Be a Cytologist: Education Requirements and Career Information

Cytologists, or cytotechnologists, study and identify cells of diseases, such as cancer and bacterial infections. They are required to have a bachelor's degree and a state-issued license. Cytologists may also become certified if they choose.

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Education Requirements to Become a Cytologist

A bachelor's degree is mandatory to become a cytologist, though many prospective cytotechnologists also earn a master's degree. Typically, potential cytologists earn a degree in cytology or cytotechnology; however, students may also study other science-related disciplines, such as biology, at the undergraduate level and go on to a cytology graduate program. Students learn how to use microscopes and other cytology equipment to identify diseases and screen specimens. Most programs include both classroom lectures and clinical training.

Career Information for Cytologists

Job Description

Cytologists evaluate cell samples for any variations that may have been caused by disease. For example, they use a Pap test to secure cells from the uterine cervix to determine if a patient has an infection like meningitis. They do this through meticulous inspection under a microscope, which enables them to diagnose things such as benign or malignant tumors, cancer, pre-cancerous cells and other infectious or inflammatory agents. Cytologists typically work in laboratories at a hospital, university or private institution. They may work in the pathology department, under the supervision of a pathologist.

Licensure and Certification

Cytologists must be licensed by the state in which they intend to practice. Requirements for licensure differ by state, so applicants should inquire to their state's Board of Health to be sure that all requirements are met.

While certification is not necessarily required, many cytologists opt to earn certification. Cytologist certification is offered by the American Society for Clinical Pathology (ASCP). Students must graduate from an education program accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP) in order to sit for the certification exam. If they pass the exam, applicants earn the certified cytotechnologist designation - CT (ASCP).

Salary Information

According to, the middle half of all cytologists earn between $53,000 and $95,300 annually as of 2013. The median for all cytologists is $72,800. Results from a 2007 survey by the American Society for Clinical Pathology show that cytotechnologists who worked in a hospital earned an average hourly wage of $27.55, while those who worked in a private clinic earned $28.75 per hour.

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Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics