Here in Canada, Medical Laboratory Assistants have been used as a vital
part of the laboratory workforce for many years. The national
certifying body, the Canadian Society for Medical Laboratory Sciences,
has adopted the MLA group and has established a National Syllabus of
Studies and required competencies for each laboratory discipline. By
standardizing the required competencies and the training of MLA's, it is
possible to clearly define the precise role and duties that an MLA is
permitted to perform.
The duties that MLA's perform have been specifically chosen to avoid any
erosion of responsibilities from the technologist's duties. In practice,
certified technologists can perform any and all duties in the
laboratory, whereas MLA's may perform only specific tasks. MLA's are
paid on a lower scale than a certified technologist to reflect their
more limited responsibilities. The separation of technologist's and
assistant's duties is vital, especially in a situation where employers
may be tempted to employ the less expensive of the two groups in order
to cut their costs.
Medical Laboratory Assistants are permitted to work in the gross room,
accessioning specimens, entering data into the computer, labeling
cassettes, filing and retrieving specimens, filing and retrieving
blocks. The assistants also maintain the tissue processors and fluid
levels. However, gross descriptions, specimen selection and dissection
are the sole responsibility of the technologists. Embedding, sectioning,
frozen sections, and staining are also the responsibility of the
technologists. By assigning the more mundane, but still critical, tasks
to less qualified personnel, the technologists are available to
concentrate on the more demanding procedures. This system has worked
very well and very effectively for many years.
There is a distance education course for Histology Assistants offered
through the Open Learning Division of Thompson Rivers University of
British Columbia. This is specifically written for workers who have no
prior knowledge of histology. It focuses on "pre-analytical procedures"
but also provides a good deal of background information on diagnostic
histopathology, tissues, fixation, tissues types, common specimens,
tissue processing, filing, storage. It also covers some aspects of
specimen preparation for cytology specimens, fluids, aspirates, etc.
The Open Learning course is available to anyone, anywhere, and may be
completed within a very flexible time frame. The current cost of the
course is $400.00, including all course materials, examinations, on-line
tutors, and toll-free tutor phone calls.
McKnight, Tanisha wrote:
> Hello All:
> I have a few people, now working in accessioning, who are interested in
> working in Histology. I am thinking of potentially creating "Histology
> Lab Assistant" positions to help them transition. They have already been
> told that they will need to go through an accredited program to become
> full Techs. We have one here in Indiana that I went through and it is
> Can you all share your strategies for training? How do you separate what
> Assistants are allowed to do from what Techs do? What regulatory
> guidelines do you follow if any when deciding?
> I was thinking of training them to embed and create sections first (on
> limited specimen types). I would not allow certain biopsies or really
> small specimens. Under regulations, would sectioning and embedding be
> considered "testing"?
> Any help or advice would be appreciated.
> Tanisha N. McKnight, HT (ASCP)
> Covance CLS Indianapolis
> Specimen Management, Anatomic Pathology
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