What Does a Nuclear Medicine Technologist Do?

Learn About the Salary, Required Skills, & More

Image by Colleen Tighe. © The Balance 2019 

Nuclear medicine technologists are trained to administer radioactive drugs, then perform nuclear imaging using specialized cameras. According to the Cleveland Clinic, an academic medical center, these scans detect abnormalities in how organs function.

A nuclear medicine technologist performs nuclear imaging tests like PET (positron emission tomography) scans and SPECT (single photon emission computed tomography) scans on patients. These tests help doctors diagnose diseases.

The technologist prepares and administers radiopharmaceuticals before beginning a scan—radioactive drugs that patients receive orally, by injection, or through inhalation. These drugs allow doctors to see abnormal areas of the body. Nuclear medicine studies include the brain, thyroid, bone, cardiac, lung, kidney, and liver scans.

Approximately 20,100 people worked in this occupation in 2016.

Nuclear Medicine Technologist Duties & Responsibilities

Responsibilities can depend on the employer, but some common duties include:

  • Perform organ imaging tests, including full skeletal, cardiac blood pool, and major vascular blood pool tests, and cysternograms utilizing gamma cameras, and/or stationary camera devices.
  • Perform complex 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.
  • Attain required approval and signature by nuclear medicine physicians.
  • Transfer, position, and instruct patients in preparation for procedures.

This job is physically demanding, and your patients might be in physical or emotional distress at the time you're working with them.

Nuclear Medicine Technologist Salary

A nuclear medicine technologist's salary can vary depending on her level of experience.

  • Median Annual Salary: $75,660 ($36.37/hour)
  • Top 10% Annual Salary: More than $103,660 ($49.83/hour)
  • Bottom 10% Annual Salary: Less than $54,410 ($26.15/hour)

Education, Training & Certification

This career requires some college education, certification, and licensure in most states.

  • Education: You'll need an associate or bachelor's degree in nuclear medicine technology to work as a nuclear medicine technologist. You can instead complete a 12-month certificate program if you already have a degree in a related field.
  • Certification: 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 in lieu of requiring candidates to take an exam. Some employers will only hire employees who have this type of certification, even in areas where certification isn't technically required.
  • Licensure: Many states require a license to practice in the area of nuclear medicine.

Nuclear Medicine Technologist Skills & Competencies

Your formal training will prepare you to perform your job duties, but you'll also need particular soft skills to succeed as a nuclear medicine technologist. These are abilities you were either born with or developed through life experiences:

  • Critical thinking: You'll have to be able to accurately weigh all your options when you're making decisions as to which will likely have the best results.
  • Interpersonal skills: Your relationship with your patients and colleagues depends on your excellent active listening and speaking skills, but you should also be very socially perceptive. This will help you to be aware of your patients' reactions and allow you to respond to them. You'll also have to be able to coordinate your actions with those of your colleagues.
  • Monitoring: You must be able to notice subtle physical changes that can come about as reactions to the drugs you administer.
  • Physical strength and stamina: You'll have to be able to lift and move patients, and you'll spend hours on your feet.

Job Outlook

The outlook for this occupation is good. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that as the U.S. population ages, employment will grow by about 10% between 2016 and 2026, which is about as fast as the average for all occupations.

Work Environment

Employers of nuclear medicine technologists include hospitals, physicians, and diagnostic laboratories.

There are risks associated with this occupation. As with all healthcare 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 through the use of gloves and other shielding devices. Most nuclear medicine technologists are required to wear radiation-sensitive badges at all times when on duty to monitor their exposure.

This career can require emergency response participation in the event of a radioactive or nuclear disaster.

Work Schedule

Some of these jobs involve working evenings and weekends and being on call in case of emergencies. This is typically a full-time career.

Key Takeaway

How to Get the Job

GET CERTIFIED IN A SUB-SPECIALTY

Areas might include positron emission tomography or computed tomography.

FIND OUT IF YOU NEED A LICENSE

The Society of Nuclear Medicine and Molecular Imaging offers a state licensure chart. You can also check with your state health department for current rules and regulations.

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