Diagnostic imaging commonly uses X-Ray to diagnose diseases. In nuclear medicine, diagnosis is made using radionuclides. Radionuclides are unstable atoms that spontaneously emit radiation (Nuclear Medicine Technologists, 2012). They are used to develop radiopharmaceuticals. The work of nuclear medicine technologists is to give patients radiopharmaceuticals, and then keep an eye on the areas that the drug will localize. If an organ is not normal, the concentration of radioactivity will be either lower than or higher than expected. Other methods of diagnostic imaging detect the presence of a disease by determining the structure of the organ. Nuclear medicine, on the other hand, uses metabolic changes.
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Using cameras operated by nuclear medicine technologists, the radioactive drug in the patient’s body is mapped out. The product of the mapping is the diagnostic images that the physician uses later. Technologists explain to patients about the test procedures before administering the dosage, which they also prepare. After administering radiopharmaceutical, gamma scintillation camera, which is also referred to as “scanner”, start to create the required images by tracking the areas the drug localizes in (Science Careers: Nuclear Medicine Technologist, n.d.). The images from the “scanner” are displayed on a computer screen for the doctor to interpret (Nuclear Medicine Technologists n.d.).
Radiation exposure during the procedure should be kept as low as possible. Nuclear medicine technologists ensure patients’ safety. They also document patients’ records. A record of drugs given to be patients, the amount used and/or discarded, are kept.
To work as a nuclear medicine technologist, a bachelor’s degree is required, two years experience, and registration with the certification board. The three certification boards are the American Society of Clinical Pathology, American Registry of Radiologic Technologists (A.R.R.T.), and Nuclear Medicine Technology Certification Board (“Nuclear Medicine Technologists”, 2012). A technologist works under the supervision of a chief technologist.
Education and Certification
Typically, a program in nuclear medicine technology takes 1 to 4 years. At the end of the training period, the student is awarded a certificate, an associate degree, or a bachelor’s. Hospitals generally offer a certificate. Community colleges give an associate degree, while a bachelor’s degree in nuclear medicine is offered at 4-year colleges or universities (“Nuclear Medicine Technologists”, 2012).
The nuclear medicine course covers the following key areas:
- Physical sciences
- Radiation exposure
- Radiation protection
- Computer applications
The one-year certificate is offered to professionals who hold an associate degree in a field slightly different from nuclear medicine but wish to specialize. Nurses and medical technologists who wish to change their careers can take up the one-year course.
Programs that train students in nuclear medicine are accredited by this body “Joint Review Committee on Education Programs in Nuclear Medicine Technology” (Nuclear Medicine Technologist – Job Duties and Educational Requirements, n.d.). In the US and Puerto Rico, there are more than 100 accredited programs (Nuclear Medicine Technologists 2006).
Other than academic qualifications, nuclear medicine technologists should possess good communication skills. They should also be meticulous and be willing to continue their learning. A good technologist must interact well with patients and their families. Although nuclear technologists work under the general supervision of chief technologists, they should nevertheless be able to work independently.
At least half of the states in the US require practitioners to be licensed. Certification, on the other hand, is completely voluntary. Two bodies, the American Registry of Radiologic Technologists (ARRT) and the Nuclear Medicine Technology Certification Board (NMTCB), certify nuclear technologists (Science Careers: Nuclear Medicine Technologist, n.d.). Retention of certification depends on completing given hours of continuing education.
A 1-year associate degree in nuclear medicine costs around $6, 500 (“Nuclear Medicine Technology Training Schools & Degree Programs”, n.d.).
Nuclear medicine technologists work in community hospitals, teaching hospitals, imaging facilities, public health institutions, and research institutes. They earn a median salary of $66,000 per year (Nuclear Medicine Technologist Salary, n.d.). New entrants earn a starting salary of under $48,000 per year.
The earning ability is highest for those with a bachelor’s degree and who are certified. The annual income for this group is more than $88,000 (Nuclear Medicine Technologist Salary, n.d.).
Nuclear technologists also enjoy other benefits such as health insurance, dental care, and retirement benefits.
The top-paying state in this profession is California where the annual mean wage is $92,080.
Nuclear medicine is a fast-evolving field offering unbelievable advancement opportunities. New radiopharmaceuticals are being developed for diagnosis. Another exciting technology being developed is Positron Emission Tomography (PET) (Nuclear Medicine Technologist – Job Duties and Educational Requirements, n.d.).
The field of nuclear medicine is growing rapidly due to the increasing number of old people. The strong growth is expected to remain in the foreseeable future.
There are a lot of advancement opportunities. “A technologist can advance to supervisor, director, administrator of department, or chief technologist” (“Nuclear Medicine Technology” 2008-09). The specialties to choose from including nuclear analysis or nuclear cardiology (“Nuclear Medicine Technologists”, 2012). A technologist can join a manufacturer of nuclear-related medical equipment as a salesperson.
Conclusion / Reflection
This field is perhaps the most exciting. This is because it is young and growing. Development in nuclear medicine may change the face of the profession altogether in the coming years. I feel the profession is dynamic and that is what I love most about it. This dynamism and the promise of constant change is the most important thing I discovered about the field. Also, I found that opportunities for nuclear medicine technologists are projected to increase shortly. As a student, the promise of the possibility of getting a job after graduation is very reassuring.
Nuclear Medicine Technologists.(n.d.). Web.
Nuclear Medicine Technologists. (2006). Web.
Nuclear Medicine Technologists. (2012). In Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor (Eds.). Occupational Outlook Handbook, 13 Edition. Web.
Nuclear Medicine Technologist – Job Duties and Educational Requirements (n.d.). Web.
Nuclear Medicine Technologist Salary. (n.d.). Web.
Nuclear Medicine Technology Training Schools & Degree Programs. (n.d.). In Health Training Guide. Web.
Science Careers: Nuclear Medicine Technologist. (n.d.). Web.
Nuclear Medicine Technology. (2008-09). In U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (Eds.). Occupational Outlook Handbook. Web.