Nuclear medicine technologists administer radiopharmaceuticals (purified, unstable atoms) to patients to help diagnose and treat diseases. They then monitor the patient’s tissues and organs, looking for higher- or lower-than-expected levels of radioactivity. They use cameras to map these radioactive drugs and create a images of the patient’s body. They often explain the procedures to patients, then administer drugs orally or intravenously. They produce images by scanning the patient’s body with gamma scintillation camera. These images are then interpreted by a physician. Nuclear medicine performs many of the same functions as other diagnostic imaging techniques, such as x rays and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI).
Nuclear medicine technologists are required to keep the doses of radioactive drugs as low as possible, and they keep very detailed patient records regarding the type and amount of drugs administered. Some nuclear medicine technologists research the effect of radioactive substances on the body. They may add radioactive substances to blood or serum to determine levels of hormones or of therapeutic drugs in the body.
Nuclear medicine technologists must have the ability to pay close attention to detail, follow instructions, and work well in a team setting. They need to be sensitive to the physical and psychological needs of the patients they treat. They should also have a mechanical aptitude and good manual dexterity.
In 2002, nuclear medicine technologists earned a median annual salary of $48,750. Earnings ranged from the lowest 10%, who earned less than $35,870, to the highest 10%, who earned more than $68,710.
Training and Education
Many States and most employers require nuclear medicine technologists to be certified by the American Registry of Radiologic Technologists or the Nuclear Medicine Technology Certification Board. Certification involves meeting certain Federal standards relating to the operation of radiation detection equipment and the administration of radioactive drugs. There are 92 programs in nuclear medicine technology that are accredited by the Joint Review Committee on Education Programs in Nuclear Medicine Technology. These programs grant either a certificate, associate degree, or bachelor’s degree and last from 1 to 4 years. Colleges and universities offer bachelor’s degree programs, community colleges offer associate degrees, and hospitals offer certificates (usually for those already working as a health professional). Courses typically include the physical sciences, biological effects of radiation exposure, radiation protection and procedures, the use of radiopharmaceuticals, imaging techniques, and computer applications.
In 2002, nuclear medicine technologists held about 17,000 jobs. Two-thirds worked in hospitals, and the rest worked in offices of physicians or in medical and diagnostic laboratories.
Between 2002 and 2012, employment of nuclear medicine technologists is expected to increase faster than the average. This will be due mostly to the growth in the number of middle-aged and elderly people, who are more likely to need diagnostic imaging services. However, the occupation is relatively small, and this will mean few job openings annually. Opportunity will be best for nuclear medicine technologists who are also trained in other diagnostic imaging techniques, such as radiologic technology or diagnostic medical sonography.
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