RE: histotechs pay etc
These comments apply primarily to medical-based histotechnology. As you are
no doubt aware by now the formally trained histotech is a rarity in the US.
In my 19 years in the field I have met only one on the job (out of 30+
co-workers over the years)! So, for us it is really a matter of OJT or
nothing. Because histotechnology was dropped from med tech programs decades
ago we have muddled through with whoever happens to walk into a histo lab
and shown some interest - for whatever reason! Because of THAT, hiring
college educated people nowdays is an imperative, not a luxury. No one
without exposure to modern college molecular biology and chemistry will have
a chance at doing well in a histotechnology career (by that I mean advancing
beyond cutting and staining slides).
I was appalled at the situtation in the histology lab when I was first
exposed to it. I started in electron microcopy ( I have a AS degree in EM
and a BA in Zoology), and never even heard of histology until the day I got
a job at a hospital. I had to deal with the lab in the course of my EM work,
but I very soon realized that the people working there were not like the med
techs on the clinical side. Instead they were, for the most part,
OJT-trained ex-dishwashers and food-line workers and barely high-school
educated. I found that only one out of four had any training at all and was
an HT. All the same, I gradually gained respect for what they did and
trained under them to get my HT and HTL. I'm sorry to say that as I advanced
under their tuteledge, they stayed exactly where they were. Not necessarily
because of lack of trying (one guy passed the HT practical but took, and
failed, the HT written exam 5 times) but rather because they had absolutely
no theoretical background education to draw on to fuel an advance.
I was very lucky that the pathologist I worked for was interested in
improving the lab and made the effort to get people trained (and paid out of
his own pocket). Some of us did well, others didn't, but no one can say they
didn't have the opportunity. As time went on the pathologist decided to only
hire people with science degrees. The quality of the lab work increased
dramatically from that point on (BTW, no one was fired, just normal
I was then lucky enough to get a job working in Saudi Arabia and there I was
exposed to histotechs from many other countries. I was astounded to find
that ALL were well trained far beyond even the most well-intentiond OJT tech
from the US (such as your's truely). At the minimum they had specialized
two-year lab-specific training. Most were med techs with a specialization in
histotechnology. The techs in the lab from the US were universally poorly
educated in histotechnology (despite their various degrees)compared to those
techs from other countries. That experience really opened my eyes to how
poorly trained and educated the average histotech in the US really is. For
the most part, even a degreed, certified tech, such as myself, is not well
grounded in general medicine and pathology. If the general public knew the
situation they would be appalled at the lack of quality of the training
Because of what I have experienced I have absolutely no patience with those
who claim that we can get by with high-school educated people in the lab. It
is the height of absurdity to claim that because the entry level of most
histotech jobs involves "only" cutting and staining slides that we "only"
need the most uneducated people to do the job. That is a guarantee that the
lab will be staffed with incompetent people for the future, and is grossly
unfair to the person you hire - that is, to put them in a job that they have
no chance of succeeding at as a career (except maybe, with heroic attention
to their own OJT education. Of course, even the heroic self-educator only
learns what they need to know, not what could help them over the long term).
Pathologists know they need well educated techs these days. Uneducated techs
will only find jobs in routine cutting mills and will not be doing advanced
procedures. If that's what someone wants, thats a personal choice, but the
lab directors will be looking for educated people to to the advanced work.
For instance, in the lab I am in now, if you don't have, at a minimum, a
degree and if you aren't an expert at immunochemistry you won't even be able
to apply for a job.
That being said, I feel the broad range of experience we have among techs in
the US comes from the multitude of paths they took before their cance
landing in the histology profession. I know that a med tech-specific program
is best for the lab, but for the individual I think a broad science-based
education is better for flexibility. So I wouldn't support a rigid program
of education to get in to a lab job. Instead I like the idea of basic
education requirements and then specializing once a field is chosen.
Those who think a basic education requirement, like an associates degree, is
just too much to ask are those who are on the way out the door. We will fill
their spots with people who are educated and interested in the future, not
From: Barry Rittman [mailto:email@example.com]
Sent: Tuesday, August 28, 2001 4:30 PM
Subject: histotechs pay etc
Please delete if you are tired of hearing about this topic.
Everyone who writes to the Histonet deserves some respect for taking the
time to voice their opinion. If you have derogatory comments I
respectfully suggest that you send them directly to the individual
concerned, to send them to all of us is, in my opinion unprofessional.
There have been several comments about treatment of histotechs by
pathologists. It is dangerous to generalize. I have been treated well
by some pathologists and felt part of the team and poorly by others. The
latter were fortunately in the minority and often did this because of
their ignorance of my role and my level of skill. I consider that in
such cases most will change their attitude if I make them aware of the
role of the histotech and they will come to respect the histotech as a
critical part of the team. This requires mutual respect and this is
something that has to be developed. As a good example it is not
appropriate to introduce lets say the pathologist as Dr. Haupsburg and
the histotech as James. I regard this as a kind of one upmanship and
demeaning to James, Dr. Haupsburg and Mr. Jones would be more
appropriate. If you are part of a team then it should be either first
names (unless in front of patients) or appropriate titles. I cannot tell
you how much this ticked me off before I got my PhD!!
The histotech also needs to have self respect both for their own
abilities and for the work they do. If they do not then this is like
the cartoon when one deer looks at the other and sees a target birthmark
on their chest "bummer of a marking Joe". You cannot expect others to
respect you if you do not respect yourself. If you are not a continual
student learning something every day then you may not be happy in your
On the job training. I trained in England but have lived in the States
33 years and been a citizen for 25. I feel that I have a slightly
different perspective than individuals who were born, raised and
trained in the States. I feel strongly that on the job training is
often not a quantifiable item and that a formal training program is
best. At least individuals who have gone through this training can be
compared, apples to apples. I appreciate the training that I received
in England (although it is probably different now), where all trained
initially as MLTs and then specialized in Histopathology etc. Initial
training was one day a week and two evenings at classes for 3 years.
Specializing another two years. This time training was paid for by the
employer. Exams were written, practical and oral examinations and often
grueling. A set of questions on the practical allowed to you to
determine your own schedule for clinical chemistry, histology,
microbiology and so on. You were under stress (kind of like working in a
Apples to apples. It is difficult in the States to compare individuals.
Some labs provide superb experience and good OJT, others are pitiful in
requiring maximum output with minimal or no training. What does 10 years
experience mean? Can an individuals who has ten years of work whose
skills can be mastered in a year be considered to have ten years
experience? I don't think so. I think that they have one years
experience ten times over.
Until employers realize the skill necessary for histotechnology then
salaries will not increase much. Neither will there be recognition for
the need of formal training to start with and continual training over
the entire career. Training that is supported both philosophically and
financially. Certification as mentioned by some of our colleagues in the
UK recently would be a big step in that direction.
In this era when the boundaries of histolotechnology, cytology,
biochemistry and other disciplines are becoming less clear, I believe
that it is time to look at our overall approach to histotechnology. As
with most disciplines today the emphasis is "what do we need to know" or
more correctly "what is the minimum we need to know". "If I read these
notes will I pass the test". I am convinced that I do a significantly
better job because of the broad training I received as a MLT even
though I work in histology. Because of this "other training" I look at
things in a different light. I believe that the splitting of MLTs,
histotechs and cytotechs in the States was a retrograde step. As far as
I am concerned the broader the educational base and training the better
off both the histotech and the employer.
I would be interested to know if there are histotechs out there who
feel the same.
Thank you for your patience in reading this.
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