The nuclear medicine technologist is a highly specialized health care professional who looks at how the body functions in order to help in diagnosis and treatment of a range of conditions and diseases. Nuclear medicine combines imaging, patient care, chemistry, physics, mathematics, computer technology, and medicine. Nuclear medicine technologists prepare and administer small amounts of radioactive substances called radiopharmaceuticals, as well as other medications, to patients for diagnosis and treatments.
Radiopharmaceuticals are made up of radionuclides—unstable atoms that emit radiation spontaneously. Nuclear medicine technologists use specialized camera systems to detect the radiopharmaceuticals, which then creates a precise picture of the part of the body being imaged. The nuclear medicine technologist monitors the characteristics and functions of tissues or organs in which the radiopharmaceuticals localize. Abnormal areas show higher or lower concentrations of radioactivity than normal. Physicians use these images to diagnose molecular, metabolic, physiologic, anatomic and pathologic conditions.
Nuclear medicine technologists may also operate computed tomography (CT) and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scanners that are used in conjunction with nuclear medicine procedures.
The technologist’s responsibilities include:
Nuclear medicine technologists generally work a 40-hour week. This may include evening or weekend hours in departments that operate on an extended schedule. Technologists who work in hospitals may need to be on call. Opportunities for part-time and shift work are also available.
If you are interested in a career as a nuclear medicine technologist, you can begin preparing in high school by taking as many science and mathematics classes as you can.
Nuclear medicine technology programs include:
As of 2015, the American Registry of Radiologic Technologists only recognizes programs at an associate level or higher.
After successfully completing a nuclear medicine program, graduates need to pass a certification exam to be recognized as nuclear medicine technologists. As of 2017, the Nuclear Medicine Technology Certification Board will require graduation from regionally accredited college and university programs that have structured clinical training sufficient to provide clinical competency in radiation safety, instrumentation, clinical procedures and radiopharmacy.