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Considering Work as a Nuclear Medicine Technologist?

Nature of Work

Health care is a modern necessity. Nursing and health care technician jobs are often unglamorous, but have the potential to be vastly rewarding in personal, financial, and intellectual ways, providing interesting challenges and opportunities for enthusiastic people. There are numerous degrees available for different types of work in the medical field. One job that may be of interest to those seeking to enter a field of healthcare is nuclear medicine technologist.

Most (66 percent) of nuclear medicine technologists working in hospitals, and training programs range in length from 1 to 4 years. Experts expect that this will be a highly competitive field in the future, so technologists with training in multiple diagnostic methods or in nuclear cardiology will have the greatest luck in securing a job.

Nuclear medicine technologists work in the field of diagnostic imaging. Radionuclides (unstable atoms that emit radiation spontaneously) are used to diagnose diseases so a course of treatment can be plotted. The most common procedure is the x ray. Nuclear medicine technologists administer radiopharmaceuticals to patients and then monitor the characteristics and functions of tissues or organs in which the drugs localize. They then read the results and report back to physicians.

Nuclear medicine technologists explain test procedures to patients; prepare a dosage of the radiopharmaceutical and administer it by mouth, injection, inhalation, or other means; and operate the gamma scintillation cameras that detect and map the radioactive drugs in a patient's body. Because this work involves radiopharmaceuticals, technologists must strictly adhere to safety standards to avoid radiation exposure and contamination.

Nuclear medicine technologists can opt to specialize in two different fields: nuclear cardiology and positron emission tomography (PET). Nuclear cardiology usually involves myocardial perfusion imaging. Myocardial perfusion imaging requires that patients perform exercise so the technologist can image the heart and blood flow. Technologists specializing in PET operate a special medical imaging device that produces a 3-D image of the body.

Work Environment

Nuclear medicine technologists are called upon to be on their feet for much of the work day and may have to lift or turn disabled patients. This job can take a toll and requires both manual dexterity and mechanical ability.

While opportunities for part-time and shift work are sometimes available, most nuclear medicine technologists work a standard 40-hour week and some may have on-call hours during evenings or weekends. There are employment opportunities with mobile imaging services which will require technicians to travel to several locations each day.

Training and Other Qualifications

It varies state to state whether certification or licensure is required, but formal education is a necessity. Nuclear medicine technologists programs range in length from 1 to 4 years. Certificate programs are generally offered in hospitals. Community colleges offer 2-year associate degree programs. A bachelor’s degree can be earned through a 4-year college or university program. Courses cover topics such as physical sciences, biological effects of radiation exposure, radiation protection and procedures, the use of radiopharmaceuticals, imaging techniques, and computer applications.

One-year certificate programs are typically for health professionals who already possess an associate or bachelor’s degree (especially with related jobs such as radiologic technologists, diagnostic medical sonographers, medical technologists, or registered nurses) but who wish to specialize in nuclear medicine.

In 2008, 25 States licensed nuclear medicine technologists. Also, many third-party payers require nuclear medicine technologists to be certified in order for the healthcare facility to receive reimbursement for imaging procedures. Certification is available from the American Registry of Radiologic Technologists (ARRT) and from the Nuclear Medicine Technology Certification Board (NMTCB), which have different eligibility requirements but both require an exam.

If you are considering a career as a nuclear medicine technologist, you should have good communication skills in order to interact with patients who are often anxious. Independent working skills are also a bonus as nuclear medicine technologists often have little direct supervision. Technologists should also be able to perform meticulously and follow safety guidelines.


Nuclear medicine technologists often branch out to pursue careers as instructors in or directors of nuclear medicine technology programs; sales or training representatives for medical equipment or radiopharmaceutical manufacturing firms; or radiation safety officers in regulatory agencies or hospitals.

Job Outlook

In 2008, nuclear medicine technologists held about 21,800 jobs in the U.S. About 66 percent of all nuclear medicine technologist jobs were in hospitals and most of the rest were employed in offices of physicians or in medical and diagnostic laboratories, including diagnostic imaging centers.

Employment of nuclear medicine technologists is expected to increase 16 percent from 2008 to 2018, competition for positions will probably be fierce because the number of properly trained nuclear medicine technologists is likely to exceed the number of relevant job openings. Technologists should pursue training in multiple diagnostic methods (including radiologic technology and diagnostic medical sonography or nuclear cardiology) in order to be more employable.


The median annual wage of nuclear medicine technologists was $66,660 in May 2008 with the lowest 10 percent earning less than $48,450, and the highest 10 percent earning over $87,770.

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