Nuclear medicine technologists generally require an associate's degree from an accredited nuclear medicine technology program. In addition to the degree, they may need to be licensed and certified, but this will vary depending on the state.
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Nuclear medicine technologists use medical-grade radioactive materials to assist in medical treatment and diagnosis. Because nuclear medicine technologists deal with potentially dangerous materials, it's important that those aspiring to this career gain the appropriate training and certification. This occupation requires a minimum of an associate's degree, and professional certification is a mandatory requirement for many employers. Professionals need to exhibit great communication and organizational skills to excel in this field.
|Required Education||Associate's degree|
|Additional Requirements||Voluntary certification is the industry standard; some states require a professional license|
|Projected Job Growth* (2014-2024)||2%|
|Median Salary* (May 2015)||$73,360 annually|
Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS)
Nuclear Technologist Job Description
Nuclear technologists, also known as nuclear medicine technologists, assist in administering radioactive materials to patients. They create images and run tests that aid in the diagnosis of certain diseases and disorders. According to the Mayo Clinic, nuclear medicine technologists may be responsible for helping doctors use radioactive materials, or radiopharmaceuticals, to treat disease as well.
Radioactive medicine has several uses, including the creation of diagnostic medical images of a patient's internal organs in a procedure called a positron emission tomography (PET) scan. The PET scan uses a machine that takes both X-ray and computer tomography scans of patients who have had a radiotracer, a radioactive mapping substance, administered to them. A nuclear technologist generally administers this radiotracer.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), though certification for nuclear medicine technologists is not mandatory, it has become an industry standard. The two organizations that handle certification for technologists are the Nuclear Medicine Technology Certification Board (NMTCB) and the American Registry of Radiologic Technologists (ARRT). Eligibility and testing requirements differ between the two organizations, and the BLS reports that technologists often seek certification from both. The BLS indicates that licensure requirements for nuclear medicine technologists vary by state, and it is increasingly common for licensure to be required to legally practice in this career.
After discussing the procedure with patients and explaining its risks and purpose, nuclear technologists administer a prescribed amount of radioactive therapy to a patient, either through inhalation, oral or intravenous administration. During an imaging procedure, the technologist then captures the result of the procedure photographically and delivers it to a physician for analysis. The technician is also responsible for keeping detailed records of the process, including the kind and total amount of radionuclides, or radioactive medicine compounds, that each patient is given and how much has been wasted and discarded.
Nuclear medical technologists often handle complex machines that call for significant mechanical skills. According to O*Net, they are often exposed to potentially harmful materials, and they may also come into contact with sick or injured patients. Technologists employed by hospitals may need to be flexible, because they might have rotational on-call duty.
Although nuclear technologists typically work without much direct supervision, they generally need to possess good communication skills because they are constantly in contact with physicians, patients and patients' families, according to O*Net. Sharp attention to detail and good organizational skills are also highly important to success in this occupation.
Salary Information and Job Outlook
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), $73,360 was the median annual wage for nuclear medical technologists in May 2015. Employees working in the offices of physicians yielded $75,100, which was noted by the BLS as the highest average annual salary for nuclear medical technologists in 2015. The BLS projects employment in this field to increase by 2% between 2014 and 2024. General medical and surgical hospitals were noted as having the highest level of employment.
Nuclear medicine technologists typically work in hospitals, physicians' offices, diagnostic laboratories or imaging clinics. A minimum of an associate's degree is required to pursue this exciting career. Once an applicant has graduated, he or she can choose specialized positions as a nuclear medicine technologist which could increase the median annual salary and projected job growth.