Why Should I be a Histotechnologist?


When I was 14 a family friend, head of surgery here in Birmingham, invited me to the hospital for a health fair. It ended up that I was able to observe him doing several surgeries and fell in love with the medical field. I started my Histology career in 1975 embedding tissue, moving to special stains and eventually in 1990 I became a senior histotech over Quality Assurance/Quality Control until moving to laboratory manager 5 years ago. I now travel for the department of Tissue Procurement managing 20 employees as well as being the Southern Division of the Cooperative Human Tissue network. Even though I am not working hands on with histology on a daily basis I maintain a love for the field and promote it as NSH PR Chair as well as to UAB students and faculty alike.

I highly recommend histology to students especially in today's market with the increasing lab personnel shortage. Money is no object in many parts of the country. For example: when I first started, I was making $5.25 an hour; today histotechs start out in Birmingham, AL making $15-$20.00 an hour with Senior Histotechs making $25-$28.00 an hour.

I have now been in histology 31 years and enjoy it as much or more today than when I began.

Paul Billings
Lab Manager, UAB Tissue Procurement

I got into Histology by way of military training. I had just graduated from college and wasn't sure what I wanted to do so I was exploring medical jobs the military trained you for. I knew I wanted to work in the medical field but I was looking for a skill that had practical real word applications so I did some homework and found Histotechnology. After graduating from Histology school I was assigned to work in a large military hospital. After about six months in the hospital I was transferred to the Research Division and 9 years later I am still working in research learning something new every day.

I have always had an interest in learning science and practically applying that knowledge to produce something. The field of Histotechnology has allowed me an opportunity to work with specimens ranging from human tissue to lobster claws. This field is growing exponentially and wherever your science interests lie there's probably a job in Histotechnology that can fulfill that for you.

Jason Burrill
Manager, Histology, Charles River Laboratories

Histotechnology is a field that I am privileged to be in. It affords many opportunities and challenges to those interested in science careers. I entered a histology training program without knowing much about it. I learned quickly and have continued the quest for knowledge in the profession for many years – from a clinical hospital setting, to the pharmaceutical industry, and currently, academic research. Over the years, I have gained technical skills, learned to troubleshoot in many areas, developed histomorphometry parameters, and served on boards and committees. It is a profession where we can contribute to patient care, industry specialties and veterinary research. Additionally, an education in histotechnology can be integrated into biotechnology fields.

It takes time to find the correct match in any profession. I look forward to how much more I can accomplish and contribute to this unique and interesting profession, whether by teaching an undergraduate, learning a new method for our research program, sharing expertise with colleagues or providing information in written form. Do consider this rewarding profession. You will not be disappointed!

For additional information on a histotechnology career in an academic setting, contact the NSH office and they will provide you with program directories.

Vicki Kalscheur, HT (ASCP) MLT
Department of Surgical Sciences, School of Veterinary Medicine, University of Wisconsin

I finished college at the Univeristy of Arizona (UA) and graudated with a BA in English and a minor in Anthropology. My professional career after college began at Sunquest Information Systems (now Misys Healthcare Systems) where I wrote and produced online and print media for general laboratory, blood bank, and mircrobiology laboratory software products. My interest in histotechnology comes from my love of anatomy and anthropology. When I wasn't writing for Misys, I was volunteering on excavations for Desert Archaeology in Tucson or attending forensics smeinars through the UA Extended University. I screened dirt and picked through debris all over the Tucson basin and I was lucky enough to see the result at the archaeology laboratory: pottery shards, bone, glassware, and broken china. When my career at Misys ended with a company restructuring, I decided I wanted to stay in healthcare. I am channeling my interests in anatomy and anthropology into an Associates of Applied Science degree in Histotechnology at Pima Community College.

Sherri Lomayesva
Student, Pima Community College

I am passionate about histology. I trained as a "histo tech trainee" for one of my very first jobs at University of Pennsylvania Vet School. While there I got HT certified, worked in research then clinical labs and then went into marine biology. For my Master's I did histology on a tiny marine organism using TEM/SEM as well as light level histology. I then went on to work on my PhD, again using histology to study a unique marine organism. During the PhD, I did special stains on thin sections, immuno and confocal microscopy. I also taught as a TA undergrad in histology laboratories for my doctorate and then went on to teach Histology as a Professor.

This career has kept me fed, housed and very interested all my life! I still love to just look at the lovely stained slides on the scope for relaxation! I truly love everything about histology!

Judith L. Williams, HT(ASCP), PhD
Histology and Imaging Core Facility University of Washington, School of Medicine At South Lake Union Seattle, WA

In the early 80's, I worked full time as an evening shift phlebotomist at Rose Memorial Hospital, in Denver, Colorado. I was a Biology/Chemistry student at Metropolitan State College during the day. I had a wonderful Histology professor. The first day of class, he told us to bring colored pencils to our next session and informed us we would learn the different structures by drawing them. The complaints flew. “I can‟t draw,” a number of us wailed. He said, “That‟s okay. After this semester, you‟ll be able to.” In fact, by the end of the first 4 hour lab, we were drawing fairly good representations of the 10 or so samples he‟d place on microscope stages, for each lab. He‟d turn on some light instrumental jazz, turn off the harsh institutional overhead lights, and we‟d draw with just the natural day light pouring in from the windows. The room was a respite from the noisy, busy world around us. About a year before graduation, I started paying attention to the question, “What will you do when you graduate?” Looking around the hospital for an answer, I felt a little bit like Goldilocks. “Nursing?” No, that chair didn‟t feel right. “Physician?” Nope, that bed wasn‟t just right. “R.T., P.T., X-Ray, M.T.?” No, no, no and no. Then I stumbled across the Histology lab. I immediately fell in love with the small, 3 person lab. I loved the hands-on mix of science, craftsmanship, and artistry involved in creating the beautifully stained slides. I asked them if they could use a volunteer between my morning classes and my evening shift. First, they let me do the H&E staining. Of course, it was all manual, then. Dip, dip, dip. Answering the insistent call of multiple timers, it was a great fit for my sense of precision. Then, they taught me how to cut Autopsies. In the following years, my career path took me from sitting for the HTL registry, to 8 years as a bench tech in clinical hospitals, to a Mohs‟ Histotech, to becoming a member of the Board of Directors for the Mohs Histotech Society (ASMH), co-chair of 2 ASMH conferences, to forming my own business, setting up labs, writing manuals and training Mohs Histotech‟s. Whenever a lull occurred in business, I‟d travel as a Histo – temp. Then the opportunity to supervise a clinical Histology lab came along. I have had the privilege of serving Veterans, in that capacity, at the Minneapolis VA, for the past 4.5 years. I couldn‟t have asked for a better career. I look forward to continuing to grow in my field, though I don‟t know where it will take me. Maybe QIHC next? Maybe MHA and administrative work? I know I‟ll always have opportunities to learn in this career. Many thanks to all the fine Histotech‟s who shared their expertise and their friendship with me over the decades.

Sandy C. Harrison, HTL(ASCP)

I was working as a phlebotomist in a small town hospital after the birth of my 2nd child. A med tech (Lecia Huenik) pointed out an “opportunity exit” offered by our main lab in Fond du Lac, WI. I schooled through the computer with Indiana University. My instructor was Deb Wood. I had a fabulous clinical supervisor, Barb Jacobs. I no longer work for that lab, but as a histotech I feel that I am part of a very special, tight knit community of a select group of professionals. In fact, I am currently working with another woman that worked in the same Fond du Lac lab I trained in! It‟s a small histotech world!

Mariah Vende Berg, HT(ASCP)

I had graduated from an MLT program in West Virginia in 1983. Moved to Florida in June of 1984. I made my presence known every week for 3 months at the local hospital‟s HR department… looking for an MLT position. When a Histology job came open, I was the first one that they thought of (THANK GOD!!). They asked me what my experience with Histology was… well… my only experience was to walk by the department during school, heading to one of the other sections. They said .. “With your Lab background, we‟ll give you a try”!! Well, I guess I worked out… I am still here at the same hospital… 25 almost 26 years later!! I would not go into any other department now – I LOVE IT in Histoland!

Valerie Hannen, MLT(ASCP), HTL, SU (FL)

I entered basic training and did not have a guaranteed job. I listed Histology as the 4th choice in my order of preferences for job placement, having no idea what in the heck histology was. No one there knew what it was either and I thought I‟d be doing “normal” lab work with blood, etc. Little did I know tissue, slides and stains were my path and I love what I do. Without the military and AFIP‟s amazing program who knows where I‟d be now. Clinical histology is amazing but I am now in research and I‟ve been exposed to a whole new aspect of histology. Thanks to all who are part of this awesome field.

Kelley Durden

I was in college in Tennessee and my advisor wanted me to make a decision on a career path. I was interested in science but not in being a nurse or physician. She suggested I look into laboratory sciences; histology, medical technology and cytology. I visited the hospital and toured the labs. I immediately knew when I entered the histo lab (and smelled the xylene) that I was where I needed to be. That was in 1974.

Jeanine Bartlett

Back in 1980, I applied for an MLT program. It was full, so there was a waiting list to get in. The counselor asked me if I would be interested in Histotechnology as they had just recently added the program. I had no idea what histotechnology was, so he explained as best he could and then took me down to the lab to meet with the program director. I entered the “Wayne‟s World” Histotechnology program and have been in Histology ever since and I LOVE IT!! I got a job right after getting certified and have been at the University of Minnesota for almost 28 years. Sooooo thankful to that counselor for steering me in the histology direction!!

LuAnn Anderson, HT(ASCP)

I entered basic training and did not have a guaranteed job. I listed Histology as the 4th choice in my order of preferences for job placement, having no idea what in the heck histology was. No one there knew what it was either and I thought I‟d be doing “normal” lab work with blood, etc. Little did I know tissue, slides and stains were my path and I love what I do. Without the military and AFIP‟s amazing program who knows where I‟d be now. Clinical histology is amazing but I am now in research and I‟ve been exposed to a whole new aspect of histology. Thanks to all who are part of this awesome field.

Kelley Durden

I was introduced the color world of Histology, when I was about 7 or 8. I saw my first leg being grossed. I was the cool kid in elementary school that during show and tell, would bring in a section of brain or perhaps an embryo floating in formalin. I worked my summers filing blocks and slides (Not to worry I understood the importance of numerical order!), and as I got older would work my summers as a lab aide. After high school, and very undecided in which direction my life should go, the Histology Supervisor had encouraged as she did all her lab aides and others she felt needed to add their mark in this profession into this career. She had a histology program (at the time when it was OJT) and she would have 3 students at a time. We would work nights assisting with gross, and mornings in class. She would give us weekly exams and instill in us the importance of the profession. The majority of her students that she had taught have moved on to become supervisors and charge techs. I have to say that I come from a “family” of histologists. I was very fortunate that this woman who had an interest in my future not just in me as a person but as her daughter. You see, this supervisor was my mother, and I will forever be grateful to her for introducing me to this field. Her name is Sofia Roberts and I‟m sure that there are many members that know her.

Jessica Vacca

Ok, here goes. I was finishing Clinical Lab Tech School in the Air Force (1978) when someone came in and asked for volunteers to be Histo-techs. I had never heard of a Histo-tech but someone who had worked in a funeral home (Bob Burgess), on break told me it was about doing autopsies and cutting microscope slides for pathologists so they could identify cancer. We came back from break and I still wasn‟t quit convinced until they said, “no weekends, holidays or swing shifts”. I was the first to volunteer and have been happy ever since. It‟s a great thing to actually enjoy what you do in life. I love it and have never regretted that decision.

Matt Chase, HT(ASCP)

I was finishing my last year of college with a Biology major, Chemistry minor. I was pre-veterinary medicine, and decided I did not want to continue with more schooling. My frantic mother was concerned about my marketability, so she started to send me new career opportunities in the mail every week. She is a transcriptionish in pathology, so a histology brochure was one of the first things she sent. I thought if I trained for this it would keep me employed until I decided what I really wanted to do with my life. Twelve years later, I love this profession and I am never bored. An added bonus is that I can talk “shop” with my mom when I need some perspective.

Jennifer Schumacher

What Histotechnicians Do

Histotechnicians (HTs) and histotechnologists (HTLs) are members of a laboratory team who employ histologic technology to diagnose diseases, to conduct research, or to instruct others in the science.

Histotechnologists play a fundamental role in the allied health profession.  A histotechnologist will prepare very thin slices of human, animal or plant tissue for microscopic examination.  This is an important part of the intricate process of scientific investigation used in establishing and confirming patient diagnosis.  Because of the histotechnologist‘s skillful application of sophisticated laboratory techniques, the seemingly invisible world of tissue structure becomes visible under a microscope.
The tasks performed by the histotechnologist require patience, mechanical ability, knowledge of biology, immunology, molecular biology, anatomy and chemistry

The histotechnician works with delicate instruments and automated equipment as well as knives, chemicals and glass slides. He or she must value precision and have good hand-eye coordination and manual dexterity.

Job opportunities

Today, there are more jobs for histotechnicians than educated people to fill those jobs. The future long-term employment looks bright. The need is great everywhere throughout the country.

Histotechnicians have an unlimited choice of practice settings.  Job openings for qualified histotechnicians can be found in:

  • hospitals
  • clinics
  • dermapathology labs
  • public health facilities
  • industrial research
  • veterinary pathology
  • marine biology
  • forensic pathology.

Click Here to View a PowerPoint about Careers in Histology.