Following a year with unprecedented clinical demand due to the coronavirus pandemic, a number of career roles in health care are experiencing immense growth and present a strong career outlook moving forward. Health care career professionals in these positions play an important role in the care of patients across the country, who rely on them…
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How to Become a Nuclear Medicine Tech
Alternate Career Titles:
Nuclear Medicine Tech
Nuclear Medicine Technologist Job Description:Nuclear Medicine Technologists prepare and administer radioactive medication to patients.
Nuclear Medicine Technologist Salary (Annual): $77,950
Nuclear Medicine Technologist Salary Range: $56,560 to $105,690
How Long To Become a Nuclear Medicine Technologist: 2 years
Nuclear Medicine Technologist Requirements: Associate’s Degree in Nuclear Medicine Technology
Become a Nuclear Medicine Technologist
A Nuclear Medicine Technologist is responsible for preparing and administering radioactive tracers, or for therapy purposes, radiotherapeutics. Often, this is done to either allow for imaging to occur or in providing treatments or therapies. Before administering radioactive substances, Nuclear Medicine Technologists explain to patients each procedure that will occur, answering any questions they may have.
Then, these professionals must follow all safety protocols while preparing the radioactive substances. After administering the substance and operating the imaging equipment, Nuclear Medicine specialists are expected to monitor all patients and identify any adverse reactions. Following the appointment, these professionals must also keep a detailed record of a patient’s history and safely dispose of the radiation.
“I would describe my career as a Nuclear Medicine Technologist as very rewarding,” Jason Cohen, a Nuclear Medicine Technologist practicing in Las Vegas, NV, said. “There are always challenges, and the profession is ever-changing. For example, new procedures become available, and others fade away, which is a good thing.”
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Education & Training
To become a Nuclear Medicine Technologist, a learner must obtain an associate’s degree from an accredited nuclear medicine technology program. These programs include courses on radioactive tracers, physics, chemistry, computer science, anatomy, clinical experience and more. However, learners can become qualified by completing alternative programs, such as a degree in nursing or radiologic technology, and then completing a 12-months certificate specifically in nuclear medicine technology. Furthermore, most Nuclear Medicine Technologists choose to become certified through the American Registry of Radiologic Technologists, and many employers require this certification.
“To become a Nuclear Medicine Technologist, one must first complete an accredited educational program,” Cohen explained. “I went to the University of New Mexico School of Medicine.”
He further explained that the challenges in the educational program will be different for every student. However, Cohen noted that if students attend class and rotations every day, learn from the instructor’s criticism, and keep up with the work, they increase their chances of passing the board exam at the end of the program.
“One month after graduating from the University of New Mexico School of Medicine in 1997, I sat for the Nuclear Medicine Technologist Certification Board,” Cohen said. “Nowadays, the board exam is computer-based, not fill in the bubble with a pencil’ type. I was informed immediately after completing the test that I passed.”
One way to advance in a career as a Nuclear Medicine Technologist is to achieve continued education by pursuing another modality such as Magnetic resonance (MR) imaging and computed tomography (CT) . A bachelor’s degree in Radiation Therapy would also be a good stepping stone up the pay scale. In addition, professionals can earn specialty certifications to help them advance. For example, Nuclear Medicine Technologists can earn certifications in nuclear cardiology (NCT) and positron emission tomography (PET).
“There are many ways to advance one’s career in nuclear medicine,” Cohen said. “One thing is for sure, advancement will not happen right out of the starting gate. One will have to build experience.”
Cohen shared that more training in another modality leads to advancement. He explained that multi-modality technologists are more marketable, and that CT and MRI training can be extremely helpful in this career in healthcare.
Experience & Skills
A Nuclear Medicine Technologist should have a strong understanding of how to operate different pieces of technology, equipment and computer systems. They should also be able to use science and technology to determine accurate doses for treatments, and have the physical stamina to stand for long periods of time and lift and transition patients as needed. Additionally, being well-organized and having a supportive bedside manner are extremely important in this role. Learn about other careers in imaging and diagnostics.
“To be a successful Nuclear Medicine Technologist, being ‘book-smart’ is not enough,” Cohen explained. “There are skills that one cannot learn in a classroom, but will learn with experience. For example, your intravenous (IV) skills will certainly get better with practice.”
“I think the best personalities for success in this career are the ones that don’t get easily frustrated, can easily adapt, and can get along with everyone. Cohen said. Most importantly, they should understand that some personalities do clash, but remaining professional at all times is crucial.”
Furthermore, to be a successful Nuclear Medicine Technologist, these professionals should be compassionate, and able to help their patients to feel as comfortable as possible undergoing tests and treatments. They should also have strong attention-to-detail, and be able to follow instructions and compile records. As Nuclear Medicine Technologists often work in teams, they should additionally possess the interpersonal skills to both interact with colleagues and patients.
Most Nuclear Medicine Technologists are employed full-time, and they may be asked to work evenings, weekends, nights and holidays depending on their employer. Additionally, these professionals typically spend long hours up on their feet and are asked to transition or move patients as necessary. Nuclear Medicine Technologists must wear a special badge which monitors radiation levels. These badges along with strict safety protocols ensure that technologists are not exposed to unsafe levels of radiation and protect them from infectious diseases.
“A typical work day for me involves checking my email, reviewing the day’s schedule, filling out any documents / logs / paperwork, QC/QA the equipment, greeting the first patient and explaining the procedure,” Cohen explained. “I also perform nuclear medicine examinations, order needed supplies and effectively communicate with patients and other professionals. Then at the end of the day I get the area ready for the next day by confirming exams with patients, completing more paperwork and cleaning the area.”
Now is a great time to begin a rewarding career as a Nuclear Medicine Technologist. Over the next decade, employment in this profession is expected to grow by 7 percent. This rate is faster than the average for all occupations because, as the baby boom population continues to age, they will require the services of Nuclear Medicine Technologists at an increasing rate. Demand will also increase as technological advancements lead to more types of imaging and treatments that can be provided by these healthcare professionals.
The vast majority of Nuclear Medicine Technologists are employed by local, state or private hospitals. Yet, other career professionals find employment through the offices of Physicians, medical and diagnostic laboratories and outpatient centers. The state with the highest employment level in this occupation is Florida, followed by California, new York, Texas and Ohio.
“Finding employment in nuclear medicine can be tricky, considering the current economic environment,” Cohen noted. “The best advice is to get to know people in the industry, and always have a professionally-looking resume available.”
He added that subscribing to a trade journal can also help connect professionals to opportunities. Also, Cohen explained that there are “rent-a-tech” agencies available that can place Nuclear Medicine Technologists, and that the Society of Nuclear Medicine conference held each year would be a good way to connect with industry professionals.
The media annual wage for Nuclear Medicine Technologists was $77,950. While the lowest 10 percent were recorded to have earned less than $56,560, the highest earning 10 percent made more than $105,690. The highest paying employers of these professionals are outpatient centers, hospitals, the offices of physicians and medical and diagnostic laboratories. Top paying states for this occupation are California, District of Columbia, New Jersey, Washington and Hawaii.
“The earnings can vary greatly from employer to employer, state to state, etc.,” Cohen said. “For me, this career has provided a good living. I do not live in a mansion or drive a Ferrari, but I am comfortable.”
Unions, Groups and Associations
The American Board of Nuclear Medicine (ABNM) is an guiding organization seeking to advance the health of the public through the establishment and maintenance of standards of training and education and the qualification of Physicians rendering nuclear medicine services to the people of the U.S. Additionally, the Board contributes to the improvement of healthcare in the U.S. by establishing requirements, credentials and issuing certificates.
The Society of Nuclear Medicine and Molecular Imaging (SNMMI) is an organization designed to promote the science, technology and practical application of nuclear medicine and molecular imaging. Additionally, the organization strives to be a leader in unifying, advancing and optimizing imaging, as well as overall human health.
The American Society of Radiologic Technologists (ASRT) is an organization with the goal of advancing and elevating the medical imaging and radiation therapy profession and to enhance the quality and safety of patient care.
- Ask to shadow a Nuclear Medicine Technologist
- Research educational programs
- Apply to programs
- Network with industry professionals
- Complete the educational program and take the board examination
- Apply for available positions
All statistics are provided by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Meet the professional:
Practice: SimonMed Imaging
Location: Las Vegas, NV
What is the single biggest suggestion you would give to someone wanting to get into this career?
“The biggest suggestion for someone trying to get in the profession is to love what you do. If this is your passion, those around you will see that and your enthusiasm will be contagious.”
What’s the number one mistake people make when trying to get into this career?
“A common mistake people make is stagnating in the career. Be certain to be up to date on the new procedures as many new ones are developed while others disappear.”
What is the question people should ask about this career but rarely do?
“What does a Nuclear Medicine Technologist do besides performing nuclear medicine exams? The answer is a lot.”
Why did you choose to enter this career?
“I stumbled upon the role of a Nuclear Medicine Technologist when I was looking for a career change. This career seemed so much more interesting than x-ray technology. Also, I wanted to help people.”
If you could describe in one word what makes you successful, what would that be?
Credentialing organization: Joint Review Committee on Educational Programs in Nuclear Medicine Technology