Nuclear Medicine Techs

Nuclear Medicine Statistics

 

 

Nuclear Medicine Technician Job Statistics

 

 

 

Nuclear Medicine - Significant Points

  • Keen competition is expected for most positions.
  • Technologists with training in multiple diagnostic methods, or in nuclear cardiology, should have the best prospects.
  • Nuclear medicine technology programs range in length from 1 to 4 years and lead to a certificate, an associate degree, or a bachelor's degree.
  • About 66 percent of nuclear medicine technologists work in hospitals.

Nature of the Work

 

Diagnostic imaging embraces several procedures that aid in diagnosing ailments, the most familiar imaging being the x ray. In nuclear medicine, radionuclides—unstable atoms that emit radiation spontaneously—are used to diagnose and treat disease. Radionuclides are purified and compounded to form radiopharmaceuticals. Nuclear medicine technologists administer radiopharmaceuticals to patients and then monitor the characteristics and functions of tissues or organs in which the drugs localize. Abnormal areas show higher-than-expected or lower-than-expected concentrations of radioactivity. Nuclear medicine differs from other diagnostic imaging technologies because it determines the presence of disease on the basis of metabolic changes, rather than changes in organ structure.

Nuclear medicine technologists operate cameras that detect and map the radioactive drug in a patient's body to create diagnostic images. After explaining test procedures to patients, technologists prepare a dosage of the radiopharmaceutical and administer it by mouth, injection, inhalation, or other means. They position patients and start a gamma scintillation camera, or “scanner,” which creates images of the distribution of a radiopharmaceutical as it localizes in and emits signals from the patient's body. The images are produced on a computer screen or on film for a physician to interpret.

When preparing radiopharmaceuticals, technologists adhere to safety standards that keep the chance of radiation exposure as low as possible to workers and patients. Technologists keep patient records and document the amount and type of radionuclides that they receive, use, and discard.

There are two areas of specialty for nuclear medicine technologists—nuclear cardiology and positron emission tomography (PET). Nuclear cardiology typically involves myocardial perfusion imaging, which, like most nuclear medicine, uses radiopharmaceuticals and cameras to image the body. Myocardial perfusion imaging, however, requires that patients perform exercise so the technologist can image the heart and blood flow. Technologists specializing in PET operate a special medical imaging device that produces a 3-D image of the body.

Work environment. Physical stamina is important because nuclear medicine technologists are on their feet much of the day and may have to lift or turn disabled patients. In addition, technologists must operate complicated equipment that requires mechanical ability and manual dexterity.

Although the potential for radiation exposure exists in this field, it is minimized by the use of shielded syringes, gloves, and other protective devices and by adherence to strict radiation safety guidelines. The amount of radiation in a nuclear medicine procedure is comparable to that received during a diagnostic x ray procedure. Technologists also wear badges that measure radiation levels. Because of safety precautions, badge measurements rarely exceed established safety levels.

Nuclear medicine technologists generally work a 40-hour week. Some technologists also may have on-call hours, including evening or weekend hours, in departments that operate on an extended schedule. Opportunities for part-time and shift work also are available. Those employed by mobile imaging services may be required to travel to several locations.

Nuclear medicine technologists operate complicated equipment that requires mechanical ability and manual dexterity.

Training, Other Qualifications, and Advancement

 

Nuclear medicine technology programs range in length from 1 to 4 years and lead to a certificate, an associate degree, or a bachelor's degree. Many employers and an increasing number of States require certification or licensure. Aspiring nuclear medicine technologists should check the requirements of the State in which they plan to work.

Education and training. Generally, certificate programs are offered in hospitals, associate degree programs in community colleges, and bachelor's degree programs in 4-year colleges and universities. Courses cover the physical sciences, biological effects of radiation exposure, radiation protection and procedures, the use of radiopharmaceuticals, imaging techniques, and computer applications.

One-year certificate programs are typically for health professionals who already possess an associate or bachelor’s degree—especially radiologic technologists and diagnostic medical sonographers—but who wish to specialize in nuclear medicine. The programs also attract medical technologists, registered nurses, and others who wish to change fields or specialize.

The Joint Review Committee on Education Programs in Nuclear Medicine Technology accredits associate and bachelor’s degree training programs in nuclear medicine technology. In 2008, there were more than 100 accredited programs available.

Licensure. Requirements for licensure of nuclear medicine technologists vary from State to State, so it is important that aspiring technologists check the requirements of the State in which they plan to work. In 2008, 25 States licensed nuclear medicine technologists. In addition, many third-party payers require nuclear medicine technologists to be certified in order for the healthcare facility to receive reimbursement for imaging procedures.

Certification and other qualifications. Certification is voluntary but it has become the generally accepted standard for nuclear medicine technologists and those who employ them. Certification is available from the American Registry of Radiologic Technologists (ARRT) and from the Nuclear Medicine Technology Certification Board (NMTCB). Some technologists receive certification from both agencies. ARRT and NMTCB have different eligibility requirements, but both require that workers pass a comprehensive exam to become certified.

In addition to the general certification requirements, certified technologists also must complete a certain number of continuing education hours to retain certification. Continuing education is required primarily because of the frequent technological and innovative changes in the field of nuclear medicine.

Technologists must have good communication skills to effectively interact with patients and their families and should be sensitive to patients' physical and psychological needs. Nuclear medicine technologists must be able to work independently as they may have little direct supervision. Technologists also need to be detailed-oriented and meticulous when performing procedures to assure that all regulations are being followed.

Advancement. Technologists may advance to supervisory positions or to chief technologist with significant work experience. With advanced education, it is possible for some technologists to become department administrators or directors.

Some technologists specialize in clinical areas, such as nuclear cardiology or PET scanning. Some become instructors in, or directors of, nuclear medicine technology programs, a step that usually requires a bachelor's or master's degree in the subject. Others may leave the occupation to work as sales or training representatives for medical equipment or radiopharmaceutical manufacturing firms; some become radiation safety officers in regulatory agencies or hospitals.

Employment

 

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Nuclear medicine technologists held about 21,800 jobs in 2008. About 66 percent of all nuclear medicine technologist jobs were in hospitals—private and public. A majority of the rest were in offices of physicians or in medical and diagnostic laboratories, including diagnostic imaging centers.

Job Outlook

Faster than average job growth is projected. However, keen competition is expected for most positions.

Employment change. Employment of nuclear medicine technologists is expected to increase by 16 percent from 2008 to 2018, faster than the average for all occupations. Growth will arise from technological advancement, the development of new nuclear medicine treatments, and an increase in the number of middle-aged and elderly persons, who are the primary users of diagnostic and treatment procedures.

Technological innovations may increase the diagnostic uses of nuclear medicine. New nuclear medical imaging technologies, including PET and single photon emission computed tomography (SPECT), are expected to be used increasingly. Cost considerations will affect the speed with which these new applications of nuclear medicine grow. Healthcare facilities contemplating these procedures will have to consider equipment costs, reimbursement policies, and the number of potential users. Although these new imaging technologies will be used more often, they will likely replace older technologies, not supplement them. Thus, only a small amount of job growth will stem from the adoption of new technologies.

Job prospects. In spite of growth in nuclear medicine, the number of openings into the occupation each year will be relatively low. Job competition will be keen because the supply of properly trained nuclear medicine technologists is expected to exceed the number of job openings for technologists. Technologists who have training in multiple diagnostic methods, such as radiologic technology and diagnostic medical sonography, or in nuclear cardiology, should have the best prospects.

Projections Data

Projections data from the National Employment Matrix

Occupational Title

SOC Code

Employment, 2008

Projected
Employment, 2018

Change,
2008-18

Detailed Statistics

Number

Percent

Nuclear medicine technologists

29-2033

21,800

25,400

3,600

16

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    NOTE: Data in this table are rounded. See the discussion of the employment projections table in the Handbook introductory chapter on Occupational Information Included in the Handbook.

Earnings

The median annual wage of nuclear medicine technologists was $66,660 in May 2008. The middle 50 percent earned between $57,270 and $78,240. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $48,450, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $87,770. The median annual wage of nuclear medicine technologists in general medical and surgical hospitals was $66,320.

For the latest wage information:

The above wage data are from the Occupational Employment Statistics (OES) survey program, unless otherwise noted. For the latest National, State, and local earnings data, visit the following pages:

  • nuclear medicine technologists
  • Other healthcare occupations that use radiation or do diagnostic imaging are:

    Cardiovascular technologists and technicians

    Clinical laboratory technologists and technicians

    Diagnostic medical sonographers

    Radiation therapists

    Radiologic technologists and technicians

    Sources of Additional Information


    Disclaimer:

    Links to non-BLS Internet sites are provided for your convenience and do not constitute an endorsement.


    Additional information on a career as a nuclear medicine technologist is available from:

    • Society of Nuclear Medicine Technologists, 1850 Samuel Morse Dr., Reston, VA 20190. Internet: http://www.snm.org

    For a list of accredited programs in nuclear medicine technology, contact:

    • Joint Review Committee on Educational Programs in Nuclear Medicine Technology, 2000 W. Danforth Rd., Suite 130 #203, Edmond, OK 73003. Internet: http://www.jrcnmt.org

    Information on certification is available from:

    • Nuclear Medicine Technology Certification Board, 3558 Habersham at Northlake, Building 1, Tucker, GA 30084. Internet: http://www.nmtcb.org
    • American Registry of Radiologic Technologists, 1255 Northland Dr., St. Paul, MN 55120-1155. Internet: http://www.arrt.org

    O*NET-SOC Code Coverage

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    Suggested citation: Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2010-11 Edition, Nuclear Medicine Technologists, on the Internet at http://www.bls.gov/oco/ocos104.htm (visited April 10, 2011)