Nuclear Medicine Technology Career and Job Highlights
Nuclear Medicine Technology Career Information and Job Description
Several types of equipment and processes are used in diagnostic imaging in order to diagnose illnesses. Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) creates an image by using magnets and radio waves, different than x rays that use radiation to form the image. Radionuclides are unstable atoms that randomly give off radiation, and are used in nuclear medicine. Radiopharmaceuticals are radionuclides that have been concentrated and combined. The radiopharmaceuticals are given to patients by nuclear medicine technologists, who then track the radiation through the patient’s body. Problematic areas will collect either more or less radiopharmaceuticals than normal parts of the body.
Images are created by using equipment that finds and charts the radiation throughout the body. Nuclear medicine technologists prepare the patient for the procedure by explaining the process to them, positioning them for the scan, and giving them the pharmaceuticals, either orally or intravenously. They then use a “scanner,” or gamma scintillation camera, to record images as the radiation collects and emits radiation from different parts of the body. Copies of the images are made for the patient’s doctor to review later.
Technologists follow safety protocols when working with radiopharmaceuticals in order to limit the patient’s and technologist’s exposure to unnecessary radiation. Accurate records are kept by the technologists regarding the type, amount, and effect of the radionuclides administered.
Other imaging professionals use different technologies to create images of patients’ bodies, including cardiovascular technologists and technicians, diagnostic medical sonographers, and radiologic technologists and technicians.
Radioimmunoassay studies are those that study the effects of radionuclides in the body. One example is when the nuclear medicine technologist determines hormone and drug levels by adding radioactive materials to blood samples. Computers are used in cardiac function studies, which also utilize nuclear medicine.
Forty-hour work weeks are the norm, though some extended-hour clinics, hospitals, and doctors’ officers may require on-call hours and extended schedules. Part-time and flexible scheduling is sometimes available.
The work can be physically demanding as technologists must move and position disabled clients and stand on their feet for much of the day.
Technologists must always wear badges that indicate the radiation exposure, though stringent safety protocol and the use of protective gloves, syringes, and other equipment keep the amount of radiation exposure usually much below safe levels.
Nuclear Medicine Technology Training and Job Qualifications
More and more employers and States are requiring some kind of professional certification or licensing in order for nuclear medicine technologists to practice, and the best place to find out specific requirements is to check with the State in which they plan to practice. The Nuclear Medicine Technology Certification Board and the American Registry of Radiologic Technologists offer professional certification. There are Federal regulations that nuclear medicine technologists must adhere to with regards to the administration of nuclear medicine and the use of relevant equipment.
One- to four-year programs are available in nuclear medicine technology, and graduates may earn a bachelor’s degree, associate degree, or a certificate. Hospitals are usually the providers of certificate programs, while community colleges and universities are the providers of associate degrees and bachelor’s degrees, respectively. Coursework in all programs typically comprises imaging techniques, computer programs, radiopharmaceuticals, physical sciences, biology and radiation, and safety procedures.
Those with no experience in the healthcare industry must complete a bachelor’s degree, an associate degree, or a 2-year certificate program. Registered nurses, medical technologists, radiologic technologists, and diagnostic medical sonographers who wish to specialize or change jobs within their profession may complete a one-year certification course in nuclear medicine technology.
The Joint Review Committee on Education Programs in Nuclear Medicine Technology accredited some 92 United States and Puerto Rican nuclear medicine technology programs in 2002.
Good patient relationship skills, attention to details, ability to operate equipment, and a team player attitude are essential skills for nuclear medicine technologists to develop.
Advancement opportunities include supervisor, chief technologists, and department administrator and director. There are specialties within nuclear medicine that technologists may choose, including nuclear cardiology or analysis with the aid of computers. A four-year or advanced degree in nuclear medicine technology potentially allows one to work as an instructor in a nuclear medicine technology program. Research laboratories sometimes hire nuclear medicine technologists to assist with their projects. Hospitals and other agencies often employ experienced technologists as safety officers, while others move on to sales positions with equipment manufacturers.
Nuclear Medicine Technology Job and Employment Opportunities
Older people are the major consumers of nuclear medicine technology services, and the increasing numbers of this demographic will lead to better-than-average job growth through 2012. However, due to the relatively small size of the field, not very many jobs will be open. Those with the best employment prospects will be trained in nuclear medicine as well as another related field, such as diagnostic medical sonography or radiologic technology.
Nuclear medicine is being used in combination with monoclonal antibodies to help doctors find and treat cancer much earlier than they have been able to do. Additional technological advances could increase the use of nuclear medicine further. It is now being used to examine the cardiac, pulmonary, and neurological systems; advances in these fields should spur job growth for nuclear medicine technologists.
As always, economical pressures could seriously hamper the rate at which new nuclear medicine technologies are used. One example of an extremely expensive procedure is positron emission tomography—hospitals or clinics wishing to take advantage of this development must weigh reimbursement rates and equipment costs against patient need.
Historical Earnings Information
$48,750 was the median annual income of all nuclear medicine technologists in 2002. The center 50 percent were paid between $57,200 and $41,460; the highest and lowest 10 percent earned more than $68,710 and less than $35,870, respectively.
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