By: Tim Morken
Recently on Histonet “Anna” asked how you go about advancing in the career of Histotechnology. This is a great topic and Anna pretty much nailed it when noting that she got into the field "accidentally." The fact is most of us did. However, even though you find yourself in an accidental job you can still advance and can approach it a couple ways.
The overriding question is how do you want to advance? Do you want to stay in the lab and be the overall lab expert, or do you want to eventually move to some kind of management role? Do you want to stay put or move around? Does working for a vendor appeal to you? Either way, you need to take advantage of any opportunity that comes your way that will add to your experience.
In the first instance, if you want to stay in one institution and it is large enough, or growing, then the path to take is to first be excellent at what you currently do, and second, take advantage of every single opportunity to learn something new, including taking on special projects, committees (i.e., QA, safety, emergency planning, new lab design, or whatever comes along). You may stay in pathology and become a lead or supervisor, but doing so will also allow you to get to know as many people in the organization as possible and what opportunities exist in other areas. For instance, one person I know here at UCSF was a Medical Technologist in the clinical lab for many years. She took on QA duties, worked on CAP and JC inspection readiness, worked up to participating in performing CAP inspections, and now is the QA person for the entire laboratory and POC labs - which is a huge job in our institution (covering dozens of lab sites). So, essentially the path is finding ways to move up. You could also do that in a management route with the idea that you learn management methods that can be applied to any department, not just histology or pathology that would allow you to work anywhere. Believe me, hospitals and other companies are begging for people who are truly interested in taking on the responsibility of management.
The other path is to move to other institutions as you outgrow your job at your current workplace. If your institution is small you may or may not be able to move up. Many times your advancement depends more on others moving up or out rather than your own ambitions. In that case keep your options open for other opportunities that come up. Generally, if you move to a new job at a new institution you should also be moving up to at least the next higher level, otherwise your pay may go down rather than up (few institutions will bring you in at the high pay rate you reached after 10 years in your current job - they want to bring you on in the middle of their pay range). That means you need to always be on the lookout to take advantage of learning the next level of more advanced skills in any job you have. Never stick to your job description - that is just a list of basic expectations and should be considered the floor level of what you should do. Always ask what more you can do. No manager is ever going to ask you to stop volunteering!
Additionally, look for opportunities to stretch your abilities and apply current knowledge in new areas, whether research, government labs, including working for a vendor. You would be amazed at how much you can learn working on the vendor side of the equation that will help you in all other aspects of your work (product development, marketing, sales, customer relations, technical support, in addition to being able to see and interact with many other laboratorians).
Do I Need More Education?
Do you need more education to move up? That depends on your plan. In some cases it is necessary to get the theoretical background to do the job well. But in many cases you may just need specific technical or managerial training that can be done quickly and may be paid for by the institution.
In short, learn everything you can about your field, stay current, even with methods you do not currently do, attend meetings, even if on your own dime. Better yet, be the expert and give workshops and webinars (and get your meeting attendance paid!). Get involved in operations and management of the lab, take on special projects, and, if necessary, move around to gain new experience and perspective. After a while you will find yourself in some unexpected and interesting places.