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A histotechnician is an expert in preparing and staining microscope slides that are used in diagnosing disease. Normally the histotechnician prepares these slides but does not do the actual microscopic examination and diagnosis; this part of the process is reserved for a pathologist. Also known as histologic technologists, people working in these science jobs have an important role in diagnostic processes, as they must have knowledge of many different methods of specimen preparation, and be able to quickly decide on the best way to preserve tissues.
Histology is a science that is concerned with the structure of cells and tissues, and how they are arranged to form organs. The role of the histotechnician is to use their expert knowledge to preserve samples of tissues and organs in a state that is as close as possible to their natural formation. This is not always easy, as there are many different ways to preserve tissue and stain cells to enhance characteristics that allow diagnosis.
To prepare a single microscope slide for examination, the histotechnician first freezes the tissue sample, and then cuts it into wafer-thin slices. The tissue slices are mounted on a microscope slide, and the technician then chooses from a range of different dyes which are used to stain the tissue so it can be seen under a microscope. Choosing the right dye is a crucial matter, as different types of cells and tissues require different types of staining to make them visible.
Histotechnicians can work in a wide variety of laboratory settings, including in hospitals, for-profit diagnostic labs, public health clinics, and even in industrial settings. Many individuals choose to specialize in human tissue and work in medical jobs, but others may specialize in marine biology, veterinary science, or other fields. For technicians working in hospital laboratories in particular, the ability to work quickly and accurately under pressure is a crucial skill, as they are often called upon to prepare slides of tissues from a patient who is still in surgery, with the surgeon waiting for a diagnosis before deciding how to proceed.
In the United States, a histotechnician must complete at least a two year course which includes classes in histology. For US candidates training will also include clinical experience in a hospital laboratory as well as theoretical work, but requirements may vary in Canada, the UK and other countries around the world. Some states also require that individuals be licensed before they can obtain a job. These types of science careers are ideal for people who would like to work at medical jobs but do not want to spend the four or more years required to gain a Bachelor’s or graduate degree.
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