Nuclear Medicine Technologist

Career Information

Pet Scanner
A nuclear medicine technologist can specialize in positron emission tomography (PET). Snowleopard1 / E+ / Getty Images

A nuclear medicine technologist uses nuclear imaging tests like positron emission tomography (PET) scans and single photon emission computed tomography (SPECT) scans, to help doctors diagnose diseases. Before performing these tests, they prepare and administer radiopharmaceuticals. These radioactive drugs, given orally, by injection or inhaled, allow them to see abnormal areas of the body. They conduct nuclear medicine studies including brain, thyroid, bone, cardiac, lung, kidney and liver scans.

Quick Facts

  • In 2014, nuclear medicine technologists earned a median annual salary of $72,100 and median hourly wages of $34.66.
  • There were about 21,000 people employed in this occupation in 2014.
  • Employers include hospitals, physicians and diagnostic laboratories.
  • The outlook for this occupation is poor. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts it will grow more slowly than the average for all occupations through 2024.

How Can You Become a Nuclear Medicine Technologist?

If you want to work in this occupation, you can earn an associate or bachelor's degree in nuclear medicine technology. Alternatively, you can complete a 12-month certificate program in nuclear medicine technology if you already have degree in a related field.

Depending on where you work, you may need a state-issued license to practice. Many states require one. See this state licensure chart from the Society of Nuclear Medicine and Molecular Imaging to find out if your state is one of them.

You should also check with your state health department for current rules and regulations. 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 instead of requiring candidates to take an exam.

Even in states where certification isn't required, some employers will only hire employees who have it.

What Soft Skills Do You Need to Succeed in This Career?

  • Critical Thinking: You will need to know how to weigh all your options when making decisions to decide which will have the best results.
  • Interpersonal Skills: Your relationship with your patients and colleagues depends on this skill set. Not only must you have strong active listening and speaking skills, but also social perceptiveness. It will allow you to be aware of your patients' reactions. In addition, you will have to be able to coordinate your actions with your colleagues'.
  • Monitoring: You must be able to notice subtle physical changes that may come about as reactions to the drugs you administer.
  • Physical Strength and Stamina: You will have to be able to lift and move patients as well as spend hours on your feet.

The Truth About Being a Nuclear Medicine Technologist

  • Certain risks are inherent in this occupation. Like all health care 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.
  • This job is physically demanding. 
  • Some jobs involve working evenings and weekends, and being on call in case of emergencies.
  • Your patients may be in physical or emotional distress.

The Difference Between a Nuclear Medicine Technologist and a Radiologic Technologist

Both nuclear medicine and radiologic technologists help doctors diagnose diseases. Nuclear medicine technologists are trained to administer radioactive drugs and then perform nuclear imaging using specialized cameras. According to the Cleveland Clinic, an academic medical center, these scans detect abnormalities in how organs function. Radiologic technologists use other imagining technologies, for example, x-rays, CT scans and MRIs, that assess how organs look (Cleveland Clinic. Nuclear Imaging).

What Will Employers Expect From You?

Here are some requirements from actual job announcements found on Indeed.com:

  • "Able to prioritize work assignments and adjust tasks as needed"
  • "Ability to maintain confidential patient information"
  • "Demonstrates flexibility to meet Department needs as they vary"
  • "Establish and maintain effective relationships with customers and patients and gain their trust and respect"
  • "Ability to work with minimum supervision within the guidelines set up by the department"
  • "Able to communicate effectively in a caring and courteous manner"

Is This Occupation a Good Fit for You?

Related Occupations

 DescriptionMedian Annual Wage (2014)Minimum Required Education/Training
Ultrasound TechnicianOperates equipment that uses sound waves to help doctors diagnose diseases$67,530Associate or Bachelor's Degree, or 1-year certificate for those already working in healthcare; most employers require professional certification
Radiologic TechnologistHelps doctors diagnose diseases by using x-rays, MRIs and CT scans$55,870Associate or Bachelor's Degree, or certificate; some states require a license
Cytogenetic TechnologistAnalyzes chromosomes in blood, bone marrow and amniotic fluid to diagnose and treat genetic disorders$59,430Bachelor's Degree
Cardiovascular TechnologistUses invasive and non-invasive procedures to help doctors diagnose cardiac and vascular problems$54,330Associate or Bachelor's Degree; those who work in healthcare can get a 1-year certificate

Sources:
Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-15 (visited November 12, 2015).
Employment and Training Administration, U.S. Department of Labor, O*NET Online (visited November 12, 2015).

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