Mayo Clinic cytotechnology student preparing a specimen slide under a microscope

What does a cytotechnologist do?

Cytotechnology is the microscopic study of body cells to detect cancer, viral and bacterial infections, and other abnormal conditions. Cytotechnology techniques can identify precancerous or cancerous cells. The field is best known for the Pap test, an evaluation of cells from the cervix.

Cytotechnologists are lab professionals who evaluate patients’ cell samples and are trained to notice subtle changes to accurately detect precancerous, malignant, and infectious conditions. Cytotechnologists usually work closely with a pathologist.

Scope of practice

Cytotechnologists focus on a general variety of diseases found by using a microscope to detect abnormalities in human body cells. A similar role, cytogenetic technology, focuses on disorders related to DNA mutations or abnormalities.

In a typical day, cytotechnologists work with pathologists by:

  • Using a microscope to examine the cells of the body
  • Interpreting cells collected from cytological techniques, such as a Pap test, as normal or abnormal
  • Detecting changes in human cells that indicate cancer, disease, or other abnormalities
  • Collaborating with a pathologist to provide a timely diagnosis to allow physicians to provide appropriate treatment

Work environment

Cytotechnologists work in hospital labs, private labs, and universities. Their schedule is typically eight hour days, five days a week. They spend most of their time sitting at a microscope, and the repetitive hand motions required to work with microscopes may lead to carpal tunnel syndrome. It can also be a stressful work environment due to the demand for fast and accurate work.

Becoming a cytotechnologist

Individuals interested in becoming a cytotechnologist need to have a strong foundation in biology, chemistry, and math. They should enjoy independent, meticulous, and microscopic work, and be comfortable with a high degree of responsibility. Cytotechnology can provide great career satisfaction in a vital health care role.

Higher education requirements

To become a cytotechnologist, you need a bachelor’s degree in cytotechnology, biology, or the life sciences. Completing an accredited cytotechnology program and certification may also be required.

Career opportunities and outlook

According to a 2013 wage survey of laboratories conducted by the American Society for Clinical Pathology, average hourly pay for cytotechnologists ranges from $31.45 for staff cytotechnologists to $37.09 for cytotechnologist supervisors and managers. The average annual salary ranges from $64,416 to $82,556 a year depending on the job level.

Career opportunities for cytotechnologists are good. Jobs are open in both rural and metropolitan areas in all regions of the country. Positions are available in diagnostic cytology, as well as in research, education, and administration. New screenings and techniques have been and continue to be developed, creating new opportunities for cytotechnologists.

With further study and experience, a cytotechnologist may advance to a supervisory role or an educator.

By the numbers

Cytotechnologist programs at Mayo Clinic

Mayo Clinic offers a one-year Cytotechnology Program in Rochester, Minnesota to prepare students for a career as a cytotechnologist.

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