Nuclear Medicine Technologist
Nuclear Medicine Technologist
Education and Training: Varies—see profile
Salary: Median—$56,450 per year
Employment Outlook: Fair
Definition and Nature of the Work
Nuclear medicine technologists help in the diagnosis and treatment of certain diseases. They administer radiopharmaceuticals (radioactive drugs) to patients and monitor the concentration levels of the drugs in the patient's body. Technologists work directly with patients under the supervision of a physician.
Technologists perform several specific duties. First they explain the test procedures to patients. Then they prepare a dosage of the radiopharmaceutical, following set safety procedures. After administering the drug, the technologists operate a gamma scintillation camera, or scanner, which creates pictures of the drug as it passes through parts of the patient's body. Abnormal areas show higher or lower concentrations of radioactivity than normal. The images are produced on a computer screen or photographic film for a physician to examine. Nuclear medicine technologists must also keep records of patient treatments, equipment use and maintenance, and the amount and type of radiopharmaceuticals received, used, and disposed of.
Education and Training Requirements
Individuals interested in pursuing a career in nuclear medicine technology must complete one of the following: a two-year certification program, which is offered in many hospitals and some technical schools; a two-year associate degree program at a community college; or a bachelor's degree program from a four-year college or university. One-year certificate programs are also available for health professionals with an associate's degree, especially persons in related fields who wish to specialize in nuclear medicine. Recommended courses include the physical sciences, radiation biology, radiopharmaceuticals, imaging techniques, and computer science. In 2006 there were one hundred formal training programs accredited by the Joint Review Committee on Education Programs in Nuclear Medicine Technology.
About half of all states require technologists to be licensed. Most employers prefer to hire certified or registered technologists, so many technologists obtain a voluntary professional certification or registration from the Nuclear Medicine Technology Certification Board or the American Registry of Radiologic Technologists.
Getting the Job
Most nuclear medicine technologists work in hospitals, which hire only certified or registered technologists. Sometimes individuals with a bachelor's degree in an accepted specialty or those who have completed an accredited training program can obtain entry-level positions in doctors' offices or clinics.
Advancement Possibilities and Employment Outlook
Nuclear medicine technologists can advance to supervisory positions such as chief technologist or department administrator. Some technologists advance through specialization, such as nuclear cardiology, or move on to work in research laboratories. Those technologists with advanced degrees may become teachers in nuclear medicine technology programs.
Employment of nuclear medicine technologists is expected to grow faster than the average through the year 2014, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Technological innovations may increase the diagnostic use of nuclear medicine, especially for the nation's aging population. However, the occupation is small, and only a few openings each year are expected in this field. Opportunities will be best for technologists trained in both nuclear medicine and radiologic procedures.
Nuclear medicine technologists usually work in clean, well-lighted environments. They generally work a forty-hour week, although evening and weekend hours, on-call duty, and shift work may be expected. Technologists must possess strong physical stamina, since they stand most of the day and may have to lift or position patients.
Where to Go for More Information
American College of Nuclear Medicine
101 W. Broad St., Ste. 614
Hazleton, PA 18201
The Society of Nuclear Medicine
1850 Samuel Morse Dr.
Reston, VA 20190-5316
Earnings and Benefits
The median annual salary for nuclear medicine technologists was $56,450 in 2004, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Those with more experience and training can earn more. Full-time technologists usually receive benefits that include health insurance and paid vacation time.