[Histonet] Training assistants to work in Histology

Histonet histology.bc <@t> shaw.ca
Wed Jun 11 20:40:24 CDT 2008

A couple of days ago, there was a question about training assistants to 
work in a Histology laboratory. I have been involved in this topic for 
some years now and can offer some comments.

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.

Paul Bradbury,
Kamloops, Canada

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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