In nuclear medicine, radionuclides—unstable atoms that emit radiation spontaneously—are used to diagnose and treat disease. Radionuclides are purified and compounded like other drugs to form radiopharmaceuticals.
The nuclear medicine technologist is a highly specialized health care professional who prepares and administers these radiopharmaceuticals as well as other medications to patients. Using specialized equipment, the nuclear medicine technologist monitors the characteristics and functions of tissues or organs in which the radiopharmaceuticals localize. Abnormal areas show higher or lower concentrations of radioactivity than normal. Nuclear medicine technologists may also operate computed tomography (CT) and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scanners that are used in conjunction with nuclear medicine procedures.
The technologist’s responsibilities include:
- Administering radiopharmaceuticals and medications for patient imaging and therapeutic procedures
- Processing data and enhancing digital images using advanced computer technology
- Providing images, data analysis and patient information for diagnostic interpretation or therapeutic procedures
- Evaluating images to determine the technical quality and calibration of instrumentation
- Evaluating new protocols
Nuclear medicine technologists generally work a 40-hour week. This may include evening or weekend hours in departments that operate on an extended schedule. Opportunities for part-time and shift work are also available. In addition, hospital technologists may need to be on call periodically.
Nuclear medicine technology programs range in length from one to four years and lead to a certificate, associate degree or bachelor’s degree. Generally, certificate programs are offered in hospitals, associate programs in community colleges and bachelor’s programs in four-year colleges and universities.
The Society of Nuclear Medicine and Molecular Imaging has recommended that, starting in 2015, all programs should be at the baccalaureate level. Starting in 2015, the American Registry of Radiologic Technologists will only recognize programs at an associate level or higher. In 2016, the Nuclear Medicine Technology Certification Board will recognize only those programs that are programmatically accredited.
The Joint Review Committee on Educational Programs in Nuclear Medicine Technology (JRCNMT) offers a listing of accredited programs.
Learn More About a Career as a Nuclear Medicine Technologist
- Watch a video profile of nuclear medicine technologists (in the Health Science category).
- American Registry of Radiologic Technologists
- American Society of Radiologic Technologists
- Nuclear Medicine Technology Certification Board
- Society of Nuclear Medicine and Molecular Imaging