Nuclear Medicine Technologist: Salary and Career Facts

Research what it takes to become a nuclear medicine technologist. Learn about job duties, education requirements, licensing and employment outlook to find out if this is the career for you. Schools offering Diagnostic Medical Sonography degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What Is a Nuclear Medicine Technologist?

Nuclear medicine technologists use specialized diagnostic imaging techniques to create images of organs in the human body. Specifically, they prepare radiopharmaceuticals, administer them to patients and operate the scanning equipment that generates the images. Based on the levels of radiation in different parts of the body, physicians can use the images to diagnose medical conditions. Nuclear medical technologists also monitor the patient throughout the process and dispose of all radioactive materials after the procedure is complete. Some choose to specialize in a particular procedure, such as positron emission tomography (PET) scanning or nuclear cardiology scanning.

They assist physicians in analyzing these images to see if there are medical issues. The following chart gives an overview of how to enter this profession.

Degree Required Associate's or bachelor's degree
Education Field of Study Nuclear medicine technology; positron emission tomography (PET) and nuclear cardiology (NCT) specialties available
Key Responsibilities Guide patients through imaging process, including administration of radioactive chemicals; follow radiation safety protocols; keep patient records
Licensure/Certification License requirements vary by state; some employers 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 will use radioactive materials to create images of organs and study body functions to diagnose and plan treatments for various illnesses. You would administer chemicals to patients through various methods that will congregate in a specific organ or organ system. You will then use scintillation cameras to take computer images so that medical professionals can study the images and make determinations about the condition of the organ or organ system being examined.

You can specialize in two different areas of nuclear medicine technology. In nuclear cardiology, you would focus on myocardial perfusion imaging so you would be scanning the whole body while the patient is exercising. In positron emission tomography or PET, you would create 3-D imaging of the body.

What Type of Education, Training or Certification Do I Need?

Programs in nuclear medicine technology can result in certificate, an associate's degree or a bachelor's degree, depending on the requirements of the program and the requirements of your state of employment. One-year certificate programs are usually available for individuals who already have an associate's or bachelor's degree and some professional experience in the healthcare field. There were over 100 programs in the United States accredited by the Joint Review Committee Program on Education Programs in Nuclear Medicine Technology in 2017.

Licensing in this field varies from state to state, so it is important to check with the state of employment about specific requirements. As of 2015, about half of the states required licensing for nuclear medicine technologists.

Certification may be optional; however, many third-party payers require technologists to be licensed in order for the facility to be paid. The Nuclear Medicine Technology Certification Board (NMTCB) provides a certification exam in both nuclear cardiology and PET. In order to sit for the certification exam, you must first complete a nuclear medical technology program, obtain clinical experience, complete particular coursework and go through a pre-certification approval process. All of these requirements must be met within five years of sitting for the certification exam. (www.nmtcb.org)

What Is the Job Outlook?

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), during the 2014-2024 decade, the nuclear medicine technology profession is expected to experience a slower-than-average job growth of 2%. The growth will likely result from the growth of aging population, but it will probably be slower than for professionals who use less invasive imaging technologies, such as ultrasound. As of May 2015, the average yearly income for a nuclear medicine technologist was $74,990.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

If you are interested in radiation-based diagnostic imaging testing, you might be interested in becoming a radiographic technologist or MRI scanner. Rather than using radiopharmaceuticals, these professionals use x-ray machines, CT scanners and/or MRI scanners to take images that doctors can use to diagnose illness or injury. Like nuclear medicine technologists, it is necessary to hold an associate's degree and sometimes a license in order to get one of these jobs. Another closely related job option is work as a radiation therapist. Rather than creating images, therapists use radiation machinery to treat medical conditions like cancer. The minimum educational requirement for this job is an associate's degree.

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