What is a histopathology technician?

Histopathology is the study of diseased body tissues taken from a biopsy or surgical specimen. The person initially responsible for preparing the tissue samples is the histopathology technician. This person typically works in a laboratory cutting and preparing slides of diseased tissue for microscopic examination by a pathologist, which confirms the diagnosis of disease, dysfunction, or malignancy. A prospective histopathology technician must complete an accredited two-year certification program, along with clinical training. Job prospects for medical careers in histopathology are projected to be excellent.

The histopathology technician prepares samples by freezing and sectioning thin slices of biopsied or surgically removed tissue samples from paraffin blocks, which are then mounted on microscope slides. Histopathology technicians stain slides with specialized stains so that morphological or structural details are visible to the pathologist. In addition to tissue processing, paraffin microtomy, frozen sectioning, and staining, the histopathology technician may also be responsible for complying with quality control procedures, managing and ordering laboratory supplies, and completing data entry on clinical applications of the computer. Technologists work in hospital laboratories, research institutions, industrial laboratories,

Students interested in pursuing a scientific career as a histopathology technician should seek out institutions that offer a certified program in the field. The National Society for Histotechnology maintains a current list of accredited programs in the United States. Coursework includes instruction in basic sciences such as anatomy, physiology, microbiology, and chemistry. This is followed by classroom instruction on histological theory and techniques. It is here that students learn to roast, repair, process, embed, cut, and stain fabrics, as well as troubleshoot technical problems that may arise in the lab. Most accredited programs will take 24 months to complete, although shorter programs exist, and some students may choose to continue their training by completing a bachelor's degree program. National certification through the American Society for Clinical Pathology (ASCP) is encouraged for advancement, though not required for entry-level employment.

Because histopathology technicians carry a high degree of responsibility, employers look for candidates with a strong working knowledge of staining tissue samples, especially as it relates to displaying morphological structures. Manual dexterity, careful attention to detail, and skills in the use of precision equipment such as the electron microscope are also highly desirable traits. Candidates must demonstrate good oral and communication skills, computer skills, good color vision, and a willingness to work consistently as a team player.

The job outlook for the histopathology technician continues to be strong, especially in hospitals, although employment opportunities are expected to increase in medical and diagnostic laboratories.

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