Nuclear Medicine Technologists
Nature of the Work | Working
Conditions | Employment | Training,
Other Qualifications, and Advancement | Job
Outlook | Earnings | Schools | Sources
of Additional Information
Nuclear medicine technology programs range in length from
1 to 4 years and lead to a certificate, associate degree,
or 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 procedures.
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. Not all imaging
technologies use ionizing radiation or radio waves, however:
In nuclear medicine, radionuclides-unstable atoms that emit
radiation spontaneously-are used to diagnose and treat disease.
Radionuclides are purified and compounded to form radiopharmaceuticals.
Nuclear medicine technologists administer radiopharmaceuticals
to patients and then monitor the characteristics and functions
of tissues or organs in which the drugs localize. Abnormal
areas show higher- or lower-than-expected concentrations of
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, 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 received,
used, and discarded.
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. Some nuclear medicine
studies, such as cardiac function studies, are processed with
the aid of a computer.
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 are also available. In addition, technologists
in hospitals may have on-call duty on a rotational basis.
Because technologists are on their feet much of the day and
may lift or turn disabled patients, physical stamina is important.
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. Technologists also wear badges
that measure radiation levels. Because of safety programs,
badge measurements rarely exceed established safety levels.
Nuclear medicine technologists held about
17,000 jobs in 2002. About two-thirds of all jobs were in hospitals.
Most of the rest were in offices of physicians or in medical
and diagnostic laboratories, including diagnostic imaging centers.
Training, Other Qualifications, and Advancement
Many employers and an increasing number of States require
certification or licensure. Aspiring nuclear medicine technologists
should check the requirements for 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. Nuclear medicine technologists must meet
the minimum Federal standards on the administration of radioactive
drugs and the operation of radiation detection equipment.
Nuclear medicine technology programs range in length from
1 to 4 years and lead to a certificate, associate degree, or
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
One-year certificate programs are for health professionals-especially
radiologic technologists and diagnostic medical sonographers-who
wish to specialize in nuclear medicine. They also attract medical
technologists, registered nurses, and others who wish to change
fields or specialize. Others interested in the nuclear medicine
technology field have three options: a 2-year certificate program,
a 2-year associate degree program, or a 4-year bachelor's degree
The Joint Review Committee on Education Programs in Nuclear
Medicine Technology accredits most formal training programs
in nuclear medicine technology. In 2002, there were 92 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
or directors in nuclear medicine technology programs, a step
that usually requires a bachelor's or master's degree in nuclear
medicine technology. Others leave the occupation to work as
sales or training representatives for medical equipment and
radiopharmaceutical manufacturing 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 2012. Growth will arise from 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 are
also trained in other diagnostic methods, such as radiologic
technology or diagnostic medical sonography, will have the
Technological innovations may increase the diagnostic uses
of nuclear 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. Wider use of nuclear medical
imaging to observe metabolic and biochemical changes for 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 $48,750 in 2002. The middle 50 percent earned
between $41,460 and $57,200. The lowest 10 percent earned less
than $35,870, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $68,710.
Median annual earnings of nuclear medicine technologists in
2002 were $48,210 in general medical and surgical hospitals.
The nuclear medicine job market continues to be hot and
nuclear medicine jobs are plentiful.
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