Cytologists are clinical laboratory workers who help medical scientists identify the presence of disease in tissue samples. They receive samples from physicians, label and store them, prepare microscope slides, and aid in experiments. A person who wants to become a cytologist usually needs to receive a bachelor's degree from an accredited college or university and complete at least one year of supervised training. In addition, a new cytologist is typically required to pass a detailed examination in order to earn a regional license.
An individual who wants to become a cytologist can apply for admissions to a cytology or biology program at a four-year university. An undergraduate can takes several advanced courses in life science, chemistry, and physiology to become familiar with the structure and function of different types of cells. Many students also enroll in communications, statistics, and computer science classes to develop important skills they will need in their eventual careers.
While pursuing a bachelor's degree, a student who wants to become a cytologist can improve his or her understanding of the position by applying for university research assistant positions or internships at local hospitals. A research assistant has the opportunity to work with science professors in modern laboratories, designing and conducting detailed experiments. As an intern, a student can gain important practical experience under the supervision of established cytologists and pathologists. Gaining experience can significantly improve a person's chances of finding work after graduation.
After earning a degree, an individual can take a written licensing exam to officially become a cytologist. Exams, which are administered by regional or national governing boards, test a cytologist's knowledge of common terminology and techniques. In addition to earning a license, a person can pursue voluntary certification from an accredited national organization to improve his or her credentials and chances of finding employment. In the United States, the American Society for Clinical Pathology (ASCP) provides certification to successful test-takers. Most other countries feature organizations similar to the ASCP to certify new cytologists.
A licensed cytologist can pursue full-time employment at a general hospital, clinic, or private specialist's office. In most settings, new employees receive several weeks of intensive training followed by about a year of supervised practice before they are allowed to work independently. With experience, an individual may be able to become a cytologist supervisor at a clinical laboratory. Many cytologists decide to pursue continuing education in order to become pathologists.