Nuclear Medicine Technologist

Diagnostic imaging technology is used to diagnose medical disorders. The most widely used type of diagnostic imaging technology is the x-ray. Nuclear medicine, the harnessing of radionuclides that emit radiation sporadically, is used to diagnose medical disorders and other problems. Radionuclides are compounded and refined to develop radiopharmaceuticals. Nuclear medicine technologists utilize sophisticated technology to administer radiopharmaceuticals. Once radiopharmaceuticals have been administered, these specialists monitor organ and tissue function. High and low levels of radioactivity concentration indicate problems. Unlike other diagnostic imaging technologies which detect organ structure changes, nuclear medicine is used to locate disease by detecting metabolic changes.

Nuclear medicine technologists use specialized cameras to trace the presence of radioactive drugs and detect metabolic changes. After telling patients about diagnostic procedures, technologists prepare radiopharmaceuticals and administer them to patients via injections, inhalation, or orally. Nuclear medicine technologists operate gamma scintillation cameras to create images after radiopharmaceuticals emit signals. Doctors view images on computer screens to diagnose disease.

Education and Training

Nuclear medicine technology degrees are available at the certificate, associate’s, and bachelor’s levels. Depending on the program, it takes 1-4 years to earn a certificate or degree. Many healthcare providers and states require nuclear medicine technologists to become licensed. Before studying nuclear medicine, you should review your state’s licensure requirements.

Hospitals typically administer certificate programs, and community and vocational colleges usually offer associate’s programs. Some colleges and universities offer bachelor’s programs in nuclear medicine. All students studying nuclear medicine are required to complete courses in radiation safety, biology, radiopharmaceuticals, computer science, imaging methods, and the physical sciences.

Medical professionals, usually medical sonographers or radiologic technologists, with college degrees typically complete certificate programs to make career transitions into nuclear medicine. Likewise, registered nurses, medical technologists, and other specialists often complete one year professional certification programs to specialize in nuclear medicine.

Certification is not a requirement, but most healthcare providers prefer hiring certified nuclear technologists. The Nuclear Medicine Technology Certification Board (NMTCB) and the American Registry of Radiologic Technologists (ARRT) sponsor professional certification programs. Many technologists become certified with both organizations. Although each organization has different certification requirements, both mandate that nuclear medicine technologists pass a thorough test to certify.

Job Outlook

Better than average job growth is expected in the field of nuclear medicine, but this is a very competitive field. Job growth for nuclear medicine technologists has been projected to grow by 16 percent through 2018, much higher than average projected rates in other industries. Growth in populations that rely on nuclear medicine, new treatments, and improvements in technology contribute to growth in this industry.

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