Nuclear Medicine Technology

Nuclear medicine technology involves the administration of radioactive materials to diagnose and treat illnesses. Learn about technologies in the field, available education programs, career options and salary information.

Is Nuclear Medicine Technology for Me?

Career Summary

As a nuclear medicine technologist, you administer radiopharmaceuticals to a patient by having the patient inhale or swallow the medicine. A technologist may also inject radiopharmaceuticals or administer intravenously. The radioactive substances, called tracers, emit gamma rays. A gamma scintillation camera, which scans the patient's body, detects the emitted gamma rays.

Specialized Fields

Positron emission tomography (PET) is another imaging technique used in nuclear medicine. The technique uses metabolized substances (i.e. glucose) as tracers, which collect in the targeted tissue or organ. You use this technique to measure bodily functions, including blood flow or sugar metabolism.

In nuclear cardiology, you perform a myocardial perfusion to map blood flow and heart function of the patient at rest and after exercise. Nuclear medicine technology differs from imaging performed by radiologic technologists using magnetic resonance imaging and x-rays, which reveal only the structure of tissues or organs, rather than metabolic changes.

Salary and Employment Outlook

As reported by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) in May 2012, nuclear medicine technologists earned an average salary of $70,840 annually (www.bls.gov). The BLS anticipated that the number of jobs for nuclear medicine technologists would grow by 20% from 2012-2022. Despite faster-than-average growth projections, the field is competitive.

How Can I Work in Nuclear Medicine Technology?

Education Options

Nuclear medicine technology program options include a 12-month certificate, 2-year associate's degree and 4-year bachelor's degree programs. In addition to coursework in anatomy and physiology, courses in this field include basic nuclear medical science, computers in nuclear medicine and radiopharmacy.

At the graduate level you may enroll in a Nuclear Medicine Advanced Associate program, which confers the degree Master of Imaging Science. You may take courses in patient assessment, clinical pharmacology, pathophysiology and America healthcare systems, along with clinical internships.

Licensing and Certification

Nuclear medicine technologists' licensing requirements vary depending on the state, while certification through the Nuclear Medicine Technology Certification Board (NMTCB) or American Registry of Radiologic Technologists (ARRT) is becoming standard in the field. Effective January 1, 2015, you must possess an academic degree to obtain ARRT certification. Beginning January 1, 2016, you must graduate from a programmatically accredited program in nuclear medicine technology in order to obtain certification from the NMTCB. The Joint Review Committee on Educational Programs in Nuclear Medicine Technology (JRCNMT) administers accreditation.

Necessary Skills

Traits that might help you succeed in the field of nuclear medicine technology include compassion for patients in health distress. You need physical stamina, since you stand on your feet for several hours each day and must position patients appropriately. Work in this field requires a detail-oriented, methodical mind, because you must follow procedures for handling radioactive substances in accordance with federal safety regulations.

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