By: Chanda Renee Harris, HTL (ASCP), QIHC (ASCP)
A quick introduction about myself: My name is Chanda Renee Harris. I graduated with a Bachelor’s Degree in Biology from the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) in 2016. In my last semester of college, I was minimally exposed to the field of histology since it was related to my undergraduate research project with endangered Kemp’s ridley sea turtles. Shortly after graduating, I started working in a small dermatopathology lab as a lab assistant, where I very quickly grew a strong love for the field and a desire to learn as much as I could. I started observing and honing my skills and within the next couple of years I started working in an immunohistochemistry lab at the UAB hospital, still as a lab assistant. At this point, I was determined to be a “registered” tech and in July of 2019 I attempted and passed my HTL exam, which allowed me to quickly transition into a histotechnologist position in the IHC lab.
A few months later, I immediately started thinking about my QIHC. I had already been working in immunohistochemistry for over a year, thankfully, so I was constantly exposed to all the procedures, technical work and troubleshooting. I know everyone will not have that timeline or direct experience, but that shouldn’t stop you. When I first started studying and preparing for the exam, I purchased the NSH Online QIHC Prep Course, which you can easily find on the NSH website. It has approximately three hours of slide narration by Joe Myers, MS, CT(ASCP) QIHC and OVER 100 study questions. After watching the slideshows all the way through the first time, I went through every single question. I took notes for each one, either reiterating why I answered it correctly or what/why I missed it. In my opinion, the questions you answer incorrectly are the ones you need to pay super close attention to.
After taking extensive notes while reviewing the questions, I read through the all 77 pages of the Resource Guide which was also included in the QIHC Prep Course as supplemental material. This was extremely helpful as it provided more detail for each topic the speaker spoke about during the slideshow. While going through the supplemental pages, I referred to Dako’s Education Guide: Immunohistochemical Staining Methods, Fifth Edition a good bit. This book was a wonderful reference and especially helped out with troubleshooting, which you should definitely be comfortable with. I was able to borrow the book from my friend and mentor, Tammy Taylor, but you can actually find the Sixth Edition online pretty easily and download the PDF.
Personally, I have more motivation and eagerness to study when I have a test date looming over me. That being said, I sent in my signed authorization letter and made my payment to take the exam a few weeks after purchasing the Prep Course. ASCP had a pretty quick response and from the time they accepted my forms, I had sixty days to take the exam. You are able to take the QIHC Exam in the comfort of your own space, at home or wherever you choose, during that sixty-day time period which was extremely awesome. You have 90 minutes to answer 50 multiple choice questions. My strategy was to quickly, but efficiently answer all the questions as quickly as possible, while flagging the ones I knew I needed to review at the end. Getting through all the questions relatively quickly allowed me to spend a decent amount of time at the end and review each question.
Having the combination of the NSH Online QIHC Prep Course and the Dako Education Guide was exactly what I needed. I drilled the study questions that were provided with the Prep Course until I knew the answer as soon as I looked at the question. I also made sure that I didn’t have any questions about WHY the answer was correct, and if I did, I read about the topic until it made sense to me. For me, it helps more to write things down (bullet points, statements, questions, etc.) than it does to highlight information on the pages of a textbook or printed notes. I suggest finding a consistent study spot that your body can quickly adjust to “study mode” in. I studied for at least an hour a day about three months before my exam date and slowly increased my time as the exam got closer. I strongly suggest answering and drilling as many study questions as you can and be completely comfortable with dilution calculations and troubleshooting. Don’t be afraid to ask questions to anyone around you, especially your friends and mentors that have been in the field for a long time. Lastly, the day you choose to take your exam, I suggest having a clean workspace and a calm state of mind. Don’t try to cram information beforehand; Just sit, relax, concentrate and give it max effort.