Career OverviewA cytopathologist works closely with a cancer treatment team or a surgical team to determine if tissue samples obtained in biopsies or surgical procedures are cancerous or pre-cancerous cells. The cytopathologist must make slides or samples of the tissue that can then be examined and diagnoses as cancerous, potentially cancerous, or non-cancerous. This diagnosis is often made immediately to help the doctors and surgeons decide how to proceed with the surgery.
The cytopathologist works in the same hospital or clinic as the surgeon. Occasionally the tissue is prepared and sent to a larger facility where the cytopathologist then makes the determination of the type of cells present. The cells themselves are treated before being examined, and are usually processed using a centrifuge or other process that eliminates all elements from the sample except the cells.
Since the cytopathologist does not usually work with the complete tissue he or she will work very closely with the oncologist or clinical doctor to ensure that the cell sample is obtained correctly and that there is other evidence of cancer or abnormalities. This can be particularly important if the test does not come back positive or negative but rather comes back as suspicious or atypical. With either of the two last readings the cytopathologist then relies on other information to make a determination and provide recommendations to the treating physician.
A cytopathologist must have excellent communication skills and should be comfortable working in a team environment. Often the cytopathologist must rely on the physician or other team members to be his or her eyes and ears when it comes to discussing issues with the patient, especially if the cytopathologist is in a different location than the patient.
Most cytopathologist work standard day hours with little emergency or after hours scheduling. In large hospitals in metropolitan areas a cytopathologist may be required to work rotations in the lab or to work evening or shift hours.
Career RequirementsA cytopathologist is a trained medical doctor that has completed both an undergraduate degree and a graduate degree in medicine. In addition a cytopathology has the same residency requirements as an anatomical pathologist, which can be from two to three years. Most cytopathologists then spend additional time working with oncologists and other specialized medical professionals that work in the areas of detecting, diagnosing and treating cancer and cancer patients.
Job OutlookThe demand for cytopathologists tends to be higher in larger cities and in research hospitals and centers. Overall the need for qualified cytopathologists continues to increase every year and this trend, according to the United States Department of Labor, will continue to stay the same until the year 2014.
Career TrackA cytopathologist with laboratory experience may choose to return to a college or medical university to either work as a faculty member or to work as a researcher. Many cytopathologists take jobs with private research organizations or foundations while still others move into laboratory management.
CompensationThe average salary of a hospital or healthcare facility cytopathologist is between $170,000 and $280,000 per year. Larger facilities or cytopathologists with supervisory or lab management responsibilities may have a higher yearly income.