Nuclear Medicine Technologist Job Description
Nuclear medicine technologists work in medical offices and hospitals, where they perform a variety of nuclear imaging tests and patient treatments. These can include conducting procedures like single photon emission tomography (SPECT) and administering treatments for cancer patients. Nuclear medicine technologists work closely with patients and doctors to support diagnostic and treatment activities while minimizing health risks for patients.
While nuclear medicine technologists share many duties, workers in this role tend to specialize in one or more technologies and may focus on imaging or treatment. In either case, the technologist works with radioactive materials and administers them directly to patients to support detection, prevention, and treatment of life-threatening illnesses.
Nuclear Medicine Technologist Duties and Responsibilities
While the specific duties of a nuclear medicine technologist can vary somewhat, most share several essential responsibilities:
Administer Radioactive Isotopes to Patients
In both imaging and treatment applications, the primary duty of the nuclear medicine technologist is to administer radioactive isotopes to help diagnose and treat patient illnesses. They may use specific technologies, such as positron emission tomography (PET) scanners, to detect irregularities or signs of illness, or may administer radioactive isotopes to treat certain kinds of cancer under the direct supervision on an oncologist.
Examine Radiopharmaceutical Imaging
Nuclear medicine technologists monitor patients after they administer radiopharmaceuticals, looking for metabolic indicators that contribute to cancer detection and other diagnostic activities. During treatments, the nuclear medicine technologist may examine the patient to measure the body’s reaction to radioactive doses and determine the effectiveness of treatments.
Provide Patient Support
Throughout diagnostic and treatment processes, nuclear medicine technologists provide direct support to patients. This can include a range of activities, including explaining procedures, technologies, and methodologies, or simply providing comfort and guidance to patients who are experiencing stress due to treatment and imaging activities. In addition, nuclear medicine technologists may physically assist and move patients during treatment and imaging procedures.
Prepare Images for Physicians
Nuclear medicine technologists support diagnostic and treatment activities by preparing film and computerized images for physicians and oncologists. In this aspect of the role, the nuclear medicine technologist works closely with the doctor to determine their specific needs and prepare images based on patient scans. In addition, they may prepare reports related to the images to help with diagnosis or to clarify image contents.
Maintain and Monitor Supplies and Equipment
Lastly, nuclear medicine technologists ensure safety and best practices by maintaining records and following proper storage and handling techniques for the radioactive isotopes they use for their diagnostic and treatment activities. This can include creating intake records, noting materials used during patient treatments and diagnosis, and storing unused materials in a secure and safe location. Additionally, the nuclear medicine technologist maintains equipment to ensure proper operation.
Nuclear Medicine Technologist Skills and Qualifications
Nuclear medicine technologists administer radioactive compounds to patients for therapeutic and imaging procedures. Most workers in this role have at least an associate’s degree and the following skills:
- Technology skills – nuclear medicine technologists use a variety of tools and techniques to assess and treat patients, so the ability to learn and utilize new and existing methods and technologies is vital
- Analytical thinking – careful analysis is key in this role, and nuclear medicine technologists should be able to successfully interpret and assess the results of tests and use analytical techniques to determine dosages during treatment
- Patience and compassion – nuclear medicine technologists work with patients who are dealing with stress and illness, so they should be very patient and have excellent bedside manner
- Physical stamina – many patients require physical assistance, and nuclear medicine technologists may need to spend long shifts on their feet, so physical stamina is essential in this role
- Attention to detail – nuclear medicine technologists should also possess a high level of attention to detail, since they administer compounds that have a high level of risk and can cause physical damage if they are handled incorrectly
- Communication skills – in this role, nuclear medicine technologists interact with patients and doctors and maintain medical records, so written and verbal communication skills are both key
Tools of the Trade
Nuclear medicine technologists typically work in medical offices and hospitals and should be comfortable operating advanced medical technologies, such as:
- Positron emission tomography (PET) scanners
- Nuclear cardiology (NCT) machines
Nuclear Medicine Technologist Education and Training
Nuclear medicine technologists typically need an associate’s degree in nuclear medicine technology from an accredited program. These programs include clinical training, where nuclear medicine technologists work directly with doctors and patients. They can also obtain an associate’s degree in a closely related field, such as radiologic technology, and take a certification course in nuclear medicine. A bachelor’s degree in this field can also help expand employment opportunities. Specific licensing requirements vary from state to state, but most certification programs also meet state licensure requirements.
Nuclear Medicine Technologist Salary and Outlook
The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) found that nuclear medicine technologists earn a median annual wage of $75,660. The highest-earning 10 percent of workers in this role earn more than $103,660 per year, while the lowest paid earn less than $54,410.
The BLS expects employment in this field to grow at a faster-than-average rate of 10 percent through 2026.
If you’d like to learn more about working as a nuclear medicine technologist, we found a number of resources on the web for further reading and information:
Society of Nuclear Medicine and Molecular Imaging – nuclear medicine technologists can join this professional society to access industry news and educational materials, and to connect with other technologists at meetings and conferences
Nuclear Medicine Technology Study Guide: A Technologist’s Review for Passing Board Exams – read this book to review key concepts and prepare for certification examinations
The American Registry of Radiologic Technologists – the ARRT is another professional organization dedicated to nuclear medicine, providing access to certification and credential programs and the latest industry news
Nuclear Medicine and PET/CT: Technology and Techniques – this book provides hands-on guidance for nuclear medicine technology and patient safety, as well as detailed information about performing and interpreting diagnostic procedures
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