Nuclear medicine technologists prepare radioactive drugs and administer them to patients for imaging or therapeutic purposes.
What they do
Nuclear medicine technologists provide technical support to physicians or other professional nuclear medicine personnel in the diagnosis, care, and treatment of patients and for research and investigation into the uses of radioactive drugs. They also may act as emergency responders in the event of a nuclear disaster.
They typically do the following:
- Explain medical procedures to the patient and answer questions
- Follow safety procedures to protect themselves and the patient from unnecessary radiation exposure
- Prepare radioactive drugs and administer them to the patient
- Monitor the patient to check for unusual reactions to the drugs
- Operate imaging equipment
- Keep detailed records of procedures
- Follow radiation disposal and safety procedures
Radioactive drugs, known as radiopharmaceuticals, give off radiation, allowing special scanners to monitor tissue and organ functions. Abnormal areas show higher-than-expected or lower-than-expected concentrations of radioactivity. Physicians and surgeons then interpret the images to help diagnose the patient’s condition. For example, tumors can be seen in organs during a scan because of their concentration of the radioactive drugs.
Radiopharmaceuticals can also be used to deliver concentrated doses of radiation to specific areas, such as tumors, for treatment of conditions that may not allow other forms of treatment. Various forms of internal radiation treatments also may be good alternatives to invasive surgical procedures.
In the event of a radioactive incident or nuclear disaster, some nuclear medicine technologists may be involved in emergency response efforts. These workers’ experience with radiation detection and monitoring equipment could be useful during the response to events that involve radiological materials.
After graduation from an accredited program, a technologist can choose to earn a certification in positron emission tomography (PET) or nuclear cardiology. PET uses a machine that creates a three-dimensional image of a part of the body, such as the brain. Nuclear cardiology uses radioactive drugs to obtain images of the heart. Patients may exercise during the imaging process while the technologist creates images of the heart and blood flow.
Some nuclear medicine technologists work in support of researchers in the development of new nuclear medicine applications in imagery or therapy.
Technologists are on their feet for long periods and may need to lift or turn patients who are disabled.
How to become a Nuclear Medicine Technologist
Nuclear medicine technologists typically need an associate degree from an accredited nuclear medicine technology program. Formal education programs in nuclear medicine technology or a related healthcare field lead to a certificate, an associate degree, or a bachelor’s degree. Most nuclear medicine technologists become certified.
Nuclear medicine technologists typically need an associate degree in nuclear medicine technology. Bachelor’s degrees are also common. Some technologists become qualified by completing an associate’s or a bachelor’s degree program in a related health field, such as radiologic technology or nursing, and then completing a 12-month certificate program in nuclear medicine technology.
Nuclear medicine technology programs often include courses in human anatomy and physiology, physics, chemistry, radioactive drugs, and computer science. In addition, these programs include clinical experience—practice under the supervision of a certified nuclear medicine technologist and a physician or surgeon who specializes in nuclear medicine.
The Joint Review Committee on Educational Programs in Nuclear Medicine Technology accredits nuclear medicine programs. Graduating from an accredited program may be required for licensure or by an employer.
High school students who are interested in nuclear medicine technology should take courses in math and science, such as biology, chemistry, anatomy, and physics.
Most nuclear medicine technologists become certified. Although certification is not required for a license, it fulfills most of the requirements for state licensure. Licensing requirements vary by state. For specific requirements, contact the state’s health board.
Some employers require certification, regardless of state regulations. Certification usually involves graduating from an accredited nuclear medicine technology program. Certification is available from the American Registry of Radiologic Technologists (ARRT) and the Nuclear Medicine Technology Certification Board (NMTCB).
In addition to receiving general certification, technologists can earn specialty certifications that show their proficiency in specific procedures or on certain equipment. A technologist can earn certification in positron emission tomography (PET), nuclear cardiology (NCT), or computed tomography (CT). The NMTCB offers NCT, PET, and CT certification exams.
The median annual wage for nuclear medicine technologists was $77,950 in May 2019. The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $56,560, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $105,690.
Employment of nuclear medicine technologists is projected to grow 5 percent from 2019 to 2029, faster than the average for all occupations.
An aging population may lead to the need for nuclear medicine technologists who can provide imaging to patients with certain medical conditions, such as heart disease, or treatments for cancers and other diseases. In addition, technological advancements may increase the types of imaging and treatments that nuclear medicine technologists provide, leading to increased demand for their services.
Similar Job Titles
Certified Nuclear Medicine Technologist (CNMT), Lead Nuclear Medicine Technologist (Lead Nuc Med Tech), Nuclear Cardiology Technologist, Nuclear Medicine PET-CT Technologist (Nuclear Medicine Positron Emission Tomography - Computed Tomography Technologist), Nuclear Medicine Technologist (Nuclear Med Tech), Radiation Safety Officer, Registered Nuclear Medicine Technologist, Senior Nuclear Medicine Technologist, Staff Nuclear Medicine Technologist, Supervisor Nuclear Medicine
Cardiovascular Technologist and Technician, Diagnostic Medical Sonographer, Radiologic Technologist, Respiratory Therapy Technician, Radiologic Technician
The trade associations listed below represent organizations made up of people (members) who work and promote advancement in the field. Members are very interested in telling others about their work and about careers in those areas. As well, trade associations provide opportunities for organizational networking and learning more about the field’s trends and directions.
- American Registry for Diagnostic Medical Sonography
- American Society for Clinical Pathology
- American Society of Nuclear Cardiology
- American Society of Radiologic Technologists
- Nuclear Medicine Technology Certification Board
- Society of Diagnostic Medical Sonography
- Society of Nuclear Medicine and Molecular Imaging
- Magazines and Publications
- Journal of Nuclear Medicine
- World Journal of Nuclear Medicine
- The Scientist – Nuclear Medicine
- American Journal of Nuclear Medicine and Molecular Imaging
- Frontiers in Medicine Journals – Nuclear Medicine
The work of nuclear medicine technologists revolves around tiny particles of matter called “radionuclides.” The particles are used in solutions that the technologist prepares and administers to patients, under the direction of a doctor. The technologist also operates equipment that tracks these particles as they move through organs or different parts of the body, and records images of how the particles appear. The resulting images can be used to diagnose a patient’s condition and to guide a course of treatment. Because they are working with radioactive materials, nuclear medicine technologists must follow strict safety procedures, including wearing a device to detect occupational exposure to radiation. They also explain test procedures to patients, so good communication skills are important. Nuclear medicine technologists most often work in hospitals; a few work in laboratories. Most work full-time, possibly on nights and weekends when needed. An associate’s or bachelor’s degree in nuclear medicine technology is usually required to enter this field. Some states require licensure, and some employers require certification. Often, these technologists seek additional training to handle other kinds of medical imaging procedures. In every case, they combine knowledge and precision with technology to help the patient get the best possible outcome.
Content retrieved from: US Bureau of Labor Statistics-OOH www.bls.gov/ooh,
CareerOneStop www.careeronestop.org, O*Net Online www.onetonline.org