Every time I introduce myself to someone and they ask me what I do for a living, my answer is: “I am a medical student and a licensed Cytotechnologist”.
The next thing they say is: “A cyto…what? I am sorry. What is that?”
I proceed to explain that, as a Cytotechnologist, I am a licensed laboratory professional that studies cells to identify abnormalities and diagnose patients. The way we do it is by using the microscope to screen slides and identify infections, pre-cancerous and cancerous lesions, and other specific characteristics of the tissue.
This is not the journey that I had in mind after I obtained my bachelor’s degree in Biomedical Sciences from the University of Puerto Rico. I never thought of having a post-baccalaureate degree, nor having a gap year before starting medical school, nor did I know what specialty I was interested in at that point in my life. But life had bigger plans for me, that at that moment I did not understand, but today I can say they were enriching experiences.
After obtaining my Post-baccalaureate Certification in Cytotechnology and being licensed by the American Society of Cytopathology (ASCP), I worked in a Pathology Laboratory in Puerto Rico for a year and three months, approximately. My job in this laboratory was to screen and diagnose Papanicolaou smears. According to Cytology Proficiency Testing the Clinical Laboratory Improvement Amendments (CLIA) regulations, I evaluated 100 slides/cases in 8 hours. Most days, I would be sitting with my microscope and wondering if this was the job that I wanted to do for the rest of my life. Although it was not clear at the time, that job would change my journey in medical school forever.
While I was a Cytotechnology student, I had the privilege of presenting a rare study case: “Detour ahead, proceed with caution: Metastatic Renal Cell Carcinoma in Pancreas.” in the American Society of Cytotechnology (ASCT) Annual Meeting in Salt Lake City, Utah in 2018. I was one of the ten students selected from all the United States and Puerto Rico. As a cytotechnologist, I continued showing the same interest in rare study cases and the passion for sharing my knowledge in the field of Cytopathology. In 2019, I was the first Cytotechnologist to present a case at the Academy of Pathology and Molecular Medicine Annual Meeting in San Juan, Puerto Rico. I presented the case: “Medulloblastoma. Initial Approach by Cytology”, among other presenters such as residents and Pathologists. In this way, I realized that Cytopathology was becoming one of the most intriguing fields of medicine for me and that every day I wanted to learn more and more about it. I started networking with other pathologists, talking about my interest in medicine and Cytopathology, and I received the best support anyone could ask for.
Now in the third semester of medical school, I keep in contact with my colleagues, talk to physicians about my interest in Cytopathology, I became part of the Path Interest Group, and I am applying my background in classes such as Histology, Physiology, and Pathology itself. My goal right now is to become a competitive candidate for pathology residency programs. So, even though obtaining a post-baccalaureate degree was not in my initial plans as an aspiring medical student, it has defined my future as a physician.
This article was previously published in the Latino Medical Student Association (LMSA National) Journal, Spring 2021 Edition*
Cytotechnology – Escuela de Profesiones de la Salud. (n.d.). Retrieved November 28, 2020, from https://eps.rcm.upr.edu/cythotechnology/
Smith, R. (n.d.). Study. Retrieved November 28, 2020, from https://cytologystuff.com/study/gyn-atlas-table-of-contents/atypical-squamous-cells/
Cytology proficiency testing. (n.d.). Retrieved March 30, 2021, from https://www.cms.gov/Regulations-and-Guidance/Legislation/CLIA/CytologyProficiencyTesting#:~:text=Cytology%20Proficiency%20Testing%20The%20Clinical%20Laboratory%20Improvement%20Amendments,the%20Centers%20for%20Medicare%20%26%20Medicaid%20Services%20%28CMS%29…%22
Cintron-Torres, U. (2021, April) How My Post-Baccalaureate Degree Helped Me Identify With a Specialty During Medical School. Latino Medical School Association (LMSA National) Journal. Spring 2021 Edition. https://lmsapublications.wixsite.com/spring2021/post/how-my-post-baccalaureate-degree-helped-me-identify-with-a-specialty-during-medical-school