If you have a keen interest in the health sciences and computer technology and are looking for a people-oriented career, consider becoming a Nuclear Medicine Technologist!
This blog is the ninth in a series of profiles of different clinical health professions represented by Health Professions Network member organizations. These profiles are intended to give students and those looking at prospective careers in health care an accurate, professional perspective on different health care fields, specialties and careers. "A Day in the Life of a Nuclear Medicine Technologist" was developed by the Society of Nuclear Medicine and Molecular Imaging, or SNMMI, an HPN member organization.
Table of Contents
- What is a Nuclear Medicine Technologist?
- Goals and Rewards of Being a Nuclear Medicine Technologist
- Professional Testimonials from NMTs
- Becoming a Nuclear Medicine Technologist
- Salary & Job Outlook, and Professional Resources for NMTs
What is a Nuclear Medicine Technologist?
Nuclear medicine combines chemistry, physics, mathematics, computer technology, and medicine in using radioactivity to diagnose and treat disease. Though there are many diagnostic techniques currently available, nuclear medicine uniquely provides information about both the structure and function of virtually every major organ system within the body. It is this ability to characterize and quantify physiologic function which separates nuclear medicine from other imaging modalities, such as x-ray. Nuclear medicine procedures are safe, they involve little or no patient discomfort, and do not require the use of anesthesia.
Job Description / Responsibilities
The Nuclear Medicine Technologist is a highly specialized healthcare professional who works closely with the nuclear medicine physician. Some of the technologist's primary responsibilities are to:
- Prepare and administer radioactive chemical compounds, known as radiopharmaceuticals.
- Here is a list of radiopharmaceuticals, and some of the conditions they help to treat and/or diagnose
- Perform patient imaging procedures using sophisticated radiation-detecting instrumentation.
- Accomplish computer processing and image enhancement.
- Analyze biologic specimens in the laboratory.
- Provide images, data analysis, and patient information to the physician for diagnostic interpretation.
During an imaging procedure, the technologist works directly with the patient. The technologist:
- Gains the patient's confidence by obtaining pertinent history, describing the procedure, and answering any questions.
- Monitors the patient's physical condition during the procedure.
- Notes any specific patient comments which might indicate the need for additional images or might be useful to the physician in interpreting the results of the procedure.
A nuclear medicine technologist properly prepares and/or administers therapeutic radiopharmaceuticals when these agents are part of a standard procedure that is required for treatment under the direct supervision of an authorized user by:
- Ensuring that the correct radiopharmaceutical and dosage is prepared and ordered.
- Performing specific tasks and collaborating with team members to provide appropriate patient preparation for treatment, with specific attention to treatment guidelines and contraindications.
- Following the quality management program in effect at the facility regarding patient identification and verification and the use of therapeutic radiopharmaceuticals.
- Observing prescribed radiation safety using FDA and USP Standards during the preparation and administration of such treatment.
- Observing patient for emergencies and adverse reactions, and conducting institutional measures and following policies to keep the patient safe throughout treatment.
- Assisting the authorized user in supplying proper patient care instructions to hospital staff, patient, and/or caregivers involved with patient after treatment.
- Conducting and documenting radiation surveys of designated patient areas, when indicated.
- Instructing the patient, family, and staff in radiation safety precautions after the administration of therapeutic radiopharmaceuticals.
- Coordinating/scheduling pre-/post treatment blood/urine draws and/or imaging.
- Maintaining all appropriate records.
Scope of Practice (updated as of May 5, 2020)
The full Scope of Practice for Nuclear Medicine Technologists can be found here - https://s3.amazonaws.com/rdcms-snmmi/files/production/public/NMT%20Scope%20of%20Practice%20and%20Performance%20Standards-2020%20Complete-Approved_5-5-20.pdf
Some highlights regarding clinical performance of duties:
- A certified nuclear medicine technologist is qualified to perform
- general nuclear medicine procedures
- nuclear medicine therapy
- nuclear cardiology procedures
- nuclear breast procedures
- positron emission tomography (PET) procedures
- CT attenuation correction and localization
- administer radioactive, adjunctive, and imaging medication at entry level
- With An advanced certification in CT through the NMTCB, ARRT, CAMRT, and/or any other certification board accepted by your state or institution, a nuclear medicine technologist may also perform diagnostic CT
Nuclear Medicine Technologists work in a wide variety of clinical settings, such as:
- Community hospitals
- University-affiliated teaching hospitals and medical centers
- Outpatient imaging facilities
- Public health institutions
- Government and private research institutes
- Institutions (educators)
The field of Nuclear Medicine and Molecular Imaging can open the door to many different careers in health care and science. As an entry-level technologist, I worked at a large academic university hospital where I was exposed to many research studies involving novel tracers and equipment. With the guidance of a fantastic mentor, my passion for research in nuclear medicine and molecular imaging continued to grow and eventually led to the completion of my doctoral degree. I have had many opportunities because of nuclear medicine, including the chance to learn computed tomography which helped me greatly as a technologist working exclusively in PET/CT. I further developed my radiation safety skills which led to my current role as a Health Physicist Specialist. For the past two decades, nuclear medicine and molecular imaging have afforded me a rewarding career and an exciting professional journey!
Tina M. Buehner, PhD, CNMT, NMTCB(CT)(RS), FSNMMI-TS
Health Physicist Specialist
Department of Radiation Safety
Rush University Medical Center
After completing an undergraduate degree in biology, I was unsure as to where my career would lead me. I had a lot of scientific knowledge, but no specific skill set. However, after working for several years in the healthcare field I discovered nuclear medicine and obtained a certificate in the field that gave me the competencies needed to master this imaging science. My first job, as a nuclear medicine technologist, opened up a new frontier and within 13 months I was managing a nuclear medicine department in Erie Pennsylvania, implementing the latest technologies of the time and working with cutting-edge technology. This led me into a teaching career where I truly learned the many components of my profession. As an educator, I’ve seen our imaging profession evolve with improvements in diagnosing disease to the treatment of diseases -- from images that were simple dots on a page to 3-dimensional analysis of human physiology and from evaluating disease through visual assessment to the implementation of computer analysis. As a technologist, educator, and healthcare professional I find it exhilarating to see how our profession continues to grow as it meets the needs of humankind.
Mark Crosthwaite, Med, CNMT, PET, NMTCB(RS), FSNMMI-TS
Program Director – Nuclear Medicine
College of Health Professions, Radiologic Sciences
Virginia Commonwealth University
Goals and Rewards of Being a Nuclear Medicine Technologist
Patient interaction / patient support
During an imaging or therapy procedure, the technologist works directly with the patient. The technologist:
- Gains the patient’s confidence by obtaining pertinent history, describing the procedure, and answering any questions
- Monitors the patient’s physical condition during the procedure
- Notes any specific patient comments which might indicate the need for additional images or might be useful to the physician in interpreting the results of the procedure
- Works independently to apply complex information and knowledge to maximize individual patient diagnostics
Contribution to quality / health system
A key motive across the healthcare field is understanding and implementing the transition to evidence-based outcomes and quality measures that drive high-level performance. The technologist of today must be able to demonstrate appropriate patient assessment skills, practice appropriate safety procedures about staff and patients, and provide necessary patient education and instruction. In addition, the technologist must demonstrate the ability to evaluate images through performance of technical analysis, demonstrated anatomy and overall image quality. Technologists must also be able to triage and understand the disease processes being evaluated and how nuclear medicine diagnostic exams may drive care and treatment.
Personal & professional goals and expectations
Technologists have a wide variety of alternative career paths available, including:
- Senior staff technologist
- Research technologist
- Technology program educator
- Chief technologist
- Team leader, lead, or supervisor
- Hospital administrator
- Industry sales representative, technical specialist, or research-and-development specialist.
Becoming a Nuclear Medicine Technologist
More than 70 accredited Nuclear Medicine Technology programs currently offer instruction and clinical internships. General prerequisites depend on the type of program offered, but typically include a background in science and mathematics and an interest in working with patients. Programs available include:
- Post-baccalaureate one-year certificate programs
- Two-year associate degree
- Four-year bachelor's degree
- Two-year master’s degree
For information about or a complete list of Nuclear Medicine Technology programs, contact: Joint Review Committee on Educational Programs in Nuclear Medicine Technology (JRCNMT) - www.jrcnmt.org
Upon successful completion of a nuclear medicine program, qualified technologists can be certified/registered through examination by one of the national certifying agencies. There are currently two certifications that are widely recognized within the United States: Nuclear Medicine Technology Certification Board (NMTCB) – Certified Nuclear Medicine Technologist (CNMT) and the American Registry for Radiologic Technologists (ARRT) – Nuclear Medicine RT(N). Each certifying agency has their own requirements for individuals to sit for their board exam.
For more information please visit NMTCB – http://www.nmtcb.org/exam/instructions.php
For more information please visit ARRT - https://www.arrt.org/pages/earn-arrt-credentials/credential-options/nuclear-medicine-technology
Certified Nuclear Medicine Technologists can achieve additional post-primary certifications in the following areas.
- Through the NMTCB – Computed Tomography (CT); Nuclear Cardiac Technologist (NCT); Nuclear Medicine Advanced Associate (NMAA); Positron Emission Tomography (PET); Radiation Safety (RS)
- Through the ARRT - Computed Tomography (CT); Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MR)
In addition to becoming a certified/registered Nuclear Medicine Technologists, many states also require licensure. Although certification/registry is not required for licensure, it fulfills most of the requirements set forth for state licensure. Licensure requirements vary by state and individuals should consult their state health board for specifics.
Requirements, by state, for Nuclear Medicine Technologists - http://www.snmmi.org/IssuesAdvocacy/content.aspx?ItemNumber=5719&navItemNumber=725
Clinical requirements are obtained in the Nuclear Medicine Program and are provided by the Joint Review Committee on Educational Programs in Nuclear Medicine Technology (JRCNMT).
Salary / Nuclear Medicine Technologist Outlook
BLS data/org. survey data
The median annual wage for nuclear medicine technologists was $77,950 in May 2019. 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 $56,560, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $105,690.
In May 2019, the median annual wages for nuclear medicine technologists in the top industries in which they worked were as follows:
|Outpatient care centers||$107,070|
|Hospitals; state, local, and private||$78,040|
|Offices of physicians||$77,850|
|Medical and diagnostic laboratories||$73,240|
Most nuclear medicine technologists work full time. Some nuclear medicine technologists work evenings, weekends, or nights. Many NMTs also have on-call responsibilities for emergent studies.
Reference: Bureau of Labor Statistics; Occupational Outlook Handbook; May 2019; Nuclear Medicine Technologists - https://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/nuclear-medicine-technologists.htm#tab-5
Job availability and projections
Nuclear medicine will continue to be a field at the forefront of modern clinical medicine and technological development. The future has never been brighter thanks to:
- The development of new radiopharmaceuticals for diagnostic and therapeutic purposes.
- Promising research and development of cancer-detecting and cancer-killing agents, such as genetically engineered antibodies.
- The expanding clinical use of Positron Emission Tomography (PET), which provides new and unique means of studying biochemistry and metabolism within living tissues.
Bureau of Labor Statistics – Occupational Outlook Handbook Job Outlook - Employment of nuclear medicine technologists is projected to grow 5 percent from 2019 to 2029, faster than the average for all occupations. An aging population may lead to the need for nuclear medicine technologists who can provide imaging to patients with certain medical conditions, such as heart disease, or treatments for cancers and other diseases. In addition, technological advancements may increase the types of imaging and treatments that nuclear medicine technologists provide, leading to increased demand for their services.
Professional resources / organizations
For information about Nuclear Medicine Technology programs, contact:
- Joint Review Committee on Educational Programs in Nuclear Medicine Technology (JRCNMT)
820 W. Danforth Road #B1, Edmond, OK 73003
- Society of Nuclear Medicine and Molecular Imaging (SNMMI)
1850 Samuel Morse Drive, Reston, VA 20190-5316
- Nuclear Medicine Technology Certification Board
2970 Clairmont Road, Suite 935, Atlanta, GA 30329
- The American Registry of Radiologic Technologists
1255 Northland Drive, St. Paul, MN 55120-1155