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One of the many exciting careers made possible by modern medical science is that of the nuclear medicine technologist. A nuclear medicine technologist helps to diagnose or treat patients by administering radioactive medical materials, termed radiopharmaceuticals. Radiopharmaceuticals are used in very small, controlled doses, which must be recorded in detail in order to keep an account of the patient's radiation exposure. These records are also of use in studying any effects this radiation may have on its own. These radioactive materials travel through the body and make it possible to create images of a patient's internal processes by detecting the radiation. This nuclear imaging technique can be either in lieu of traditional imaging technology, or in addition to it, adding a great degree of added detail and precision to x-ray images and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) images. It can also help to track and measure certain chemicals, such as drugs and hormones, in the body.
A nuclear medicine technologist needs certain special traits to excel in the field. These traits include a keen attention to detail and ability to work well with a team and follow directions. A nuclear medicine technologist must also be able to good at knowing and respecting the needs, both physical and psychological, of patients. Manual dexterity and good mechanical skills are also a plus.
According to 2008 data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual salary for nuclear technologists was $66,660. Pay is considered very good in comparison to the job requirements, and the vast majority of professionals earned between $48,450 or above $87,770. Professionals working in doctor's offices and specialty hospitals were most likely to earn over $70,000 annually.
Training and Education
The specific requirements for a position as a nuclear medicine technologist vary by state to state. The most common certifications that are accepted are performed by the American Registry of Radiologic Technologists and the Nuclear Medicine Technology Certification Board. Much of the certification process involves learning and complying with various federal regulations restricting the use of radioactive drugs and the operation of equipment for detecting radiation. There are several types of training programs available, which include associate's degree programs, bachelor's degree programs, and certificate programs. These programs vary in length from between one and four years. Coursework can cover such topics as imaging techniques, the effect of radiation on the body, and the physical sciences.
As of 2006, there were approximately 20,000 nuclear medicine technologists working in the United States. About two-thirds of nuclear medicine technologists are employed in physicians' offices or medical laboratories.
The field of nuclear medicine technology is considered to be one expected to experience rapid growth in the next few years, and so it presents an excellent job outlook. As the nation's elderly population increases, the demand for medical imaging services is also increasing, producing more and more open positions for jobs in this field, although the field is still expected to remain a relatively small in relation to other careers. Even better opportunities may exist for nuclear medicine technologists who are cross-trained in other diagnostic imaging specialties.