Nuclear Medicine Technologist

What Does a Nuclear Medicine Technologist Do?
Nuclear medicine technologists work with the complex equipment and diagnostic tools used in hospitals and other health care facilities. Nuclear medicine technology includes x-ray imaging and the use of radiopharmaceuticals, which is a chemical compound used to analyze the tissues and organs in which the radiopharmaceuticals collect. Specifically, radiopharmaceuticals are relatively harmless radioactive atoms that are given to patients either through injection, ingestion, or by inhalation. The main duty of a nuclear medicine technologist is to administer these radiopharmaceuticals to patients and to map the areas that show too much or too little reaction to the radiopharmaceuticals. The technologists are also responsible for keeping accurate and detailed records of the nuclear procedures performed on each individual patient so that the doctor handling the case can ensure that the patient is not in danger of overexposure to radiation. Nuclear medicine technologists can also specialize in either nuclear cardiology, which looks at the heart and blood flow, or positron emission tomography (PET), which looks at 3-D imaging of the body.

What Is the Employment and Salary Outlook for a Nuclear Medicine Technologist?
The number of people residing in the country is rapidly growing, and as the already sizeable population reaches middle age and their elder years, there will be a high demand for diagnostic medicine, which includes the field of nuclear medicine technology. Health care is one of the most stable industries in the work force today. There will always be a need for health care professionals due to the complexity of treating the human body and the unpredictability of disease and aging. Because of this ongoing need, health-related jobs will continue to grow. There are currently more than 13,000 nuclear medicine technologist positions across the country, according to the Mayo Clinic School of Health Sciences, and employment opportunities are projected to improve 16 percent between 2008 and 2018, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The salary of nuclear medicine technologists is substantial as well, with those working in the field earning an average of $66,660 annually, according to the latest information available from the Bureau.

How Can I Become a Nuclear Medicine Technologist?
Prospective nuclear medicine technologists must first obtain an associate degree in nuclear medicine technology. These degree programs typically last about two years, during which time students take courses in imaging and therapeutic procedures, safety in working with radiopharmaceuticals, medical reading, and other classes that will teach them how to become an efficient technologist. Students will also take classes about the computer programs that most health care facilities use, which is important in todayís increasingly digital work force. Many states require that technologists be licensed, though licensure for nuclear medicine technologists vary by state, so prospective technologists should check with their individual licensing departments to determine the prerequisites for licensure. Certification is optional, though most technologists seek certification as a means of proving that they are serious about the position. Certification can be obtained from either the American Registry of Radiologic Technologists (ARRT) or the Nuclear Medicine Technology Certification Board (NMTCB).