A woman looking through a microscope

A cytogenetic technologist could...


Analyze fetal chromosomes in amniotic fluid to tell parents whether or not their baby will have Down syndrome. Seven color-coded chromosomes against a black background Work with physicians to determine the genetic cause of a disorder that affects a child's development. A child using a walker
Help train medical students by reviewing patients' karotypes with them and highlighting abnormalities. Two medical students in a hospital Examine a blood smear to determine if a patient's symptoms are because of leukemia. Microscopic image of purple dots in a blood smear
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Key Facts & Information

Overview I have black hair, you have blonde hair. I have blue eyes, you have brown eyes. These, and other characteristics, describe what we look like, how tall we are, and even what our personality is, and they are all controlled by our chromosomes. Chromosomes are packages within each of our cells that hold our genes. Our chromosomes also determine if we might inherit any genetic diseases or if birth defects are present. Extracting, testing, and examining the chromosomes from cells is the job of the cytogenetic technologist. Cytogenetic technologists work with physicians to help diagnose and treat diseases and understand human development. This is a career in which you know you will be helping someone every single day.
Key Requirements Excellent lab skills, detail-oriented, ability to communicate effectively, ability to work independently, stress-management skills
Minimum Degree Bachelor's degree
Subjects to Study in High School Biology, chemistry, algebra, geometry; if available, biotechnology
Median Salary
Cytogenetic Technologist
  $61,070
U.S. Mean Annual Wage
  $49,630
Min Wage
  $15,080
Projected Job Growth (2014-2024) Faster than Average (14% to 20%) In Demand!
Interview
  • Cytogenetic technologist Leesa Davis describes her work at the University of Alabama's Department of Genetics clinical laboratory and what you need to do to prepare yourself for a career in this field.
  • Watch this introduction to the career of a lab technologist in cytogenetics by Jill Johnson at Greenwood Genetic Center.
Related Occupations
Source: O*Net

Training, Other Qualifications

While the minimum requirement for an entry-level cytogenetic technologist position is a bachelor's degree, most employers require that a cytogenetic technologist be certified by the American Society of Clinical Pathologists (ASCP). Cytogenetic technologists are certified upon passing an examination. In addition, some states require that in order to work in the state, a cytogenetic technologist obtain a clinical laboratory scientist license.

Education and Training

A bachelor's degree in cytogenetic technology, biotechnology, biology, or related science at an accredited college or university is the minimum requirement for an entry-level position in this field. Degree programs consist of classroom lectures and clinical labs. Undergraduate curricula includes biology, genetics, cytogenetics, hematology, immunology, laboratory techniques and quality control.

After earning a bachelor's degree, most candidates enter a post-graduate program in cytogenetic technology to become certified. The certification program can take 1-2 years to complete.

A master's degree in cytogenetic technology can lead to a job as a lab manager or supervisor, genetic counselor, or research associate at a corporate laboratory. Master's degree curricula includes management classes and training in supervision and research techniques.

Nature of the Work

Cytogenetic technologists are laboratory specialists who study normal and abnormal chromosomes in cells, and their relationship to disease and human development. These include birth defects, fertility problems, and blood disorders. They examine the chromosomes present in blood, amniotic fluid, and bone marrow using slide preparations and tissue cultures. Cytogenetic technologists use karotyping and fluorescent-labeled DNA (FISH technique) to detect gene and chromosome abnormalities. A karotype is a chart of stained chromosomes arranged in order of size that physicians use to compare and look at the differences in normal and abnormal chromosomes. After receiving the results from their tests, the cytogenetic technologist reports the information obtained to the physician, who will then use it to diagnose and treat diseases and understand human development.

In this video, Alana, who is enrolled in the Michener Institute's Genetics Technology program, explains more about this field and why she finds it so gratifying.

As part of the daily requirements for the job, the cytogenetic technologist must know how to harvest and culture living cells, understand chromosomal morphology, chromosomal analysis, and be familiar with the more than 20 different methods for visualizing chromosomes. They must also keep meticulous records in order to communicate effectively with physicians, family members, and researchers requesting technical information or test results.

Cytogenetic technologists must practice all standard safety procedures and quality control principles in the laboratory. They must also understand and abide by legal and health care procedures.

Work Environment

Cytogenetic technologists work in hospitals, clinics, educational institutions, and private laboratories. Cytogenetic technologists usually work 8-hour shifts, but the shifts are flexible. Technologists can be asked to work overtime on weekends, or as needed. Cytogenetic technologists spend a majority of their time at work seated and looking through microscopes. This career requires them to perform complicated tests, both accurately and efficiently; thus, the cytogenetic technologist must learn to work well in a stressful environment.

On the Job

  • Analyze chromosomes found in biological specimens to aid diagnoses and treatments for genetic diseases such as congenital birth defects, fertility problems, and hematological disorders.
  • Arrange and attach chromosomes in numbered pairs on karyotype charts, using standard genetics laboratory practices and nomenclature, to identify normal or abnormal chromosomes.
  • Count numbers of chromosomes and identify the structural abnormalities by viewing culture slides through microscopes, light microscopes, or photomicroscopes.
  • Prepare biological specimens such as amniotic fluids, bone marrow, tumors, chorionic villi, and blood, for chromosome examinations.
  • Recognize and report abnormalities in the color, size, shape, composition, or pattern of cells.
  • Communicate test results or technical information to patients, physicians, family members, or researchers.
  • Create chromosome images using computer imaging systems.
  • Determine optimal time sequences and methods for manual or robotic cell harvests.
  • Examine chromosomes found in biological specimens to detect abnormalities.
  • Harvest cell cultures using substances such as mitotic arrestants, cell releasing agents, and cell fixatives.
  • Identify appropriate methods of specimen collection, preservation, or transport.
  • Prepare slides of cell cultures following standard procedures.
  • Select appropriate methods of preparation and storage of media to maintain potential of hydrogen (pH), sterility, or ability to support growth.
  • Select banding methods to permit identification of chromosome pairs.
  • Select or prepare specimens and media for cell cultures using aseptic techniques, knowledge of medium components, or cell nutritional requirements.
  • Stain slides to make chromosomes visible for microscopy.
  • Summarize test results and report to appropriate authorities.
  • Develop and implement training programs for trainees, medical students, resident physicians or post-doctoral fellows.
  • Input details of specimens into logs or computer systems.
  • Maintain laboratory equipment such as photomicroscopes, inverted microscopes, and standard darkroom equipment.
  • Supervise subordinate laboratory staff.

Companies That Hire Cytogenetic Technologists

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Additional Information

Sources

Additional Support

We'd like to acknowledge the additional support of:

  • Abbott Fund
  • MedImmune
  • Medtronic Foundation
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