Nuclear medicine technology programs range in length from 1 to 4 years
and lead to a certificate, an associate degree, or a bachelor’s degree.
Faster than average growth will arise from an increase in the number of
middle-aged and elderly persons, who are the primary users of diagnostic
The number of job openings each year will be relatively low because the
occupation is small; technologists who also are trained in other diagnostic
methods, such as radiologic technology or diagnostic medical sonography,
will have the best prospects.
Diagnostic imaging embraces several procedures that aid in diagnosing
ailments, the most familiar being the x-ray. Another increasingly common
diagnostic imaging method, called magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), uses giant
magnets and radio waves, rather than radiation, to create an image. In nuclear
medicine, radionuclides—unstable atoms that emit radiation spontaneously—are
used to diagnose and treat disease. Radionuclides are purified and com-pounded
to form radio-pharmaceuticals. Nuclear medicine technologists administer
radio-pharmaceuticals to patients and then monitor the characteristics and
functions of tissues or organs in which the drugs localize. Abnormal areas show
higher-than-expected or lower-than expected concentrations of radioactivity.
Nuclear medicine differs from other diagnostic imaging technologies because it
determines the presence of disease on the basis of biological changes rather
than changes in organ structure.
Nuclear medicine technologists operate cameras that detect and map the
radioactive drug in a patient’s body to create diagnostic images. After
explaining test procedures to patients, technologists prepare a dosage of the
radiopharmaceutical and administer it by mouth, injection, in-halation, or other
means. They position patients and start a gamma scintillation camera, or
“scanner,” which creates images of the distribution of a radiopharmaceutical as
it localizes in, and emits signals from, the patient’s body. The images are
produced on a computer screen or on film for a physician to interpret.
When preparing radiopharmaceuticals, technologists adhere to safety standards
that keep the radiation dose to workers and patients as low as possible.
Technologists keep patient records and record the amount and type of
radionuclides that they receive, use, and discard.
Radiologic technologists and technicians, diagnostic medical sonographers, and
cardiovascular technologists and technicians also operate diagnostic imaging
equipment, but their equipment creates images by means of a different
technology. (See the statements on these occupations elsewhere in this chapter.)
Nuclear medicine technologists also perform radioimmunoassay studies that assess
the behavior of a radioactive substance inside the body. For example,
technologists may add radioactive substances to blood or serum to determine
levels of hormones or of therapeutic drugs in the body. Most nuclear medicine
studies, such as cardiac function studies, are processed with the aid of a
Nuclear medicine technologists generally work a 40-hour week, perhaps
including evening or weekend hours, in departments that operate on an extended
schedule. Opportunities for part-time and shift work also are available. In
addition, technologists in hospitals may have on-call duty on a rotational
Physical stamina is important because technologists are on their feet much of
the day and may lift or turn disabled patients.
Although the potential for radiation exposure exists in this field, it is
kept to a minimum by the use of shielded syringes, gloves, and other protective
devices and by adherence to strict radiation safety guidelines. The amount of
radiation in a nuclear medicine procedure is comparable to that received during
a diagnostic x-ray procedure. Technologists also wear badges that measure
radiation levels. Because of safety programs, badge measurements rarely exceed
established safety levels.
Nuclear medicine technologists held about 18,000 jobs in 2004. About 7 out of
10 were in hospitals—private and government. Most of the rest were in offices of
physicians or in medical and diagnostic laboratories, including diagnostic
Many employers and an increasing number of states require certification or
licensure. Aspiring nuclear medicine technologists should check the requirements
of the state in which they plan to work. Certification is available from the
American Registry of Radiologic Technologists and from the Nuclear Medicine
Technology Certification Board. Some workers receive certification from both
agencies. Nuclear medicine technologists must meet the minimum federal standards
on the administration of radioactive drugs and the operation of radiation
Nuclear medicine technology programs range in length from 1 to 4 years and lead
to a certificate, an associate degree, or a bachelor’s degree. Generally,
certificate programs are offered in hospitals, associate degree programs in
community colleges, and bachelor’s degree programs in 4-year colleges and
universities. Courses cover the physical sciences, biological effects of
radiation exposure, radiation protection and procedures, the use of
radiopharmaceuticals, imaging techniques, and computer applications.
One-year certificate programs are for health professionals who already posses an
associate degree—especially radiologic technologists and diagnostic medical
sonographers—but who wish to specialize in nuclear medicine. The programs also
attract medical technologists, registered nurses, and others who wish to change
fields or specialize. Others interested in nuclear medicine technology have
three options: a 2-year certificate program, a 2-year associate degree program,
or a 4-year bachelor’s degree program.
The Joint Review Committee on Education Programs in Nuclear Medicine
Technology accredits most formal training programs in nuclear medicine
technology. In 2005, there were 100 accredited programs in the continental
United states and Puerto Rico.
Nuclear medicine technologists should be sensitive to patients’ physical and
psychological needs. They must pay attention to detail, follow instructions, and
work as part of a team. In addition, operating complicated equipment requires
mechanical ability and manual dexterity.
Technologists may advance to supervisor, then to chief technologist, and,
finally, to department administrator or director. Some technologists specialize
in a clinical area such as nuclear cardiology or computer analysis or leave
patient care to take positions in research laboratories. Some become instructors
in, or directors of, nuclear medicine technology programs, a step that usually
requires a bachelor’s or master’s degree in the subject. Others leave the
occupation to work as sales or training representatives for medical equipment
and radiopharmaceutical manu-facturing firms or as radiation safety officers in
regulatory agencies or hospitals.
Employment of nuclear medicine technologists is expected to grow faster than
the average for all occupations through the year 2014. Growth will arise from
technological advancement, the development of new nuclear medicine treatments,
and an increase in the number of middle-aged and older persons, who are the
primary users of diagnostic procedures, including nuclear medicine tests.
However, the number of openings each year will be relatively low because the
occupation is small. Technologists who also are trained in other diagnostic
methods, such as radiologic technology or diagnostic medical sonography, will
have the best prospects.
Technological innovations may increase the diagnostic uses of nu-clear medicine.
One example is the use of radiopharmaceuticals in combination with monoclonal
antibodies to detect cancer at far earlier stages than is customary today and
without resorting to surgery. Another is the use of radionuclides to examine the
heart’s ability to pump blood. New nuclear medical imaging technologies,
including positron emission tomography (PET) and single photon emission computed
tomography (SPECT), are expected to be used increasingly and to contribute
further to employment growth. The wider use of nuclear medical imaging to
observe metabolic and biochemical changes during neurology, cardiology, and
oncology procedures also will spur demand for nuclear medicine technologists.
Nonetheless, cost considerations will affect the speed with which new
applications of nuclear medicine grow. Some promising nuclear medicine
procedures, such as positron emission tomography, are extremely costly, and
hospitals contemplating these procedures will have to consider equipment costs,
reimbursement policies, and the number of potential users.
Median annual earnings of nuclear medicine technologists were $56,450 in May
2004. The middle 50 percent earned between $48,720 and $67,460. The lowest 10
percent earned less than $41,800, and the highest 10 percent earned more than
$80,300. Median annual earnings of nuclear medicine technologists in May 2004
were $54,920 in general medical and surgical hospitals.
American Nuclear Society (ANS) - 555 North Kensington Ave., La Grange Park,
IL 60526; 708/352-6611. (
http://www.ans.org ) Members may post résumés and search ads
online. Students can find information on nuclear careers and scholarships.
Careers in Nuclear Medicine -
http://www.cnmt.com, email@example.com) Offers an
employment news letter for medical technologists. Search jobs database, post
your résumé or have job email alerts sent to you. Phone number 866/266-8776.
Nuclear Medicine Technology Certification Board - 2970 Clairmont Rd., Suite
935, Atlanta, GA 30329; 404/315-1739. (
http://www.nmtcb.org ) Certifies technologists. The web site has a
presentation “Introduction to Nuclear Medicine” and links to job ads.
Society of Nuclear Medicine (SNM) - 1850 Samuel Morse Drive, Reston, VA
22090; 703/708-9000. ( http://www.snm.org
). The web site has information about nuclear medicine, scholarships,
certification/licensure and resources for students, including networking and a
directory of accredited education programs. The online job bank gives you the
URL of the employers.
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Nuclear medical technologists operate sophisticated equipment to help
physicians and other health practitioners diagnose and treat patients.
cardiovascular technologists and technicians, clinical laboratory technologists
and technicians, diagnostic medical sonographers, radia-tion therapists,
radiologic technologists and technicians, and respiratory therapists perform
Health Care Jobs, Nuclear Medicine Technologist Jobs, Medical Jobs, Nursing Jobs