Diagnostic imaging is important in the medical field because it allows doctors to identify and understand diseases. The field of Nuclear Medicine is an exciting area of medical technology. Unlike other diagnostic methods that measure changes in organ structure, Nuclear Medicine examines metabolic changes to identify and understand problems. Through the purification and compounding of radionuclides, unstable atoms that emit radiation, radiopharmaceuticals are formed. Adhering to strict safety guidelines, Nuclear Medicine Technologists administer radiopharmaceuticals to patients in a localized area of the body, and take diagnostic images of their function. Abnormal areas will show higher levels of radioactivity.
Faster than average job growth and excellent salary makes the field of Nuclear Medicine very competitive. Job opportunities are best for those who are trained in multiple disciplines within the field. Technologists can specialize in nuclear cardiology or position emission tomography, also referred to as PET. Nuclear cardiology involves myocardial perfusion imaging, in which patients will exercise so techs can take images of blood flow to the heart. PET specialists take 3D images of the body using specialized camera equipment. 66% of Nuclear Medicine Technologists work in hospitals. Others are employed in physician’s offices, medical and diagnostic labs, and diagnostic imaging centers.
The field of Nuclear Medicine technology offers a competitive salary. Most techs earn between $57,270 and $78,240. Higher salaries are seen for those that are trained in multiple diagnostic methods. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the lowest 10 percent earned an annual salary of $48,450, and the highest 10 percent earned $87,770. Median annual salary for a Nuclear Medicine Technologist is $66,320.*
*According to the BLS, http://www.bls.gov/oco/
Job Description and Outlook
Nuclear Medicine Technologists prepare and administer radiopharmaceuticals. They operate camera equipment that detects the radioactive drug and creates diagnostic images that doctors then interpret. Techs work closely with patients, explaining test procedures and positioning them on the camera. They care for patient’s records, and keep close account of the amount and type of radiopharmaceuticals used. Because they work with radioactive drugs, techs adhere to strict safety guidelines, to ensure that exposure to radiation is as low as possible. They wear badges that measure their radiation levels; however the strict safety guidelines ensure that measurements never exceed safety levels.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports faster than average job growth for Nuclear Medicine Technologists, with employment increasing by 16% from 2008-2018. The development of new technology, and increasing number of elderly people, will increase the demand for techs. However, the costly price of technology may affect a hospital’s ability to invest. Despite the growth, a low number of job openings may cause the number of qualified applicants to exceed the number of jobs available, causing the field to be highly competitive. For this reason, it is important for techs to diversify and become trained in a number of diagnostic methods. Diagnostic methods include radiologic technology, nuclear cardiology, or diagnostic medical sonography.*
*According to the BLS, http://www.bls.gov/oco/
Training and Education Requirements
Receiving an education in Nuclear Medicine Technology means committing to 1-4 years of schooling in an accredited program. Programs are accredited through the Joint Review Committee on Education Programs in Nuclear Medicine Technology. Techs can decide to receive their certificate, associates, or bachelor’s degree. Certificate programs are generally offered through hospitals, associate’s degrees are earned in community colleges, and bachelor’s degree are earned at 4-year colleges and universities. Those who wish to earn their certificate generally have their degree and are working in the medical field, but wish to specialize in nuclear medicine.
Students studying nuclear medicine will take courses that focus heavily in the physical sciences. Techs will also study the biological effects of radiation exposure, radiation protection procedures, and the use of radiopharmaceuticals. Students will learn imaging techniques, as well as computer applications.
Certification is voluntary; however it is quickly becoming the standard. Many states and employers require Nuclear Medicine Technologists to be certified or licensed. In order for health care facilities to receive reimbursement for imagine procedures, many third party payers require that techs be certified. Certification requirements are state specific, so it is important for techs to understand the requirement of the state in which they choose to work.
Certification can be earned through two separate entities. Some technologists become certified through both. The American Registry of Radiologic Technologists and the Nuclear Medicine Technology Certification Board both have comprehensive exams that techs need to pass to obtain their certification. Remaining certified requires continuing education courses, as practices and technology within the field continue to change.
As with any field of employment, professional associations are available to Nuclear Medicine Technologists. Professional associations are important to career growth, staying connected, and receiving news and information about changes within the field. For Nuclear Medicine Technologists, there are two professional associations, the Society of Nuclear Medicine Technologists, and the American Registry of Radiologic Technologists. Becoming a member of one or both of these organizations is important for career advancement and remaining connected to others within the field.
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