Nuclear Medicine Technologist

Career Information

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••• A nuclear medicine technologist can specialize in positron emission tomography (PET). Snowleopard1 / E+ / Getty Images

A nuclear medicine technologist performs nuclear imaging tests like PET (positron emission tomography) and SPECT (single photon emission computed tomography) scans on patients. These tests help doctors diagnose diseases. He or she prepares and administers radiopharmaceuticals before beginning a scan. These are radioactive drugs that patients receive orally, by injection, or through inhalation. It allows doctors to see abnormal areas of the body.

Nuclear medicine studies include brain, thyroid, bone, cardiac, lung, kidney, and liver scans.

Quick Facts

  • Nuclear medicine technologists earn a median annual salary of $74,350 (2016).
  • Just over 20,000 people work in this occupation (2016).
  • Employers include hospitals, physicians, and diagnostic laboratories.
  • The outlook for this occupation is good. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts employment will grow as fast as the average for all occupations between 2016 and 2026.

Job Duties

These job duties, listed by employers in job announcements on Indeed.com, will give you some insight into what a day in the life of a nuclear medicine technologist is like:

  • Performs organ imaging tests including full skeletal, cardiac blood pool, and major vascular blood pool tests; and lung, liver, spleen, kidney, bladder, brain, thyroid, placental, tumor, salivary gland, pancreatic, parathyroid, and scrotal images, and cysternograms utilizing gamma cameras, and/or stationary camera devices
  • Consistently perform complex examinations and procedures, including injecting radiopharmaceuticals under the direct supervision of a radiologist
  • Explain test procedures and safety precautions to subjects and provide them with assistance during procedures
  • Ensure the environment is safe AT ALL times for patient and staff
  • Attains required approval and signature by nuclear medicine physicians
  • Transfers, positions, and instructs patients in preparation for procedures

How Can You Become a Nuclear Medicine Technologist?

To work as a nuclear medicine technologist, you will need to earn an associate or bachelor's degree in nuclear medicine technology. If you already have a degree in a related field, you can instead complete a 12-month certificate program.

Many states require a license to practice. See this state licensure chart from the Society of Nuclear Medicine and Molecular Imaging to find out if your state is one of them. Also check with your state health department for current rules and regulations. 

Two professional organizations, the Nuclear Medicine Technology Certification Board (NMTCB) and the American Registry of Radiologic Technologists (ARRT), offer voluntary certification. Some states that license nuclear medicine technologists accept this certification instead of requiring candidates to take an exam. Even where certification isn't required, some employers will only hire employees who have it.

What Soft Skills Do You Need to Succeed in This Career?

Your formal training will prepare you to perform your job duties, but to succeed as a nuclear medicine technologist, you will also need particular soft skills.

They are abilities with which you are either born or develop through life experiences:

  • Critical Thinking: You will need to know how to weigh all your options when making decisions to decide which will have the best results.
  • Interpersonal Skills: Your relationship with your patients and colleagues depends on this skill set. Not only must you have excellent active listening and speaking skills, but you should also be very socially perceptive. This ability will allow you to be aware of your patients' reactions and allow you to respond to them. In addition, you will have to be able to coordinate your actions with your colleagues'.
  • Monitoring: You must be able to notice subtle physical changes that may come about as reactions to the drugs you administer.
  • Physical Strength and Stamina: You will have to be able to lift and move patients as well as spend hours on your feet.

    The Truth About Being a Nuclear Medicine Technologist

    • There are risks inherent in this occupation. As in all health care professionals, you could be exposed to infectious diseases. Your work could also expose you to radiation and you must take measures to protect yourself, your coworkers, and your patients.
    • This job is physically demanding. 
    • Some jobs involve working evenings and weekends and being on call in case of emergencies.
    • Your patients may be in physical or emotional distress.

    The Difference Between a Nuclear Medicine Technologist and a Radiologic Technologist

    Both nuclear medicine and radiologic technologists help doctors diagnose diseases. Nuclear medicine technologists are trained to administer radioactive drugs and then perform nuclear imaging using specialized cameras. According to the Cleveland Clinic, an academic medical center, these scans detect abnormalities in how organs function. Radiologic technologists use other imagining technologies, for example, x-rays, CT scans, and MRIs, that assess how organs look (Cleveland Clinic. Nuclear Imaging).

    What Will Employers Expect From You?

    Here are some requirements from actual job announcements found on Indeed.com:

    • "Able to prioritize work assignments and adjust tasks as needed"
    • "Ability to maintain confidential patient information"
    • "Demonstrates flexibility to meet Department needs as they vary"
    • "Establish and maintain effective relationships with customers and patients and gain their trust and respect"
    • "Ability to work with minimum supervision within the guidelines set up by the department"
    • "Able to communicate effectively in a caring and courteous manner"

    Is This Occupation a Good Fit for You?

    Your interestspersonality type, and work-related values should play a role in your decision about what career to pursue. If you have the following traits, this occupation could be a good fit for you:

    Related Occupations

     DescriptionMedian Annual Wage (2016)Minimum Required Education/Training
    Ultrasound TechnicianOperates equipment that uses sound waves to help doctors diagnose diseases$69,650Associate or Bachelor's Degree, or 1-year certificate for those already working in healthcare; most employers require professional certification
    Radiologic TechnologistHelps doctors diagnose diseases by using x-rays, MRIs and CT scans$57,450Associate or Bachelor's Degree, or certificate; some states require a license
    Cytogenetic TechnologistAnalyzes chromosomes in blood, bone marrow, and amniotic fluid to diagnose and treat genetic disorders$61,070Bachelor's Degree
    Cardiovascular TechnologistUses invasive and non-invasive procedures to help doctors diagnose cardiac and vascular problems$55,570Associate or Bachelor's Degree; those who work in healthcare can get a 1-year certificate

    Sources: Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor,  Occupational Outlook Handbook; Employment and Training Administration, U.S. Department of Labor,  O*NET Online (visited February 19, 2018).