Cytotechnologist Career Interview
Christine McCully is a licensed and board certified cytotechnologist in the state of California, and she has been working in the field for 17 years.
Cytotechnologist Career Path
Christine was interested in the medical field, but she wanted to pursue a healthcare career that was particularly science-oriented.
“Looking at the expenses and restrictions of medical school, it was beyond my financial grasp,” she says. “I wanted to do something that focused on diseases.”
While in high school, Christine had a flare for science, biology, and chemistry, and that included working extensively with microscopes.
“And that’s what cytotechnology is all about,” she adds.
Christine attended California State where she earned her biochemistry degree. She transferred there for her junior and senior years because a cytotechnologist must take classes that offer clinical studies in cytotechnology-related areas, such as pathology, histology, and hematology
“These clinical studies are required to get into a cytotechnology school,” Christine explains.
Once she graduated, she attended UCLA for a 12-month program in cytotechnology where she had to learn the appearance and function of every organ and every cell, and the differences between any of them appearing normal to abnormal to malignant.
“You have to know what every cell in the human body looks like,” says Christine.
Christine worked in several private medical laboratories, working alongside other cytotechnologists in analyzing human samples on slides under microscopes. The majority of the work of cytotechnologists in private labs is analyzing Pap smears.
Although she was offered work in hospitals, those jobs typically pay about half of the salary that a cytotechnologist would make if working in a private laboratory. The trade-off is that hospital work provides a higher level of variety and patient interaction.
Cytotechnology Degree Programs
“You have to gear yourself toward the cytotechnology career about halfway through college, which involves taking more specialized classes like hematology and immunology,” explains Christine. “Work toward your Bachelor’s degree and have all of your requirements done before applying to cytotechnology school.”
Some graduates don’t take these clinical studies in college, but that means that they will have to go back and take the courses in order to be accepted to cytotechnology school. Cytotechnologists typically study pre-med, biology, or biochemistry for their undergraduate degree.
As for cytotechnology school, it can be tough to be accepted as class sizes for these programs typically range between 3 and 10 students per year.
Cytotechnologists must also pass a national board exam and be certified for the state in which they practice.
Cytotechnologist Job Description
Christine is a Specialist in Cytotechnology (SCT) for LabCorp in California. She has been board certified and licensed in the state of California for 17 years.
“My job consists of daily analysis of cellular samples, which are mostly Pap smears,” says Christine. “I try to find any abnormal cells on any of the slides, and then pass on the findings to a pathologist who makes the final diagnosis.
Cytotechnologist Daily Routine
“For most cytotechs working in a lab,” explains Christine, “we are given glass slides with a patient’s cellular materials that may come from anywhere, from a tumor aspiration to a routine Pap smear. I analyze it under the microscope, look for abnormalities and render an initial diagnosis. I then enter the results in a computer, and pass the data onto the pathologist.”
Due to the numerous slides that a cytotechnologist has to analyze in a given day, their entire day is spent sitting behind a microscope.
“It’s extremely important that cytotechnologists are detail-oriented and are able to be sedentary for long periods of time,” Christine advises.
For cytotechnologists working in a hospital, the daily routine will be more varied because they have to deal with whatever comes into the hospital that day instead of always analyzing the same kind of material. However, these jobs come with a lower salary.
“This is one of the last medical analysis professions that hasn’t been completely replaced by a computer,” Christine adds.
Cytotechnologist: Steps to Success
Cytotechnologists must be very independent since the majority of their work is done on their own. They have many slides to analyze per day, with a range from 80 to 160 depending on the type of sample and the state’s regulations, but cytotechnologists must still be passionate about each slide.
“Each slide is a different patient, and you have to be meticulous with each slide,” explains Christine. “You have to be able to focus completely and not be distracted, even when things are happening around you. You have to convince yourself that, even though your job may feel tedious and motonous at times, you owe it to each patient to commit yourself to each and every slide.”
Cytotechnologist Job Opportunities
Since it is difficult being accepted to a cytotechnology program, starting off in the field can be difficult.
“Companies are also trying to come up with machines that will take our place,” Christine says. “But there have been proven error rates (false-negative results) with some of the computers, so for now we are still needed.”
Cytotechnologist Favorite Aspect
“Knowing that if I make a diagnosis early enough, there is a chance to cure the patient,” Christine explains. “It is all about early diagnosis and early care. As a cytotechnologist, you are the first line of defense against cancer.”
Cytotechnologist’s Future Ambitions
Christine plans on moving on to teach cytotechnology because she feels that she has a lot to offer students and today’s cytotechnology schooling needs a lot of work.
“Students nowadays lack a lot of the new knowledge about technology advancements in the field, and how technology plays out in the workplace” says Christine.
She also hopes that the future of cytotechnology improves because many cytotechnologists in labs today just “screen their pile of work” and have little interaction with patients and doctors.
“The future needs to bring the cytotechs back into the loop,” Christine explains. “We’ve lost the patient connection.
Advice for Prospective Cytotechnologists
“Do your homework into where the cytotechnology jobs are located,” Christine advises. “Different states offer different job opportunities.”
Christine also recommends making the most of your time in cytotechnology school, including networking as much as possible.
“Make as many connections to know the aspects around cytotechnology,” she says. “Learn as many skills as you can, such as speciman preparation, because they make you more marketable.”