Nuclear Medicine Technologists Overview

Nuclear medicine technologists should expect strong competition for most positions, though those who have training in multiple diagnostic methods should have the best prospects. Nuclear medicine technologists may earn a certificate, associates or bachelors degree after attending a 1 to 4 year program. Hospitals employed close to 66 percent of nuclear medicine technologists.

Nature of the Work for Nuclear Medicine Technologists

Nuclear Medicine Technologists

Nuclear medicine technologists administer radiopharmaceuticals, which are purified and compounded radionuclides, to patients and then monitor the characteristics and functions of organs or tissues where the drugs have taken effect. They detect abnormal areas inspecting those that have higher or lower than expected concentrations of radioactivity. Unlike in diagnostic imaging technologies, that based their diagnosis off of changes in the organ structure, nuclear medicine technologists determine the presence of disease through metabolic changes.

The nuclear medicine technologist maps the radioactive drug traveling through the patient's body by using a camera that creates diagnostic images. Technologists prepare a dosage of radiopharmaceuticals to administer to patients by mouth, inhalation, injection or by other means, only after explaining to them the various test procedures. 

During radiopharmaceutical preparation, nuclear medicine technologists follow safety standards that reduce the change of exposure for workers and patients. They also keep detailed patient records and keep track of the type and amount of radionuclides the use. Nuclear medicine technologists may either specialize in positron emission tomography (PET) or nuclear cardiology. Nuclear cardiologists use radiopharmaceuticals and cameras to image the patient's body while they perform an exercise, in a process called myocardial perfusion imaging. PET technologists use a special camera that produces 3-D images of the body.

Nuclear medicine technologists must have physical stamina as they may have to lift or turn disabled patients. Manual dexterity and mechanical ability are required to use complicated imaging equipment.

The potential for radiation exposure is reduced by following safety procedures and the use of gloves, syringes and other protective devices. Patients and workers are exposed to a level of radiation comparable to that received during a diagnostic x ray procedure. They are required to wear badges that measure radiation levels and badges rarely measure beyond determined safety levels.

Some nuclear medicine technologists are employed in departments that operate on an extended schedule and work on-call hours and during the evening and weekends, however most work a standard 40-hour workweek. Some may choose to work part-time or shift work. Extensive travel may be required for those who are employed by mobile imaging services.

Training, Other Qualifications and Advancement for Nuclear Medicine Technologists

Nuclear medicine technologists may receive a certificate, associates, or bachelors degree. Certificates are usually provided by hospitals, community colleges offer associates degrees and bachelors degrees can be obtained at 4-year colleges and universities. A common course load includes the biological effects of radiation exposure, the use of radiopharmaceuticals, computer applications, radiation protection, physical sciences and imaging techniques.

Health professionals who already have an associates or bachelors degree but desire to specialize in nuclear medicine, may pursue a one-year certificate program. Registered nurses, medical technologists and others who wish to change fields may also choose to enter these programs.

Associates and bachelors degree training programs in nuclear medicine technology are accredited by the Joint Review Committee on Education Programs in Nuclear Medicine Technology.

Only 25 States require licensure, so aspiring applicants must check the requirements of their State. In order for the healthcare facility to receive reimbursement for imaging procedures, many third-party payers require nuclear medicine technologists to be certified.

Although certification is voluntary, it has increasingly become the accepted standard for employers who hire nuclear medicine technologists. They may obtain certification from the Nuclear Medicine Technology Certification Board (NMTCB) or from the American Registry of Radiologic Technologists (ARRT). In some cases, a technologist becomes certified from both establishments. Both certifications require that applicants pass an exam in order to become certified, though other eligibility requirements differ.

To retain certification, nuclear medicine technologists are required to continue their education. This requirement is due to the frequent technological and innovative changes in the field of nuclear medicine.

In order to effectively communicate with patients, nuclear medicine technologists must have strong verbal communication skills. They must also exhibit compassion when dealing with patients’ psychological and physical needs. When performing procedures, nuclear medicine technologists must be very meticulous and detail-oriented.

Advancement in this position occurs after a significant amount of work experience. Some are promoted to supervisory positions or as chief technologist. Some nuclear medicine technologists who have received an advanced education become department directors or administrators. Others specialize in PET scanning and nuclear cardiology. A bachelors or masters degree is required for teachers or directors of a nuclear medicine technology program. Others become training or sales representatives for radiopharmaceutical manufacturing medical equipment companies.

Top 10 Most Popular Nuclear Medical Technology/Technologist Schools

1. Southeast Technical Institute (Sioux Falls, South Dakota)
2. Keiser University, Fort Lauderdale (Fort Lauderdale, FL)
3. University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (Little Rock, Arkansas)
4. Ferris State University (Big Rapids, Michigan)
5. Charles R Drew University of Medicine and Science (Los Angeles, California)
6. Community College of Allegheny County (Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania)
7. Miami Dade College (Miami, Florida)
8. Augusta University (Augusta, Georgia)
9. Pennsylvania College of Health Sciences (Lancaster, Pennsylvania)
10. Hillsborough Community College (Tampa, Florida)

See All Nuclear Medical Technology/Technologist Schools

Employment and Job Outlook for Nuclear Medicine Technologists

Number of People in Profession

21,670

Changing Employment (2008-2018)

Employment is projected to grow faster than average (increase 14 - 19%).

Nuclear medicine technologists hold about 21,800 jobs and close to 66 percent were employed in public and private hospitals. Most others worked in medical and diagnostic laboratories or in offices of physicians.

Nuclear medicine technologists should expect an employment increase of 16 percent in the next decade, which is faster than average for all occupations. A demand for nuclear medicine technologists will arise from the growth in technological devices, increased number of middle-aged and elderly people and the creation of new nuclear medicine treatments.

As technology advances, there may be an increase of diagnostic uses of nuclear medicine. PET, single photon emission computed tomography (SPECT) and other new nuclear medical imaging technologies are expected to be used more often, although the speed at which theses new nuclear medicines grow will be affected by cost. These new technologies are aimed at replacing older technologies, not supplementing them, so only a small amount of employment opportunities will come from adopting new technologies.

Occupation growth is expected to be relatively low and there are fewer job openings than there are trained nuclear medicine technologists. The best prospects should be seen for those who have specialized training in multiple diagnostic methods

Earnings and Salary for Nuclear Medicine Technologists

Nuclear medicine technologists have a median annual wage of $67,910. The highest 10 percent earn more than $90,650, while the lowest 10 percent earn less than $48,710. The middle 50 percent of nuclear medicine technologists earn between $57,640 and $79,630. The median annual wage for the top employing industry for nuclear medicine technologists, general medical and surgical hospitals, is $66.320.

Annual Salary for Nuclear Medicine Technologists

On average, Nuclear Medicine Technologists earn $67,910 per year.

10% 25% 75% 90% $48,710/yr $57,640/yr $79,630/yr $90,650/yr

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook