Mayo Clinic histology technician analyzing samples

What does a histology technician do?

Histology technicians (HTs), also known as histologic technicians, are specialized medical lab workers. They play a crucial role in the diagnosis and treatment of diseases by turning body tissue samples into microscope slides.

Histology is the study of microscopic structures of tissues. Once a tissue sample is taken from a patient, histology technicians are the people responsible for taking the sample and creating those microscopic structures. Once the samples are prepared, a pathologist will examine the slides for diagnostic or research purposes.

The identification and understanding of disease processes, including cancer, would not be possible without the skills and contributions of these highly trained allied health professionals.

Scope of practice

Histology technicians work with pathologists and lab managers. Technicians operate precision equipment and work with a variety of dyes and chemicals to make tissue abnormalities visible with a microscope. Pathologists use those slides for research or to make a diagnosis.

Common roles and responsibilities of a histology technician include:

  • Preparing thin slices of human, animal, or plant tissue on slides for analysis by:
    • Paraffin microtomy cutting a tissue sample
    • Frozen cutting a tissue sample
    • Mounting the tissue sample on a slide
    • Staining or dying the sample to emphasize abnormalities
  • Testing tissue according to what the pathologist needs
  • As needed, management of supplies and laboratory quality-control procedures

Histology technicians (HT) vs. histotechnologists (HTL)

A histology technician and a histotechnologist generally perform very similar tasks in their day-to-day operations. The main difference is that a histotechnologist has more advanced education and training to give them the qualifications necessary to obtain the necessary certification. A histotechnologist can also usually perform more complex techniques and go on to become a supervisor, into leadership, or teaching position. 

Specializations

Histology technicians may specialize in areas such as muscle biopsies, immunohistochemistry staining, microbiology, and blood work.

Work environment

Technicians typically work normal business hours in clinical pathology or private laboratories. Some technicians may work in research, veterinary, pharmaceutical, and forensic laboratories. Advancement is also possible into areas such as education, test development, quality assurance, and management.

Becoming a histology technician

Histology technicians need to have strong fine motor skills and be incredibly detail oriented. Knowledge of biology, chemistry, anatomy, physiology, and medical terminology is essential for success in this role.

Higher education requirements

After completing high school (or the equivalent), most go on to complete additional education and training. The typical pathway to become a histology technician includes:

  • Obtaining an associate of arts degree (preferably in the sciences)
  • Completing an accredited histology technician certificate program

Some associate degree programs include a histology clinical rotation in a medical facility that allow you to complete your education and certificate program as one program.

Certification

Most histology technicians become certified through the American Society for Clinic Pathologists (ASCP) and practices under the credentials of HT(ASCP).  

Career opportunities and outlook

The median annual salary for a histology technician is about $52,000, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Job openings for medical and clinical lab technicians, including histology technicians, are expected to increase, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. With an aging population, there is a greater need to diagnose medical conditions through lab procedures. There is also an increased need for prenatal testing for genetic conditions. Medical laboratory technologists and technicians, including histology technicians, will be in demand to operate the equipment needed for diagnosis and treatment.

With additional training and experience, a histology technician can move into education, test development, or quality assurance. Some may become histotechnologists and oversee the work of others in a lab.

By the numbers

Histology technician programs at Mayo Clinic

Mayo Clinic offers a nine-month Histology Technician Program in Arizona, Florida, and Minnesota

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