Nuclear medicine technologists are responsible for imaging patients using various form of radiological tools, the most common being x-rays and PET scans. They also administer radio-pharmaceuticals to their patients and monitor the functions of the organs and tissues in which these chemicals localize. Abnormal organ or tissue function is then determined by the concentrations of radioactivity in these areas and whether these concentrations are above or below expected levels.
Nuclear medicine technologists may also operate cameras that map the radioactive chemicals in a patient’s body to create distinct diagnostic images. They are also responsible for explaining the procedure to patients clearly, preparing doses of the radio-pharmaceutical drugs, and it’s administration by injection, inhalation or mouth.
Professionals in this field must adhere to stringent safety standards that dictate how much radiation the patient and co-workers can be exposed to. They also must maintain detailed patient records and document all procedures they perform.
Career Outlook For Nuclear Medicine Technologists
Nuclear medicine technologists can expect job growth in their field to rise at a higher than average rate. By 2020, this field is estimated to have increased by sixteen percent. However, their is strict competition for most positions in this field, which may make it difficult for inexperienced technologists who are just entering the workforce.*
Most growth in this field will be due to the increased numbers of middle-aged and elderly patients in the general population. Advancements in technology may also increase nuclear medicine’s diagnostic uses. What is preventing this growth from rising exponentially is the increased costs of the equipment used for nuclear medicine test and treatment. Hospitals have to carefully consider the costs of these procedures and weigh these costs against the benefits that patients will ultimately receive.*
*According to the BLS, http://www.bls.gov/oco/
Nuclear Medicine Technologist Work Environment
One of the most important attributes that a nuclear medicine technologists can possess is physical stamina. Professionals in this field must learn to adapt to long hours on their feet and having to lift patients that may be physically disabled. Nuclear medicine technologists must also operate various pieces of sensitive equipment that requires a substantial amount of manual dexterity and mechanical ability.
While there always exists the possibility of the technologist being exposed to radiation, this is minimized by the use of protective devices such as gloves, lead vests, and shielded syringes. However slight the possibility of radiation exposure, technologist in this field must still wear badges that measure radiation levels that their body is exposed to.
Nuclear medicine technologist usually work a normal forty-hour work week, but they may also be required to work weekend or evening hours schedules. Technologists also usually have a significant amount of over-time hours available to them, if they so desire.
Nuclear Medicine Technologist Training
Degree programs for nuclear medicine technologists usually take anywhere from one to four years to complete, and lead to a certificate, associate degree, or bachelor’s degree. Certificate programs in this field are generally offered by hospitals, while associate degrees are offered by community colleges. Degree programs that result in a bachelor’s degree are generally only offered by universities or four-year colleges.
Courses in nuclear medicine technology require the student to study the physical sciences, proper use of radio-pharmaceuticals, computer applications, effects of radiation on biological systems, and safety procedures for radiation imaging systems. Students must also learn the various imaging techniques that are used in this field.
Certification For Nuclear Medicine Technologists
While certification for nuclear medicine technologists is still considered to be voluntary, an increasing number of States are requiring it. Certification for nuclear medicine technologists can be obtained from the American Registry of Radiologic Technologists (ARRT). It can also be obtained from the Nuclear Medicine Technology Certification Board (NMTCB). Though certification is usually only required from one of these agencies, some technologists opt to get certification from both of them.
Besides completing certification, nuclear medicine technologists must also complete a minimum number of continuing education hours to retain their certification. This continued education is necessary because of the ongoing technological advances in this field.
Nuclear Medicine Technologists Salary
Nuclear medicine technologists have a median salary of $66,000 per year. Job applicants who are just entering the field of nuclear medicine earn the lowest salaries, which is under $48,000 per year. The average median income for nuclear medicine technologists is around $68,000 per year. Nuclear medicine technologists who have the greatest earning potential are the ones that have a bachelor’s degree in nuclear medicine and have obtained both State certifications. Nuclear medicine technologists in this group generally make over $88,000 per year.*
*According to the BLS, http://www.bls.gov/oco/
Benefits that are usually extended to nuclear medicine technologists include health insurance, retirement benefits and dental care. Nuclear medicine technologists may also receive additional benefits from their employers, which include profit sharing, vacation pay and holiday pay. These benefits are determined by the employer for which the nuclear medicine technologists work.