Nuclear radiology is a specialized type of diagnostic medicine that aims to diagnose and treat disease via imaging equipment, such as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) machines and gamma cameras. Associate's and bachelor's degree programs are available for prospective nuclear medicine technologists. Coursework will build on concepts of chemistry, anatomy and physics, followed by in-depth study of subjects such as radiation safety, medical imaging instrumentation and radionuclide therapy. Clinical experiences are typically required. Graduates of these programs can pursue professional certification or licensure.
Residency programs in nuclear medicine are also available to medical school graduates. These programs can last up to three years and include extensive training in hospitals and other healthcare facilities.
Associate's Degree in Nuclear Medicine Technology
An associate's degree program in nuclear medicine technology (NMT) provides graduates with the necessary skills to obtain entry-level employment as a nuclear medicine technologist. Programs combine coursework with clinical experience through local medical facility affiliations. Students learn patient care, diagnostic techniques, quality control, administration of radionuclide therapies and safe handling of radiopharmaceuticals.
Admission to NMT associate's degree programs typically requires a high school diploma or equivalent and completion of high school math, biology, chemistry, and physics courses. Applicants may be required to take college level courses in math, writing, and reading comprehension if they fail to pass placement tests.
Associate's degree program coursework begins with the basic principles of nuclear medicine with an emphasis on safety and protection and progresses to clinical experiences employing complex diagnostic procedures. Program topics include:
- Medical terminology
- Clinical nuclear medicine technology
- Nuclear medicine imaging
- Radiation safety
Bachelor of Science in Nuclear Medicine Technology
A bachelor's degree program in nuclear medicine technology provides comprehensive instruction in technical skills, patient care, and administrative functions. Graduates are prepared for entry-level employment as nuclear medicine technologists. Clinical rotations are typically required during the senior year of this program and allow students to achieve proficiency in a number of diagnostic applications and techniques. Program graduates may also choose to specialize by type of radiographic equipment or application.
NMT bachelor's degree programs are highly competitive; many programs accept only 10-15 candidates per year. Some programs allow students to take core courses during their first year; however, other programs officially begin in the sophomore year and conditional applicants must have successfully completed the prerequisites in the previous year.
Similar to the associate's degree program, a bachelor's-level nuclear medicine technology program combines classroom-based training with clinical experience. Bachelor's degree program graduates have further opportunities through specialized courses, such as nuclear cardiology, and clinical rotations across different medical disciplines. Courses topics typically include:
- Diagnostic imaging techniques
- Radiation safety
- Radionuclide therapy
- Radiation science
- Physics for X-ray and CT scans
Nuclear Medicine Residency
Nuclear medicine residency programs are available to medical school graduates who wish to pursue additional training to become nuclear medicine radiologists or physicians--specialized medical doctors who use radionuclides to investigate, diagnose, and treat disease. Residency programs are certified by the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education and are typically offered through hospitals and academic medical centers.
Residency programs in nuclear medicine are commonly offered as a tiered system that require medical school graduates entering after an internship to complete a three-year program, those who have already done a residency in another specialty to complete a two-year program and graduates of a residency program in radiology to complete a one-year program. Admission is very limited; only two to four positions a year may be available in any given program. Applicants typically must submit transcripts, proof of research experience and interests, curriculum vitae, a personal statement, and letters of recommendation.
Depending on the qualifications of candidates entering the program, the early part of the residency focuses primarily on honing general clinical and laboratory skills. The final year consists of independent research in an area of interest developed during the residency. Early program coursework includes:
- Physics of nuclear medicine
- Physics of radiation oncology
- Physics of molecular imaging
- Nuclear medicine instrumentation
- In-vitro clinical nuclear medicine
Popular Career Options
The depth of nuclear medicine technology bachelor's degree programs provides graduates with several career options. Apart from advancing to the position of chief technologist, possible career opportunities include:
- Nuclear medicine technology program educator
- Radiation safety officer
- Manufacturer's sales rep
- Nuclear radiology research
Employment Outlook and Salary Info
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), nuclear medicine technologists may witness job growth of up to 2% between 2014 and 2024 (www.bls.gov). The BLS also reported that the mean annual salary for nuclear medicine technologists was $74,990 in May 2015.
Although it may take a minimum of 12 years of college to become a nuclear medicine radiologist or physician, those who succeed are well rewarded. According to 2016 figures in Salary.com, nuclear medicine physicians make a median annual salary of $307,085 with the highest ten percent earning over $410,428. A workforce study published by the Society of Nuclear Medicine (SNM) in 2006 indicates that the future of nuclear medicine is strong--so much so that the demand for qualified nuclear medicine physicians and radiologists exceeds the number of individuals able to fill the available positions (www.snm.org).
Licensure and Certification Information
Voluntary certifications are available by the American Registry of Radiologic Technologists (ARRT) and the Nuclear Medicine Technology Certification Board (NMTCB); however, the BLS reports that some employers require their nuclear medicine technologists to be certified.
Most states also require some type of licensure requirements for those who work with radioactive materials, according to the BLS. Licensure may be limited depending on type of material used, medical discipline, or diagnostic machine. Applicants may be required to take a state-issued exam or provide evidence of certification by the ARRT or NMTCB.
Students in an associate's or bachelor's program in nuclear medicine technology study science, patient care, radiation safety, and learn about the equipment used. Medical school graduates can continue on to a nuclear medicine residency program in which they will learn about diagnosing and treating diseases as a nuclear medicine radiologist or physician.