How Do I Become a Nuclear Medicine Technologist?

Explore the career requirements for nuclear medicine technologists. Get the facts about job duties, education requirements, salary and employment outlook to determine if this is the right career for you. Schools offering Diagnostic Medical Sonography degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What Is a Nuclear Medicine Technologist?

A nuclear medicine technologist administers radionuclides, which form radiopharmaceuticals and are used to create pictures of internal organs and tissues. Unlike radiographic diagnostic technologies, which use radiation outside of the body to obtain pictures of internal organs, nuclear medicine is introduced into the body by injection, consumption or inhalation. The radiopharmaceuticals gather around abnormal membranes inside the body, denoting that a problem exists in that area of the body. The following chart gives you an overview of what you need to know to enter this profession.

Degree Required Associate's or bachelor's degree
Education Field of Study Nuclear medicine technology
Key Skills Ability to operate computers & complex equipment; compassion; attention to detail; physical stamina for standing
Licensure/Certification Some states require licensing; certification voluntary but some insurance providers require certification
Job Growth (2014-2024) 2%*
Average Salary (2015) $74,990*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

What Does a Nuclear Medicine Technologist Do?

As a nuclear medicine technologist, you would administer the radiopharmaceuticals and monitor the patient using a gamma-scintillation camera. The camera scans the body and tracks the location of the radioactive substances then projects images of the radiopharmaceuticals on a computer screen. The resulting image is used to determine if tissues or organs are diseased. For instance, the image may show a tumor, reveal a hormonal disorder or provide information about how well the organs function.

What Skills Do I Need?

You would need to have compassion for patients undergoing the treatment. You may provide emotional support as you describe the procedure and ensure the patient's comfort during the monitoring process. You also need to have the methodical skill involved in using computerized equipment, as well as a strong mind for details to satisfy the regulatory procedures for handling radioactive material.

Due to the potential danger of misusing radioactive material, you would perform these duties with strict adherence to safety standards and precautions. You'd also keep records of the patient's treatment, documenting the kind and quantity of radionuclides involved.

What Education Is Required?

To enter this profession, you can obtain either an associate or bachelor's degree. The coursework should include physical sciences and classes that cover radiation issues in medicine. If you already have a degree, you could enter a 1-year certificate program at a hospital, college or university.

Regardless of the path you take, the end result would be to pass the certification exam, offered by the American Registry of Radiologic Technologists or the Nuclear Medicine Technology Certification Board (NMTCB). While certification is voluntary, you could find employment more readily, as many health insurance organizations only reimburse facilities with certified nuclear medicine technologists. You would be required to obtain a license from your state's Board of Health, as well.

Does This Field Have Specialties?

When you're certified and have sufficient experience administering nuclear medicine, you could specialize in either nuclear cardiology technology (NCT) or positron emission tomography (PET). To become certified in NCT, you would need to have at least two years of full-time clinical experience, or 4,000 hours, before you could take the certification exam from the NMTCB (www.nmtcb.org). An alternative path would be to obtain at least 700 hours of supervised and documented clinical experience in nuclear cardiology. The supervisor must be a board-certified nuclear cardiologist, a nuclear medicine physician or radiologist.

To become certified to operate the PET scanner, you would be required to have at least 700 hours of documented and supervised clinical experience operating a PET scanner or combination PET/CT scanner. For this specialty, you must also complete 45 hours of coursework, consisting of 15 hours each in radiopharmacy, radiation safety and nuclear medicine instrumentation. This coursework must be conducted at an accredited college or university or an accredited nuclear medicine program. Approved continuing educations credits may apply.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

Radiation therapists and radiologic technologists are a couple of similar career options that require an associate's degree. Radiation therapists treat cancer patients and other individuals needing radiation treatments. Radiologic technologists use different kinds of medical equipment to create diagnostic images of patients, such as x-rays. Medical laboratory technologists are also related, but typically require a bachelor's degree. These technologists collect and examine different kinds of body samples, such as blood.

To continue researching, browse degree options below for course curriculum, prerequisites and financial aid information. Or, learn more about the subject by reading the related articles below:

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