Nuclear Medicine Technologists

Summary

nuclear medicine technologists image
Nuclear medicine technologists work with complex computers and other types of technology to examine patients.
Quick Facts: Nuclear Medicine Technologists
2012 Median Pay $70,180 per year
$33.74 per hour
Entry-Level Education Associate’s degree
Work Experience in a Related Occupation None
On-the-job Training None
Number of Jobs, 2012 20,900
Job Outlook, 2012-22 20% (Faster than average)
Employment Change, 2012-22 4,200

What Nuclear Medicine Technologists Do

Nuclear medicine technologists use a scanner to create images of various areas of a patient’s body. They prepare radioactive drugs and administer them to patients undergoing the scans. The radioactive drugs cause abnormal areas of the body to appear different from normal areas in the images.

Work Environment

Most nuclear medicine technologists work in hospitals. Some work in physicians’ offices or imaging clinics. Most nuclear medicine technologists work full time.

How to Become a Nuclear Medicine Technologist

Nuclear medicine technologists typically need an associate’s degree in nuclear medicine technology. 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. Technologists must be licensed in some states; requirements vary by state.

Pay

The median annual wage for nuclear medicine technologists was $70,180 in May 2012.

Job Outlook

Employment of nuclear medicine technologists is projected to grow 20 percent from 2012 to 2022, faster than the average for all occupations. However, because it is a small occupation, the growth will result in only about 4,200 new jobs over the 10-year period.

Similar Occupations

Compare the job duties, education, job growth, and pay of nuclear medicine technologists with similar occupations.

More Information, Including Links to O*NET

Learn more about nuclear medicine technologists by visiting additional resources, including O*NET, a source on key characteristics of workers and occupations.

What Nuclear Medicine Technologists Do About this section

Nuclear medicine technologists
Nuclear medicine technologists work with computers and large pieces of technological equipment and must be comfortable operating them.

Nuclear medicine technologists use a scanner to create images of various areas of a patient’s body. They prepare radioactive drugs and administer them to patients undergoing the scans. The radioactive drugs cause abnormal areas of the body to appear different from normal areas in the images.                             

Duties

Nuclear medicine technologists typically do the following:

  • Explain imaging procedures to the patient and answer questions
  • Follow safety procedures to protect themselves and the patient from unnecessary radiation exposure
  • Examine machines to ensure that they are working properly
  • Prepare radioactive drugs and administer them to the patient
  • Monitor the patient to check for unusual reactions to the drugs
  • Operate equipment that creates images of areas in the body, such as images of organs
  • Keep detailed records of procedures

Radioactive drugs, known as radiopharmaceuticals, give off radiation, allowing special scanners to monitor tissue and organ functions. Abnormal areas show higher-than-expected or lower-than-expected concentrations of radioactivity. Physicians and surgeons then interpret the images to help diagnose the patient’s condition. For example, tumors can be seen in organs during a scan because of their concentration of the radioactive drugs.

After additional experience or training, a technologist can choose to specialize in positron emission tomography (PET) or nuclear cardiology (NCT). PET uses a machine that creates a three-dimensional image of a part of the body, such as the brain. NCT uses radioactive drugs to obtain images of the heart. Patients exercise during the imaging process while the technologist creates images of the heart and blood flow.

Work Environment About this section

Nuclear medicine technologists
Nuclear medicine technologists administer radioactive drugs to patients by mouth, injection, inhalation, and other means.

Nuclear medicine technologists held about 20,900 jobs in 2012. Technologists are on their feet for long periods and may need to lift or turn patients who are disabled.

The industries that employed the most nuclear medicine technologists in 2012 were as follows:

General medical and surgical hospitals; state, local, and private65%
Offices of physicians21
Medical and diagnostic laboratories6
Outpatient care centers2

Work Schedules

Most nuclear medicine technologists work full time. Because imaging is sometimes needed in emergencies, some nuclear medicine technologists work evenings, weekends, or on call.

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.

How to Become a Nuclear Medicine Technologist About this section

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

Nuclear medicine technologists typically need an associate’s or a bachelor’s degree in nuclear medicine technology. Technologists must be licensed in some states; requirements vary by state.

Education

Nuclear medicine technologists typically need an associate’s degree in nuclear medicine technology. Bachelor’s degrees are also common. Some technologists become qualified by completing an associate’s or a bachelor's degree program in a related health field, such as radiologic technology or nursing, and then completing a 12-month certificate program in nuclear medicine technology. Generally, certificate programs are offered in hospitals, associate's degree programs are in community colleges, and bachelor's degrees are granted by colleges and universities.

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

Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations

Nuclear medicine technologists must be licensed in some states; requirements vary by state. For specifics, contact your state’s health board.

Some nuclear medicine technologists become certified. Although certification is not required for a license, it fulfills most of the requirements for state licensure on its own.

Some employers require certification, regardless of state regulations. Certification usually involves completing required coursework and having the necessary hours of clinical experience, as well as 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 can earn specialty certifications that show their proficiency in specific procedures or on certain equipment. A technologist can earn certification in positron emission tomography (PET) or nuclear cardiology (NCT).

Both fields require the technologist to have a high level of knowledge about the specific procedures and technologies involved. The NMTCB offers NCT and PET certification exams.

Important Qualities

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

Analytical skills. Nuclear medicine technologists must understand anatomy, physiology, and other sciences and be able to calculate accurate dosages.

Compassion. Nuclear medicine technologists must be able to reassure and calm patients who are under physical and emotional stress.

Detail oriented. Nuclear medicine technologists must follow exact instructions to make sure that the correct dosage is given and that the patient is not overexposed to radiation.

Interpersonal skills. Nuclear medicine technologists interact with patients and often work as part of a team. They must be able to follow instructions from a 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 2012

Nuclear medicine technologists

$70,180

Health technologists and technicians

$40,380

Total, all occupations

$34,750

 

The median annual wage for nuclear medicine technologists was $70,180 in May 2012. 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 $50,560, and the top 10 percent earned more than $93,320.

Most nuclear medicine technologists work full time. Because imaging is sometimes needed in emergencies, some nuclear medicine technologists work evenings, weekends, or on call.

Job Outlook About this section

Nuclear Medicine Technologists

Percent change in employment, projected 2012-22

Health technologists and technicians

24%

Nuclear medicine technologists

20%

Total, all occupations

11%

 

Employment of nuclear medicine technologists is projected to grow 20 percent from 2012 to 2022, faster than the average for all occupations. However, because it is a small occupation, the growth will result in only about 4,200 new jobs over the 10-year period.

Nuclear medicine technologists work mostly with adult patients, although procedures may be performed on children. A larger aging population should lead to the need to diagnose and treat medical conditions that require imaging, such as heart disease. Nuclear medicine technologists will be needed to administer radioactive drugs and maintain the imaging equipment required for diagnosis.

Federal health legislation will increase the number of patients who have access to health insurance, increasing patient access to medical care. This will increase the demand for medical imaging services, including those provided by nuclear medicine technologists.                       

Job Prospects

Nuclear medicine technologists can improve their job prospects by earning a specialty certification, such as in positron emission tomography (PET) or nuclear cardiology (NCT). The Nuclear Medicine Technology Certification Board (NMTCB) offers NCT and PET certification exams.

Employment projections data for nuclear medicine technologists, 2012-22
Occupational Title SOC Code Employment, 2012 Projected Employment, 2022 Change, 2012-22 Employment by Industry
Percent Numeric

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

Nuclear medicine technologists

29-2033 20,900 25,100 20 4,200 [XLS]

Similar Occupations About this section

This table shows a list of occupations with job duties that are similar to those of nuclear medicine technologists.

Occupation Job Duties ENTRY-LEVEL EDUCATION Help 2012 MEDIAN PAY Help
Diagnostic medical sonographers

Diagnostic Medical Sonographers and Cardiovascular Technologists and Technicians, Including Vascular Technologists

Diagnostic medical sonographers and cardiovascular technologists and technicians, including vascular technologists, operate special imaging equipment to create images or conduct tests. The images and test results help physicians assess and diagnose medical conditions. Some technologists assist physicians and surgeons during surgical procedures.

Associate’s degree $60,350
Radiologic technologists

Radiologic and MRI Technologists

Radiologic technologists perform diagnostic imaging examinations, such as x rays, on patients. MRI technologists operate magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scanners to create diagnostic images.

Associate’s degree $55,910
Medical and clinical laboratory technologists and technicians

Medical and Clinical Laboratory Technologists and Technicians

Medical laboratory technologists (commonly known as medical laboratory scientists) and medical laboratory technicians collect samples and perform tests to analyze body fluids, tissue, and other substances.

See How to Become One $47,820
Radiation therapists

Radiation Therapists

Radiation therapists treat cancer and other diseases in patients by administering radiation treatments.

Associate’s degree $77,560

Contacts for More Information About this section

For more information about nuclear medicine technologists, visit

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

O*NET

Nuclear Medicine Technologists

Suggested citation:

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-15 Edition, Nuclear Medicine Technologists,
on the Internet at http://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/nuclear-medicine-technologists.htm (visited October 22, 2014).

Publish Date: Wednesday, January 8, 2014