Cervical cytology screeners examine cervical cytology samples removed from the neck of a woman's womb. Using a microscope, their job is to detect any abnormality in the cell structure that may show signs of pre-cancerous changes, disease or, very rarely, cervical cancer. Doctors and biomedical scientists then use the results to diagnose and treat patients.
The woman's doctor or a nurse carries out the tests. The samples are then placed in vials of preservative and sent to cytology screeners based in a pathology laboratory.
The procedure that a cervical cytology screener follows is likely to include:
Although much of the analysis work tends to be routine and repetitive, cytology screeners follow strict quality control procedures and are responsible for the accuracy of every test. Cytology screeners work under the supervision of biomedical scientists who screen again any results that appear abnormal.
Other tasks performed by cytology screeners may include:
Cytology screeners may also be involved in the preparation of other, non-gynaecological cytology samples obtained without surgery. These can include bronchial samples, urine samples, bodily fluids and cells removed from lumps using fine needles, e.g. from breast biopsies.
Most screeners work in National Health Service (NHS) cytology centres and pathology laboratories, mainly based in large hospitals. Some work in private laboratories.
Cytology screeners usually work 37.5 hours a week, Monday to Friday, 9am to 5pm. Part-time work is common and job sharing is possible.
Cytology screeners work in a hospital or private pathology laboratory. Conditions need to be clean and sterile. Screening work can involve standing or sitting for long periods.
There may be an allergy risk from certain skin irritants. Laboratory coats, gloves and goggles may be worn to help protect the screeners and specimens from potential contamination.
Cytology screeners working in the NHS start on £15,610 a year. With some experience, they may earn up to £18,577 a year. The most experienced, fully qualified cytology screeners can earn up to £21,798.
Staff working in and around London may earn higher salaries. Salaries may also be higher in the private sector.
Most cytology screeners work in the NHS.
Other employers include:
Opportunities for cytology screeners exist throughout the UK. In some areas there are more vacancies than applicants. However, increasing automation could mean a reduction in vacancies.
Vacancies are advertised on the websites of professional bodies such as the National Association of Cytologists (NAC) and Institute of Biomedical Science (IBMS), and on the specialist website: www.careerscene.com. NHS vacancies are advertised on the NHS jobs website and in local newspapers.
There are no formal entry requirements. However, most employers look for around four GCSE's (A*-C), including maths or a science subject, or equivalent qualifications.
Good communication skills and a mature attitude are often valued by employers more than academic ability.
A scientific background or some laboratory experience may be useful. It is not uncommon for medical laboratory assistants to move across and specialise in cytology screening.
Entrants receive on-the-job training under the supervision of experienced cytology screeners and biomedical scientists.
Cytology screeners working for the NHS are required to attend intensive residential courses, usually including one at the start of training. They attend a second course six to twelve months into their practical training and a pre-exam course. There are regional NHS cytology training centres throughout the UK.
After at least two years of in-service training, NHS cytology screeners can become fully qualified by gaining the City & Guilds (C&G) Level 3 Diploma in cervical cytology.
Those working in the private sector usually follow a similar route and are likely also to become qualified through the Diploma.
Once qualified, cytology screeners need to keep their skills and knowledge up to date through continuing professional development (CPD). They can join a professional organisation, such as the NAC or the British Society for Clinical Cytology (BSCC), which offer conferences and training events.
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Cervical cytology screeners need:
Cervical cytology screeners working in the NHS may be able to extend their responsibilities by gaining promotion to the position of senior cytology screener.
Those who demonstrate aptitude and motivation, and an interest in performing specialist techniques and research may be encouraged to train as a biomedical scientist.
To become registered as a biomedical scientist, applicants need a degree accredited by IBMS. It may be possible to study for an accredited degree on a part-time basis while working.
British Society for Clinical Cytology (BSCC),
12 Coldbath Square, London EC1R 5HL
Tel: 020 7278 6907
Institute of Biomedical Science (IBMS),
12 Coldbath Square, London EC1R 5HL
Tel: 020 7713 0214
National Association of Cytologists (NAC)
NHS Cervical Screening Programme
Skills for Health, 2nd Floor, Goldsmiths House, Broad Plain, Bristol BS2 0JP
Tel: 0117 922 1155
Women into Science, Engineering and Construction (WISE),
2nd Floor, Weston House, 246 High Holborn, London WC1V 7EX
Tel: 020 3206 0408
Additional resources for job seekers and those already in a job.