Cell Structure Technician Careers: Salary Info & Job Description

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What are the pros and cons of a cell structure technician career? Read on to see real job descriptions, salary info and career prospects to see if becoming a cell structure technician is the right career path for you.
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Pros and Cons of a Cell Structure Technician Career

Cell structure technicians, working in the medical laboratory diagnostic field of cytology, use microscopes and other technology to study patients' cell structure for signs of disease. Check out these pros and cons of a cell structure technician career to see if it is right for you:

Pros of a Cell Structure Technician Career
Minimum 1-2 years of education and training*
Great job growth (18% increase from 2014-2024)*
Can work in hospitals, diagnostic labs, doctors' offices and other healthcare settings*
Opportunities to make life-saving diagnoses*

Cons of a Cell Structure Technician Career
Work involves long hours spent standing*
Licensure required in some states*
Possible weekend or nighttime shifts, depending on the lab's hours*
Potential exposure to hazardous biological material*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Essential Career Info

Job Description

Cytology is the study of cell structure, and cytology technicians use their knowledge of cell structure to help diagnose diseases, most commonly cancer. The most well-known cytological test is the Pap smear, but cell structure technicians can look at all types of cells for abnormalities. Though you could work in multiple kinds of healthcare facilities, most of your time would be spent in the medical laboratory where you'd use microscopes and other technology to perform your work. You may also collect samples from patients and may need to help turn or lift them in order to facilitate this. Medical lab technicians generally work full-time days, but you may have some nighttime or weekend shifts.

Salary Info and Career Prospects

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported in May 2014 that medical and clinical laboratory technicians, a group that includes cell structure technicians, made a median salary of about $38,370 (www.bls.gov). More than half of medical lab technicians and technologists were employed in hospitals and laboratories as of 2014. The BLS projected that employment for medical and clinical lab technicians would increase by 18% from 2014-2024, which is much faster than average. Most of this job growth will be due to an aging population that requires more diagnostic testing services.

Job Requirements

Education

For medical lab personnel, the title of technician is usually applied to workers who have a certificate or an associate's degree, while those with bachelor's degrees are called technologists. The Commission on Accreditation for Allied Health Education Programs accredits programs in general medical laboratory technology at the certificate, associate's and bachelor's degree levels, as well as cytotechnology programs at the certificate and bachelor's levels. The National Accrediting Agency for Clinical Laboratory Sciences also accredits these types of programs. Programs in medical laboratory technology typically cover multiple techniques in diagnostic testing - in addition to cytotechnology, you could also study phlebotomy, histotechnology and microbiology. General and specific medical lab technology programs combine classroom learning with supervised clinical experience to provide you with the tools to begin working in a lab.

Licensing

Some states require laboratory personnel to be licensed, while others do not. Be sure to check with your state for specific rules and regulations. Typically, you must meet certain education requirements and pass an exam.

Skills

Besides your knowledge of human anatomy and biology, plus your adeptness at lab techniques, you should also be detail-oriented in order to ensure accurate results from your testing. You need some degree of physical strength in order to stand at a microscope, move about the lab and help to move patients. Manual dexterity may also be useful to you as a cell structure technician because the cell samples you work with are very small and delicate. Much of the technology in medical labs functions in tandem with computers, so you should feel comfortable using them.

What Employers Are Looking For

Most job postings for medical lab technicians mention the amount of education you should have, and many want you to have attended an accredited program. Some employers require certification or want you to seek certification within a certain time period after being hired. Read these summaries of some job postings open in May 2012 to get an idea of what some employers are looking for:

  • A diagnostic technology company in California was looking to hire a cytology technician with an associate's degree or 1-3 years of lab experience. This was a full-time position in the cytology department.
  • An academic hospital in North Carolina was searching for a cytotechnologist with at least two years of education in biological sciences, a cytotechnologist certification and either five years of experience or completion of an accredited medical lab technology program.
  • A diagnostic laboratory in Arizona was looking for a cytology prep technician to work the night shift in the cytology department. The candidate could have an associate's degree, bachelor's degree or three years of relevant lab experience. The posting also mentioned strong communication and computer skills.

How to Stand Out in the Field

Certification

Though some employers may require certification, medical laboratory certifications are voluntary and not required by law. But having a professional designation can demonstrate your ability, education and experience to potential employers as well as your worth to current employers. The American Society for Clinical Pathology offers certification at the technician, technologist and specialist levels. You can test for the Medical Laboratory Technician designation after completing your associate's degree and medical lab tech training. A certification in cytotechnology is available only at the bachelor's degree level.

Other Careers to Consider

If you're interested in working in healthcare, but want more patient interaction than lab work entails, consider becoming a registered nurse. Nurses can specialize in many types of medical work and help provide comprehensive care within their department. You can begin working as a nurse after completing a 1-year diploma, 2-year associate's or 4-year bachelor's degree program and passing a national licensing examination. The BLS reported in May 2011 that registered nurses made a median annual salary of about $66,000 and are projected to have an employment increase of 26% from 2010-2020.

If you'd like to work to provide information to make accurate diagnoses, but you aren't sure about being a lab all day, you could become a diagnostic medical sonographer. A rapidly growing field with a projected employment increase of 44% from 2010-2020, per the BLS, diagnostic medical sonography involves using ultrasound technology to create images of patients for use in diagnosing a variety of ailments. You can start working as a sonographer after completing a 2-year associate's degree training program. The BLS reported in May 2011 that diagnostic medical sonographers made a median annual salary of about $65,000.

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Colorado Technical University

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Johns Hopkins University

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Grand Canyon University

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American InterContinental University

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