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What Nuclear Medicine Technologists Do About this section

Nuclear medicine technologists
Most nuclear medicine technologists work in hospitals.

Nuclear medicine technologists prepare radioactive drugs and administer them to patients for imaging or treatment. They provide technical support to physicians or others who diagnose, care for, and treat patients and to researchers who investigate uses of radioactive drugs. They also may act as emergency responders in the event of a nuclear disaster.

Duties

Nuclear medicine technologists typically do the following:

  • Explain medical procedures to the patient and answer questions
  • Follow safety procedures to protect themselves and the patient from unnecessary radiation exposure
  • Prepare radioactive drugs and administer them to the patient
  • Maintain and operate imaging equipment
  • Keep detailed records of procedures
  • Follow procedures for radiation disposal

Nuclear medicine technologists work with radioactive drugs, known as radiopharmaceuticals, to help physicians and surgeons diagnose a patient’s condition. For example, they may inject radiopharmaceuticals into the bloodstream of a patient with foot pain and then use special scanning equipment that captures images of the bones; a radiologist interprets the scan results, based on the concentration of radioactivity appearing in the image, to identify the source of the patient’s pain.

Nuclear medicine technologists also deliver radiopharmaceuticals in prescribed doses to specific areas, such as tumors, to treat medical conditions. Internal radiation treatment may be used in conjunction with, or as an alternative to, surgery.

In the event of a radioactive incident or nuclear disaster, some nuclear medicine technologists may be involved in emergency response efforts. These workers’ experience with radiation detection and monitoring equipment may be useful during a response to events that involve radiological materials.

The following are types of nuclear medicine technologists:

Nuclear cardiology technologists use radioactive drugs to obtain images of the heart. Patients may exercise during the imaging process while the technologist creates images of the heart and blood flow.

Nuclear medicine computed tomography (CT) technologists use radioactive isotopes in combination with x-ray imaging to create two-dimensional or three-dimensional pictures of the inside of the body.

Positron emission tomography (PET) technologists use a machine that creates a three-dimensional image of a part of the body, such as the brain. They also use radiopharmaceuticals to measure body functions, such as metabolism.

Some nuclear medicine technologists support researchers in developing nuclear medicine applications for imagery or treatment.

Work Environment About this section

Nuclear medicine technologists
Some radiopharmaceuticals are given intravenously to treat cancers, blood diseases, or other illnesses.

Nuclear medicine technologists held about 18,900 jobs in 2021. The largest employers of nuclear medicine technologists were as follows:

Hospitals; state, local, and private 68%
Offices of physicians 13
Medical and diagnostic laboratories 6
Outpatient care centers 3

Technologists are on their feet for long periods and may need to lift or turn patients who are ill or injured.

Injuries and Illnesses

Although radiation hazards exist in this occupation, they are minimized by the use of gloves and other shielding devices. Nuclear medicine technologists wear badges that measure radiation levels in the radiation area. Instruments monitor their radiation exposure and detailed records are kept on how much radiation they get over their lifetime. When preparing radioactive drugs, technologists use safety procedures to minimize radiation exposure to patients, other healthcare workers, and themselves.

Like other healthcare workers, nuclear medicine technologists may be exposed to infectious diseases.

Work Schedules

Most nuclear medicine technologists work full time. Some nuclear medicine technologists work irregular hours, such as evenings or weekends. They also may be on call, especially if they work in hospitals.

How to Become a Nuclear Medicine Technologist About this section

Nuclear medicine technologists
Nuclear medicine technologists can earn specialty certifications that show their proficiency in specific procedures or equipment.

Nuclear medicine technologists typically need an associate’s degree from an accredited nuclear medicine technology program. Formal education programs in nuclear medicine technology or a related healthcare field lead to a certificate, an associate’s degree, or a bachelor’s degree. Most nuclear medicine technologists become certified, and some must be licensed.

Education

High school students interested in nuclear medicine technology should take courses in math and sciences, including biology, chemistry, anatomy, and physics.

Nuclear medicine technologists typically need an associate’s degree in nuclear medicine technology to enter the occupation. Bachelor’s degrees also are common. Some technologists complete an associate’s or a bachelor’s degree program in a related health field, such as radiologic technology or nursing, followed by a 12-month certificate program in nuclear medicine technology.

Nuclear medicine technology programs often include courses in human anatomy and physiology, physics, chemistry, radioactive drugs, and computer science. In addition, these programs include clinical experience—practice under the supervision of a certified nuclear medicine technologist and a physician or surgeon who specializes in nuclear medicine.

Graduating from a nuclear medicine program accredited by the Joint Review Committee on Educational Programs in Nuclear Medicine Technology may be required for licensure or by an employer.

Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations

Most nuclear medicine technologists become certified. Although certification is not required for a license, it fulfills most of the requirements for state licensure. Licensing requirements vary by state. For specific requirements, contact the state’s health board.

Some employers require certification, regardless of state regulations. Certification usually involves graduating from an accredited nuclear medicine technology program. Certification is available from the American Registry of Radiologic Technologists (ARRT) and the Nuclear Medicine Technology Certification Board (NMTCB).

In addition to receiving general certification, technologists may earn specialty certifications that show their proficiency in procedures or equipment. A technologist must pass an exam offered by the NMTCB to earn certification in positron emission tomography (PET), nuclear cardiology (NCT), or computed tomography (CT).

Technologists also may be required to have one or more other certifications, such as in basic life support (BLS), advanced cardiovascular life support (ACLS), or cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR).

Important Qualities

Ability to use technology. Nuclear medicine technologists work with computers and large pieces of electronic equipment and must be comfortable operating them.

Analytical skills. Nuclear medicine technologists must understand anatomy, physiology, and other sciences to assess whether dosage is accurate.

Compassion. Nuclear medicine technologists must be able to reassure patients who are stressed or upset.

Detail oriented. Nuclear medicine technologists must follow instructions precisely to ensure correct dosage and prevent overexposure to radiation.

Interpersonal skills. Nuclear medicine technologists interact with patients and often work as part of a team. They must be able to communicate effectively with their supervising physician.

Physical stamina. Nuclear medicine technologists must stand for long periods and be able to lift and move patients who need help.

Pay About this section

Nuclear Medicine Technologists

Median annual wages, May 2021

Nuclear medicine technologists

$78,760

Health technologists and technicians

$46,910

Total, all occupations

$45,760

 

The median annual wage for nuclear medicine technologists was $78,760 in May 2021. The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $60,550, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $105,530.

In May 2021, the median annual wages for nuclear medicine technologists in the top industries in which they worked were as follows:

Outpatient care centers $125,920
Medical and diagnostic laboratories 79,970
Hospitals; state, local, and private 78,670
Offices of physicians 78,140

Most nuclear medicine technologists work full time. Some nuclear medicine technologists work irregular hours, such as evenings or weekends. They also may be on call, especially if they work in hospitals.

Job Outlook About this section

Nuclear Medicine Technologists

Percent change in employment, projected 2021-31

Health technologists and technicians

7%

Total, all occupations

5%

Nuclear medicine technologists

2%

 

Employment of nuclear medicine technologists is projected to grow 2 percent from 2021 to 2031, slower than the average for all occupations.

Despite limited employment growth, about 1,000 openings for nuclear medicine technologists are projected each year, on average, over the decade. Most of those openings are expected to result from the need to replace workers who transfer to different occupations or exit the labor force, such as to retire.

Employment

Among other medical uses, nuclear imaging is common in the detection, staging, and treatment evaluation of different types of cancers. An increased need is expected for the nuclear medicine technologists who administer these tests due to the growing number of people entering older age groups, in which cancer is more prevalent.  

These technologists also will be needed as nuclear medicine improves and its application expands to include therapeutics, such as with the development of radiopharmaceuticals. However, an expected decline in the number of self-employed nuclear medicine technologists may dampen overall employment growth.

Employment projections data for nuclear medicine technologists, 2021-31
Occupational Title SOC Code Employment, 2021 Projected Employment, 2031 Change, 2021-31 Employment by Industry
Percent Numeric

SOURCE: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Employment Projections program

Nuclear medicine technologists

29-2033 18,900 19,200 2 300 Get data

Contacts for More Information About this section

For more information about nuclear and radiologic medicine, visit

American Board of Nuclear Medicine

American Board of Radiology

American College of Nuclear Medicine

Society of Nuclear Medicine and Molecular Imaging

For a list of accredited programs in nuclear medicine technology, visit

Joint Review Committee on Educational Programs in Nuclear Medicine Technology

For more information about certification for nuclear medicine technologists, visit

Nuclear Medicine Technology Certification Board

American Registry of Radiologic Technologists

CareerOneStop

For a career video on nuclear medicine technologists, visit

Nuclear Medicine Technologists

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Nuclear Medicine Technologists

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