Histology Shortage Opens Doors
Jennifer LeClaire | Monster Contributing Writer
Surgeons may get the glory for removing malignancies that could lead to premature death, but histology professionals are the unsung heroes behind the laboratory doors who help diagnose the problem.
“A lot of people don’t know what a histotechnologist is or what we do,” says Lena Spencer, past president of the National Society for Histotechnology. “Where there’s tissue, we are usually involved in the process somewhere along the way.”
Histotechnologists and histotechnicians combine technical skills with scientific knowledge to perform a variety of tissue-related procedures in various laboratories. These lab workers prepare and stain tissue to identify bacteria, fungus, cancer, tissue structure abnormalities, enzymes, antigens or DNA for diagnosis by pathologists.
“Even though the patient doesn’t know us, what’s most important is that we do our absolute best for them, because we are affecting lives,” says Vinnie Della Speranza, manager for anatomic pathology services at the Medical University of South Carolina. “It sounds dramatic, but there’s absolutely no question about it — a compromised tissue sample can lead to a missed diagnosis.”
The American Society for Clinical Pathology’s (ASCP) Board of Registry certifies histotechnologists and histotechnicians. Histotechnologist certification requires a bachelor’s degree and a one-year hospital internship. Histotechnician certification requires 60 hours of college credit and a one-year hospital internship.
But aspiring histology professionals face an immediate obstacle: Finding a program. Only about two dozen colleges and universities in the US offer accredited histotechnology programs — the National Accrediting Agency for Clinical Laboratory Sciences has a list of accredited programs. This situation is leading some would-be histology professionals to choose the histotechnician route, because most colleges and universities offer the required science credits. The challenge then becomes finding a hospital that offers the hands-on training.
“Most individuals who want to break into the discipline end up learning histology or at least some of the skills of a histotech on the job,” says Della Speranza. “But higher education is becoming more important for histotechs as the industry evolves to serve more biotechnology companies.”
Calling All Histology Pros
Histology is a hands-on discipline with very little room for error. While every hospital needs these professionals, most don’t have any. Histotechnologists work in fewer than one-third of the clinical laboratories surveyed by ASCP.