Nuclear Medicine Technologist
A nuclear medicine technologist could...
|Properly dispose of leftover radioactive medications to keep people and the environment safe.||Conduct a PET scan to help detect and determine the stage of lung cancers.|
|Answer a patient's questions to put him at ease during a diagnostic exam.||Use radioactive dyes to identify a ballooning vessel that could burst in a brain.|
Key Facts & Information
|Overview||Many traditional medical imaging methods, like X-rays, can take pictures of certain parts inside the body, but sometimes these methods are not sensitive enough to detect a problem, or a picture is not enough—the doctor needs to see how a part is functioning, not just how it looks. That's where nuclear medicine comes in. It can be used to see, for example, if bone repair is going on in a certain area, how a kidney is functioning, how a stomach is emptying, or how blood is flowing into and out of a heart. It can also be used to treat certain diseases. Nuclear medicine technologists are the special healthcare workers who administer radioactive drugs, take images of the patient, and then process, analyze, and show the computer images to the doctor.|
|Key Requirements||Meticulous, detail-oriented, sensitive, and empathetic, with outstanding communication skills, and the ability to work independently|
|Minimum Degree||Vocational or Associate's degree|
|Subjects to Study in High School||Chemistry, biology, physics, algebra, geometry, algebra II, pre-calculus, English; if available, computer science, physiology, foreign language|
|Projected Job Growth (2012-2022)||Faster than Average (14% to 20%)|
Training, Other Qualifications
Nuclear medicine technology programs range in length from 1 to 4 years and lead to a certificate, an associate's degree, or a bachelor's degree. Many employers and an increasing number of states require certification or licensure. Aspiring nuclear medicine technologists should check the requirements of the state in which they plan to work.
Education and Training
Completion of a nuclear medicine technology program takes 1 to 4 years and leads to a certificate, an associate's degree, or a bachelor's degree. Generally, certificate programs are offered in hospitals, associate's degree programs in community colleges, and bachelor's degree programs in 4-year colleges and universities. Courses cover the physical sciences, biological effects of radiation exposure, radiation protection and procedures, the use of radiopharmaceuticals, imaging techniques, and computer applications.
One-year certificate programs are for health professionals who already possess an associate's degree—especially radiologic technologists and diagnostic medical sonographers—but who wish to specialize in nuclear medicine. The programs also attract medical technologists, registered nurses, and others who wish to change fields or specialize.
The Joint Review Committee on Education Programs in Nuclear Medicine Technology accredits most formal training programs in nuclear medicine technology. In 2006, there were about 100 accredited programs in the continental United States and Puerto Rico.
Nuclear medicine technologists should have excellent communication skills, be detail-oriented, and have a desire to continue learning. Technologists must effectively interact with patients and their families and should be sensitive to patients' physical and psychological needs. Nuclear medicine technologists must be able to work independently as they usually have little direct supervision. Technologists also must be detailed-oriented and meticulous when performing procedures to assure that all regulations are being followed.
Nature of the Work
Diagnostic imaging embraces several procedures that aid in diagnosing ailments, the most familiar being the X-ray. In nuclear medicine, radionuclides—unstable atoms that emit radiation spontaneously—are used to diagnose and treat disease. Radionuclides are purified and compounded to form radiopharmaceuticals. Nuclear medicine technologists administer radiopharmaceuticals to patients and then monitor the characteristics and functions of tissues or organs in which the drugs localize. Abnormal areas show higher-than-expected or lower-than-expected concentrations of radioactivity. Nuclear medicine differs from other diagnostic imaging technologies because it determines the presence of disease on the basis of metabolic changes rather than changes in organ structure.
Nuclear medicine technologists operate cameras that detect and map the radioactive drug in a patient's body to create diagnostic images. After explaining test procedures to patients, technologists prepare a dosage of the radiopharmaceutical and administer it by mouth, injection, inhalation, or other means. They position patients and start a gamma scintillation camera, or "scanner," which creates images of the distribution of a radiopharmaceutical as it localizes in, and emits signals from, the patient's body. The images are produced on a computer screen or on film for a physician to interpret.
When preparing radiopharmaceuticals, technologists adhere to safety standards that keep the radiation exposure as low as possible to workers and patients. Technologists keep patient records and document the amount and type of radionuclides that they receive, use, and discard.
Physical stamina is important because nuclear medicine technologists are on their feet much of the day and may have to lift or turn disabled patients. In addition, technologists must operate complicated equipment that requires mechanical ability and manual dexterity.
Although the potential for radiation exposure exists in this field, it is minimized by the use of shielded syringes, gloves, and other protective devices and by adherence to strict radiation safety guidelines. The amount of radiation in a nuclear medicine procedure is comparable to that received during a diagnostic X-ray procedure. Technologists also wear badges that measure radiation levels. Because of safety programs, badge measurements rarely exceed established safety levels.
Nuclear medicine technologists generally work a 40-hour week, perhaps including evening or weekend hours, in departments that operate on an extended schedule. Opportunities for part-time and shift work also are available. In addition, technologists in hospitals may have on-call duty on a rotational basis, and those employed by mobile imaging services may be required to travel to several locations.
On the Job
- Administer radiopharmaceuticals or radiation intravenously to detect or treat diseases, using radioisotope equipment, under direction of a physician.
- Detect and map radiopharmaceuticals in patients' bodies, using a camera to produce photographic or computer images.
- Produce a computer-generated or film image for interpretation by a physician.
- Calculate, measure and record radiation dosage or radiopharmaceuticals received, used and disposed, using computer and following physician's prescription.
- Perform quality control checks on laboratory equipment and cameras.
- Maintain and calibrate radioisotope and laboratory equipment.
- Dispose of radioactive materials and store radiopharmaceuticals, following radiation safety procedures.
- Process cardiac function studies, using computer.
- Prepare stock radiopharmaceuticals, adhering to safety standards that minimize radiation exposure to workers and patients.
- Record and process results of procedures.
Companies That Hire Nuclear Medicine Technologists
Explore what you might do on the job with one of these projects...
Do you have a specific question about a career as a Nuclear Medicine Technologist that isn't answered on this page? Post your question on the Science Buddies Ask an Expert Forum.
- American Society of Radiologic Technologists: www.asrt.org
- American Registry of Radiologic Technologists: www.arrt.org
- Society of Nuclear Medicine Technologists: www.snm.org
- Joint Review Committee on Educational Programs in Nuclear Medicine Technology: www.jrcnmt.org
- Nuclear Medicine Technology Certification Board: www.nmtcb.org
- O*Net Online. (2009). National Center for O*Net Development. Retrieved May 1, 2009, from http://online.onetcenter.org/
- British Columbia Institute of Technology. (2009, February 26). Explore BCIT's Nuclear Medicine Program. Retrieved January 31, 2010, from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SlQJ-9fhvVM
- witechcolleges.com. (2008, January 23). Nuclear Medicine Technology - Wisconsin Technical Colleges. Retrieved November 28, 2009, from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Nv_KeVmCKtQ
- Mayo Foundation for Medical Education. (2006). Nuclear Medical Technologist. Retrieved November 28, 2009, from http://www.mayoclinic.org/careerawareness/ce-nuclear-life.html