Nuclear medicine technologists are responsible for administering radiopharmaceuticals to patients as well as monitoring the functions and characteristics of organs or tissues where drugs become localized. Technologists also operate cameras that map and detect radioactive drugs within a patient’s body for the purpose of creating diagnostic images. In addition, technologists explain test procedures and prepare dosage of radiopharmaceuticals. They may also administer it by injection, mouth, inhalation or other methods. Other job responsibilities may include positioning patients and starting canners to create images. Technologists must adhere to specific safety standards while preparing radiopharmaceuticals to reduce the chance of exposure to radiation. In addition they maintain patient records as well as document the type and amount of radionuclides they use, discard and receive.
Nuclear Medicine Technology Job Responsibilities
Nuclear medicine technologists may specialize within two areas; positron emission tomography (PET) and nuclear cardiology. Nuclear cardiology usually involves myocardial perfusion imaging. Myocardial perfusion imaging involves having patients exercise so that the technologist can then image the blood and heart flow. Technologists who specialize in PET usually operate a special type of medical imaging device that creates 3-D body images.
Physical stamina is extremely important in this job because technologists must stand on their feet. They must also be able to turn or lift disabled patients. Technologists must also be able to operate complicated equipment, which requires manual dexterity and mechanical ability.
The potential for exposure to radiation in this occupation is minimized through the use of gloves, shielded syringes and other types of protective devices. Adhering to strict safety guidelines can also help to reduce exposure. In addition, technologists wear special types of badges for measuring levels of radiation. Due to the number of stringent safety guidelines, radiation levels are usually kept low.
Most nuclear medicine technologists work a regular 40 hour work week. In some cases they may be on-call, which can include weekend or evening hours. They may also work shift work or part-time, which can allow them to better arrange their personal schedules. In some cases, travel to other locations may be required when working with mobile imaging services.
To succeed in this field, technologists must have excellent communication skills as they will frequently have contact with families as well as the patients of families. They must be able to work independently as they will often have little direct supervision. With experience, technologists may be able to advance to supervisory positions or even to chief technologist or a director position. Some will choose to specialize such as in PET scanning or nuclear cardiology.
The employment outlook for this field is anticipated to grow faster than average for other occupations due to an increase in new treatments as well as an increase in the number of elderly and middle-aged persons, who are the primary users of this type of medical service. Competition for entry into this field is expected to be keen. Individuals who are interested in entering this career field can improve their chances by taking classes in high school that include biology, anatomy and chemistry. Volunteering in health services can also help to increase chances to admission to nuclear medicine technology training programs.
Nuclear Medicine Technology Training and Education Requirements
Nuclear medicine technology programs usually range in length from one to four years and culminate with the awarding of a certificate, associate degree or bachelor’s degree. An increasing number of states and employers are now requiring licensure or certification. Most certificate programs are offered through community colleges or hospitals. Bachelor degree programs are offered through colleges and universities.
Coursework typically includes radiation protection, physical sciences, use of radiopharmaceuticals, computer applications, imaging techniques and the biological effects of radiation exposure. Internships under an experienced technologist may also be included in a training program.
A one-year certificate program is usually sufficient for a health professional who already has an associate or bachelor degree but who wishes to specialize in nuclear medicine.
Nuclear Medicine Technology Salary and Wages
In 2008 the median annual wage of nuclear medicine technologists was $66,660. Salary and wages can increase with experience as well as with additional training and responsibilities. Supervisory positions will typically offer better salary and wage opportunities.*
*According to the BLS, http://www.bls.gov/oco/
Nuclear Medicine Technology Certification
Requirements for licensure in this field tend to vary by state. Therefore, it is imperative that individuals interested in this career field check the requirements of the state where they plan to work. 25 states offered licenses for nuclear medicine technologists in 2008.
Certification in this field is voluntary but has also become an accepted standard for most technologists. Certification is offered through the American Registry of Radiologic Technologists as well as from the Nuclear Medicine Technology Certification Board. Some technologists may receive dual certification. There are different eligibility requirements for both certifications; however, each requires that workers pass a comprehensive exam to achieve certification. Certification can help to improve employment opportunities.
Along with general requirements, certified technologists must also complete a specific number of continuing education hours in order to retain certification.
Nuclear Medicine Technology Professional Associations
Professional associations for nuclear medicine technologists include:
- Society of Nuclear Medicine Technologists
- American Registry of Radiologic Technologists