also called histology technicians and grossing assistants. As a histology assistant, you will work under the supervision of pathologists and pathology assistants in clinics, hospitals, laboratories and physicians' offices. Some of your job duties may include dissecting and processing tissue specimen for microscopic exams, keeping diagnostic equipment clean, maintaining daily logs of specimen processed, organizing slides, preparing reagents and stains, placing specimen into cassettes and submitting specimen for further testing.

Salary and Job Outlook for Histology Assistants/Technicians

Histology technicians earned a median annual wage of about $59,000 in 2014, according to O*Net OnLine. In the decade of 2012-2022, the BLS reported that the overall employment for medical and clinical laboratory technicians was projected to increase by 30% from 2012-2022, which is much faster than average. A major reason for this job growth is the projected increase in the elderly population, who are more likely to require diagnostic medical procedures.

What Are the Educations Requirements?

Sometimes, a high school diploma is the minimum education required to become a histology assistant. However, many employers request that you have an associate's or bachelor's degree. Common majors for this profession include life science and medical laboratory technology. You may also become a histology assistant by completing a minimum of 60 credit hours of coursework through a training program approved by organizations such as the Accrediting Bureau of Health Education Schools (ABHES), the Committee on Allied Health Education and Accreditation (CAHEA) and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). This training program must also include at least 24 credits of medical lab technology or science courses.

According to job postings, if you complete a degree or training program that meets these requirements, you will be qualified as a high complexity testing personnel under the Clinical Laboratory Improvement Amendment of 1988 (CLIA-88), approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). In addition, you may also gain employment with equivalent work experience. You generally need at least one year of experience to work as a histology assistant.

Job Postings from Real Employers

Most job postings showed that while employers prefer candidates with a relevant degree, you can still gain employment by completing a training program or having equivalent work experience. Below is a list of job postings that can help you gain some insight in what real employers were looking for during November and December of 2012.

  • A physician group in Nashville, TN, is seeking a histology/grossing assistant with 1-2 years of relevant experience to assist pathology assistants and pathologists. The candidate must be qualified as a high complexity testing personnel under the CLIA-88 regulation, which includes having a degree or equivalent training. Job duties include accessioning and grossing tissue specimen, preparing tissue for further testing, performing maintenance on cryostats machines and disposing of hazardous materials.
  • A clinical laboratory company in California wants to hire a histology assistant to assist a histotechnologist and pathologist. The candidate will be responsible for maintaining inventory and supplies, organizing slides and preparing samples. The employer requests someone with a bachelor's degree in life science or equivalent experience.
  • A pathology lab in Connecticut is looking for an entry-level histology assistant with at least one year of histology lab experience. Job duties include collecting, labeling and preparing specimen for gross dissection, preparing reagents and staining slides for microscopic evaluations, cleaning and sterilizing equipment, and processing paperwork. The candidate must have basic knowledge of non-complex instrumentation and a high school diploma. However, the employer prefers a candidate with some college-level education.
  • A New York (NY) staffing firm is seeking a histology grossing technician with a NY clinical laboratory technician license. The applicant will be required to comply with state and federal CLIA and CAP (College of American Pathologists) regulations, dissect and prepare tissue specimen for cassettes, ensure specimen is accessioned and labeled correctly, and perform quality control procedures. Other requirements include an associate's or bachelor's degree in medical lab technology or another related field, at least three months of histology or surgical grossing experience, and certification or eligibility for the certification from the American Society of Certified Pathologist (ASCP).
  • A hospital in Baltimore, MD, wants to hire an entry-level histology technician with certification from the ASCP. The candidate must have at least one year of experience as a histology technician in a hospital or lab setting. Job duties include applying proper codes for specimen accessioning, following quality control and quality assurance procedures, performing routine and special staining, ordering referral testing and training new employees.

How to Stand Out

Since a degree is not mandatory to become a histology assistant, you can improve your job prospects by earning a degree in a related discipline. You can also stand out and prepare for career advancement by obtaining voluntary certification from a professional organization. One such designation is the Certified Medical Lab Assistant (CMLA) credential from the American Medical Technologist (AMT). To become eligible for this certification exam, you must be a graduate of a program that includes at least 200 hours of didactic training and 120 hours of clinical laboratory experience. If you've completed at least 1,040 hours of laboratory work experience within the past three years, you can also qualify for the CMLA certification exam. In addition, your work experience must include a minimum of 520 hours performing clinical lab functions.

Alternative Career Paths

Biological Technician

If you would like a career that involves conducting experiments, then consider becoming a biological technician. In this position, you will perform laboratory research under the supervision of biologists and other medical scientists. Some of your duties may involve operating automated machines and advanced robotic equipment to collect and prepare samples, performing laboratory analysis on agents such as bacteria cultures, blood and other living organisms, using computer software to interpret experimental data and writing reports on findings. To work in this field, you usually need to complete a 4-year degree program in biology or another related discipline. Additionally, you should have experience performing lab functions, which can be acquired through formal training. As of May 2011, the BLS reported that biological technicians earned a median wage of about $39,000. The BLS also found that these professionals were expected to have a 14% growth in employment from 2010-2020.

Chemical Technician

If you like working in a lab environment, but don't want to experiment on living organisms, bodily fluids or tissue, then becoming a chemical technician may be suitable for you. As a chemical technician, you will assist engineers and scientists with experimental research. Typically, chemical technicians are classified as either laboratory technicians or processing technicians. Lab technicians typical perform duties such as analyzing chemical compounds, preparing chemical solutions and using chemicals to test the quality of products. As a processing technician, you may work at a chemical manufacturing facility collecting samples to test for impurities, calibrating processing equipment to ensure optimal performance and inspecting product packing for design flaws.

In most instances, you generally need at least two years of postsecondary training or an associate's degree in applied science or chemical technology to work as chemical technician. The BLS also reported that most of these professionals receive training on the job. In the decade of 2010-2020, chemical technicians were expected to have a seven percent growth in employment, according to the BLS. As of May 2011, the BLS also found that the median salary earned by these professionals was approximately $42,000.

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