Nuclear Cardiology: Career and Salary Facts

Research what it takes to work in the nuclear cardiology field. Learn about job duties, education requirements, employment outlook and salary to find out if this is the career for you. Schools offering Cardiovascular Technology degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What Does a Nuclear Cardiology Professional Do?

Professionals in the field of nuclear cardiology technology (NCT), called nuclear medicine technologists (NMTs), use radioactive drugs, also known as radiopharmaceuticals, to in tests that reveal how well a patient's heart is functioning. This involves the preparation and administration of radioactive isotopes, as well as the analysis of test results to provide diagnoses for cardiac patients. After a procedure, they carefully dispose of all radioactive materials. Because radiation can be dangerous, nuclear cardiology professionals must be experts in radiation safety in order to protect themselves and their patients.

Take a look at the following chart for an overview of how to enter this profession.

Degree Required Associate's or bachelor's degree
Education Field of Study Nuclear medicine technology
Post-Graduate Experience for NCT Certification 2 yrs (4,000 hrs) clinical experience as NMT; some states allow 700 hrs direct NCT experience
Licensure/Certification License required in some states, specifics vary by state; NMT & NCT certification voluntary but recommended
Job Growth (2014-2024 ) 2% (for all NMTs)*
Average Salary (2015) $74,990 (for all NMTs)*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

What is Nuclear Cardiology?

Nuclear cardiology is an imaging technology used to help doctors determine how well a patient's heart functions and what any medical issues are. There are three types of nuclear cardiology tests: myocardial perfusion, radionuclide angiography and cardiac positron emission tomography (CPET). In each test, you would inject radioactive tracers into the patient's arm vein and operate the gamma camera that tracks the location of the radiation. A myocardial perfusion shows where a heart may be damaged and where blood flow is stagnant. CPET is used to analyze blood flow into the heart and radionuclide angiography tests blood flow as it exits the heart.

As a nuclear cardiologist you would be responsible for following the correct protocol in handling dangerous radioactive material. Established procedures minimize potential danger of harm to your patient, yourself and your coworkers. In maintaining records of a patient's tests, you would be required to document the quantity and type of radiopharmaceuticals that you received, used, and disposed.

What Skills Do I Need?

Compassion is a necessary skill in nuclear cardiology, as you could expect patients and their families to seek reassurance and emotional support during medical procedures. Also, logic and reasoning skills apply to operation of complex imaging instruments. A disciplined, detail-oriented mind is necessary to follow the regulatory procedures for handling radioactive material.

How Do I Become a Nuclear Cardiology Technologist?

You can become a nuclear cardiology technologist with either an associate or bachelor's degree. Your educational program would include classes in the physical sciences as well as those 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. These programs prepare you to pass the certification exams and obtain a license from your state's board of health.

Before becoming certified in cardiology, you need to be certified as a nuclear medicine technologist. You could take the exam from either the American Registry of Radiologic Technologists (ARRT) or the Nuclear Medicine Technology Certification Board (NMTCB). While certification is voluntary, you may find employment more readily, as many health insurance providers will not reimburse facilities that do not have certified nuclear medicine technologists on staff.

Certification in nuclear cardiology technology from the NMTCB requires at least two years of full-time clinical experience, or 4,000 hours, as a nuclear medicine technologist, before you could take the certification exam. In some states you may be able to take an alternative pathway with a minimum of 700 hours of direct clinical experience in nuclear cardiology. The experience must include administering injections and handling the gamma camera. This clinical experience must be documented and supervised by a board certified nuclear cardiologist, a nuclear medicine physician or radiologist.

What Are the Employment and Wage Prospects of this Profession?

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the average annual wage for nuclear medicine technologists, including those specializing in nuclear cardiology, was $74,990 in May 2015. The majority of these workers, about 69%, were employed in general and surgical hospitals. Other employers included physician offices and medical/diagnostic labs. For the 2014-2024 decade, job opportunities are expected to increase by 2%, which is slower than the national average for all occupations. Specializing in nuclear cardiology could improve employment prospects (www.bls.gov).

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

Individuals who want a job that involves using radiation for diagnostic procedures may be interested in a job as a radiologic or MRI technologist. These professionals use x-ray machines and/or MRI scanners to create images that doctors can use to diagnose patients. Like nuclear cardiology professionals, the minimum educational requirement for one of these jobs is an associate's degree. Another radiation-related career possibility is a job as a radiation therapist. Therapists use radiation to actually treat diseases, such as cancer. An associate's degree is required for this occupation.

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