Histology is the microscopic study of the cells and tissues of animals and plants. A histologist is a laboratory professional with specialized training in the science of preparing and analyzing tissue samples for later use by a pathologist. Typically, a sound background in the sciences is necessary to become a histologist. The samples a histologist examines can be human tissue as well as plant or animal. Histologists perform complex procedures requiring the use of a variety of sophisticated laboratory and computer equipment as well as specialized chemical processes.
Work environments for histologists vary. Some work in laboratories, clinics, or hospitals. Others may find employment in universities, biotechnology and pharmaceutical firms, or various institutes related to health.
The minimum education required for an entry-level position is a bachelor’s degree in a science-related field such as physiology, anatomy, or chemistry. A bachelor’s degree must include a one-year clinical internship that focuses on medical terms and procedures used in a laboratory setting. It is possible to substitute an accredited training program in a histopathology laboratory for the internship.
Once the basic academic and training requirements have been met, you must pass a national examination and be certified to actually become a histologist. The certification examinations are offered throughout the year by the Board of Registry of the American Society for Clinical Pathology (ASCP). Examinations are computerized; there is no practical laboratory component.
In addition, some states may require laboratory professionals to register or be licensed. Requirements differ from state to state. State departments of health or occupational licensing boards can provide information on licensing requirements.
If you become a histologist, career advancement beyond entry-level positions is possible. A bachelor’s degree will qualify you for a technical position doing experiments and submitting results. Obtaining a graduate degree and acquiring more experience will allow you to move up the career ladder where you might lead studies and work as an independent researcher.
Histologists have an important role to play in helping to detect, diagnose, and treat disease. While formal education and certification are necessary to become a histologist, they are not enough. There are a few essential personal characteristics for clinical laboratory professionals to have. Being able to work under pressure is crucial; people who are problem-solvers, pay close attention to detail, and display good analytical judgment are also in high demand as these skills are needed if you want to become a histologist. Employers will be looking for these qualities in addition to your education and training.