By: Sheila Criswell
In the South, there is a shortage of certified, talented histotechnologists. I would not want anyone to take offense at that first sentence – there are many very talented histotechnologists in the South, many of whom are HT or HTL certified. At the same time, Memphis in particular is home to a large and diverse medical center with a multitude of histology labs in both clinical and research practice. Our faculty receive emails weekly asking us to forward job postings to our students.
As those of us who work in histotechnology know, the field can be extremely rewarding. It takes a great deal of talent to section tissues well consistently, particularly when the lab receives a variety of specimen types. We all know, too, that no excellence in microtomy can compensate for poor embedding. Correct fixation, processing, and embedding are the determining factors in all subsequent stages of tissue handling. If they are performed poorly, the day’s work is challenging at best, but when performed consistently correctly, the lab runs smoothly, and everyone enjoys coming to work. As for special stains, I can’t speak for others, but when I see that one of my student’s manual special stains turns out flawlessly, I am so joyful that I grab the nearest person and force them to look at it and celebrate with us. The same goes for our manual immunohistochemistry results, particularly when associated with one of our research projects.
The majority of histotechnologists in the area were trained on the job and then they challenged the American Society for Clinical Pathology (ASCP) registry exam by utilizing the combined education/work experience route. Histotechnologists who have the discipline to study for the exam on their own or who take an online theory-only program may be very successful.
The University of Tennessee Health Science Center is home to the only program in the nation that trains students at the master’s level in both cytotechnology and histotechnology (Master of Cytopathology Practice program). Graduating students are eligible to take both CT (ASCP) and HTL (ASCP) examinations. Graduates can then work in either profession, or in both.
While the MCP program is very successful and produces outstanding students, it requires a 2-year, full-time obligation after obtaining a bachelor’s degree. Many persons interested in histotechnology are not able to make that time and financial commitment.
The new certificate program we are offering is a little different from others in the nation. While we would happily see area uncertified histotechnologists apply to our program, portions of the program may duplicate much of what they already know. The program covers all areas of histology in both lecture and lab. Much of what we teach (safety, embedding, microtomy, special stains, immunohistochemistry, laboratory operations) would be redundant for persons who have worked in the lab for years. These persons need histotechnology theory primarily.
However, there are many area graduates who have recently earned a bachelor’s degree in biology or in chemistry and realize that there are not a lot of positions available which utilize those degrees alone. After investing 4 years in school, most graduates are reluctant to take on more debt or time commitment. Instead, they need to begin working to support themselves and to pay off student loans. We hope that our program will be attractive to these graduates. After all, a person who loves biology or chemistry inevitably loves lab work. While there are various specialty areas in the laboratory, histotechnology allows for a perfect mix of knowledge and skill to troubleshoot problems and achieve amazing results. In addition, one can generally support oneself nicely on the income from working in histotechnology. Because there is a great variety of histology labs according to size, tissue type, management, diversity, location, and general climate, a fitting lab can be found for everyone who has great work ethic, who has adequate skills, is punctual, and gets along well with coworkers.
The certificate program we offer is one year (January – December) and part-time. Classes are principally in the afternoons only, except for the final 6 weeks which are clinical rotations and are full days. The part-time nature allows for students to continue working while attending school. Students are expected to take their HTL registry examinations in mid-December, just after completing clinical rotations. This allows them to embrace a new chapter in their lives and exciting career in the new year.