When you hear the word “nuclear,” it might conjure up images of power plants and/or Homer Simpson hard at work.
But did you also know that nuclear medicine is a cutting-edge Allied Health specialty that uses trace amounts of radioactive material to diagnose and treat patients?
Nuclear medicine technologists are highly skilled professionals who prepare radioactive drugs for patients, then use imaging equipment like computerized tomography (CT) scanners and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scanners to see how those radioactive elements respond in the patient’s organs and tissues, and diagnose diseases like cancer. The radioactive drugs, known as radionuclides, are administered safely, and the technologist is responsible for walking patients through every step of the process. Technologists also help explain test results to patients, and work with doctors to analyze the images and determine an official diagnosis.
Nuclear medicine technologists typically work in hospitals, clinics, diagnostic laboratories, or physicians’ offices. The work week is a standard 40-hour one, although technologists (especially ones who work in hospitals) may be on call during off-hours.
For more on nuclear medicine and what it’s like to be a technologist, check out these videos:
Nuclear Medicine T
What is Nuclear Medicine? An Illustrated Introduction
Becoming a Nuclear Medicine Technologist
Nuclear medicine technologists typically have an associate’s or bachelor’s degree, particularly from an accredited nuclear medicine program. And in fact, the American Registry of Radiologic Technologists only recognizes programs at an associate level or higher, as of 2015. About half of U.S. states require additional licensing for nuclear medical technologists, so be sure to check your own state’s regulations.
The respiratory therapy field calls for a number of special skills and knowledge bases, including:
- Attention to detail
- Math and science (particularly chemistry, physics, and biology)
- Critical thinking
- Patient evaluation
- Anatomy and physiology
- Disease management
- Medical technology
Per the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the median salary for nuclear medicine technologists is $72,100, or $34.66 per hour. In addition, the field offers a lot of fulfillment for its members. According to a survey conducted by PayScale, the average nuclear medicine technologist gives extremely high marks for job satisfaction.
This is a highly specialized field, and doesn’t necessary experience the same growth as some Allied Health careers, but the BLS predicts that the nuclear medicine technologist field will expand by at least 2% in the coming years.