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What is a Nuclear Medicine Technologist?

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  • Written By: M. DePietro
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 22 October 2017
  • Copyright Protected:
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    Conjecture Corporation
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Nuclear medicine technologists perform diagnostic imaging using specialized pharmaceuticals and equipment. Before a nuclear medicine scan, technologists administer radioactive drugs, known as radiopharmaceuticals, to patients either intravenously a vein or orally. The radioactive material concentrates in an organ and gives off gamma rays. Images of the organ can than be viewed by using special equipment, such as a gamma camera or scanner.

In addition to preparing the patient for the test, a nuclear medicine technologist will prepare equipment and position the patient under the gamma camera. The technologist will also adjust and operate the equipment and detect the radioactive drug to create the image. Various types of scans can be completed, such as bone, thyroid and kidney scans. Images used from nuclear medicine scans can help physicians diagnose various medical conditions.

Because of the complexity of working as a nuclear medicine technologist, formal training is required. There are several universities, colleges and hospitals located throughout the United States which have a nuclear medicine technology program. Schools offering a program can be located through the Joint Review Committee on Education Programs in Nuclear Medicine Technology.

The time it takes to become a nuclear medicine technologist varies by program. One-year certificate programs are available for those who have a background in healthcare, such as nursing or x-ray technology. Other options include a two-year associate degree program and a four-year program leading to a bachelors degree.

Students who are enrolled in a nuclear medicine technologist program will complete classes in diagnostic imaging, pharmacology, physics, chemistry and anatomy. Radiation safety and classes on proper use of equipment will also be taught. Students will complete a clinical internship performing various types of nuclear medicine scans on a variety of patients.

After graduating from a nuclear medicine program, students may need to pass a test to obtain a licenses in the state they plan to work in. Although not all states in the US require a license or certification to work as a nuclear medicine technologist, about half of the states do. Certification is available through the Nuclear Medicine Technology Certification Board upon passing their exam.

Most individuals who work as a nuclear medicine technologist are employed by hospitals and medical centers. However, imaging centers also employ technologists. Salary varies by facility, level of experience and geographic location. Although working conditions also may vary by place of employment, many technologists may need to work overnight shifts and may need to be on call.

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