Nuclear medicine technologists typically do the following:
Nuclear medicine technologists work with radioactive drugs, known as radiopharmaceuticals, to help physicians and surgeons diagnose a patient’s condition. For example, they may inject radiopharmaceuticals into the bloodstream of a patient with foot pain and then use special scanning equipment that captures images of the bones; a radiologist interprets the scan results, based on the concentration of radioactivity appearing in the image, to identify the source of the patient’s pain.
Nuclear medicine technologists also deliver radiopharmaceuticals in prescribed doses to specific areas, such as tumors, to treat medical conditions. Internal radiation treatment may be used in conjunction with, or as an alternative to, surgery.
In the event of a radioactive incident or nuclear disaster, some nuclear medicine technologists may be involved in emergency response efforts. These workers’ experience with radiation detection and monitoring equipment may be useful during a response to events that involve radiological materials.
The following are types of nuclear medicine technologists:
Nuclear cardiology technologists use radioactive drugs to obtain images of the heart. Patients may exercise during the imaging process while the technologist creates images of the heart and blood flow.
Nuclear medicine computed tomography (CT) technologists use radioactive isotopes in combination with x-ray imaging to create two-dimensional or three-dimensional pictures of the inside of the body.
Positron emission tomography (PET) technologists use a machine that creates a three-dimensional image of a part of the body, such as the brain. They also use radiopharmaceuticals to measure body functions, such as metabolism.
Some nuclear medicine technologists support researchers in developing nuclear medicine applications for imagery or treatment.
High school students interested in nuclear medicine technology should take courses in math and sciences, including biology, chemistry, anatomy, and physics.
Nuclear medicine technologists typically need an associate’s degree in nuclear medicine technology to enter the occupation. Bachelor’s degrees also are common. Some technologists complete an associate’s or a bachelor’s degree program in a related health field, such as radiologic technology or nursing, followed by a 12-month certificate program in nuclear medicine technology.
Nuclear medicine technology programs often include courses in human anatomy and physiology, physics, chemistry, radioactive drugs, and computer science. In addition, these programs include clinical experience—practice under the supervision of a certified nuclear medicine technologist and a physician or surgeon who specializes in nuclear medicine.
Graduating from a nuclear medicine program accredited by the Joint Review Committee on Educational Programs in Nuclear Medicine Technology may be required for licensure or by an employer.
Most nuclear medicine technologists become certified. Although certification is not required for a license, it fulfills most of the requirements for state licensure. Licensing requirements vary by state. For specific requirements, contact the state’s health board.
Some employers require certification, regardless of state regulations. Certification usually involves graduating from an accredited nuclear medicine technology program. Certification is available from the American Registry of Radiologic Technologists (ARRT) and the Nuclear Medicine Technology Certification Board (NMTCB).
In addition to receiving general certification, technologists may earn specialty certifications that show their proficiency in procedures or equipment. A technologist must pass an exam offered by the NMTCB to earn certification in positron emission tomography (PET), nuclear cardiology (NCT), or computed tomography (CT).
Technologists also may be required to have one or more other certifications, such as in basic life support (BLS), advanced cardiovascular life support (ACLS), or cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR).