Inspired by a TV medical drama, Maritza Byczkowski pursued a career in laboratory science. Every day she prepares the tissue sample slides that pathologists review to diagnose disease. After 24 years as a histotechnician specialist at ARUP, she’s still passionate about helping patients.
Sometimes the signpost that points you toward your passion can come from an unexpected source.
Histotechnician Maritza Byczkowski found her passion while watching “Quincy, M.E.,” a popular 1970s television show about a medical examiner who relied on laboratory science to solve mysterious deaths.
“It grabbed my attention,” said Byczkowski, who has worked in ARUP’s Histology Lab for 24 years. “In hindsight, though, Quincy would be working on a cadaver, but there was never any blood on his gloves. Then again, it was a ‘70s TV show.”
Despite that missed detail, Byczkowski saw the possibilities for a career in science that would allow her to help patients without being at their hospital bedsides.
“I am very sensitive to people feeling pain, and I thought that seeing the faces of patients would be too hard on me,” she said. “Histology is perfect. I’m not a nurse, or an MD, but every block of tissue that comes through the lab is my patient.”
As a Histotechnician Specialist II, Byczkowski prepares the wax blocks that contain samples of human tissues, bodily fluids, or other matter, and then slices the samples into razor-thin pieces that are affixed to slides for pathologists to review under a microscope.
“There’s an art to it. We use a very sharp blade to cut sections that are just three microns thick, and you could very easily cut the tip of your finger.”
Jobs like Byczkowski’s are among the many opportunities available at ARUP for anyone interested in working in laboratory science and making a difference in patients’ lives.
On Friday, May 13, ARUP will host a day-long career fair to introduce job seekers to the array of positions currently available. Entry-level jobs at ARUP start at $15 per hour, and in many cases, no experience is necessary—only a high school diploma or GED. Raises come with each progressive step on the career ladder.
ARUP also offers its employees a generous benefits package that includes affordable medical, dental, and vision insurance, tuition reimbursement plans, quarterly bonuses, and a free on-site Family Health Clinic and Wellness Center. ARUP also offers company profit-sharing and pension plans (403b and 457b).
Byczkowski’s job also involves training the next generation of histotechnicians, and she always emphasizes how much precision matters in every aspect of the job. Correctly embedding a sample in a wax mold so that a slide cut provides the pathologist with the best representative section of the patient tissue is critical.
“You present flawless work because that is what is leading to a patient’s diagnosis and next steps in treatment,” she said.
Byczkowski brings a varied background in laboratory science to ARUP. She is a Peruvian native who moved to the United States with her parents in 1961, at the age of three. Byczkowski grew up in New Jersey and was always interested in working in a lab. She earned an associate’s degree in applied science with an emphasis in biological laboratory technology from County College of Morris.
For decades, Byczkowski worked in the laboratories of some of the biggest pharmaceutical companies and was involved in science that led to life-saving discoveries and medications. Byczkowski also worked at a small hospital in New Jersey, but when her family moved west to Arizona for the desert climate, she took a position at a private research company and later found her way to ARUP.
At each step, she gained new skills and expertise and fell deeper in love with her work.
“It really is my passion,” she said.
Byczkowski said she could never begin to count the number of blocks and slides that have passed through her hands during a 35-year career in histology, but she is still excited about the work.
“Every sample that comes through is a challenge, and that keeps it interesting,” she said. “That hasn’t changed in all these years. I made the right career choice for me.”
Jennifer Dobner, firstname.lastname@example.org