Nuclear Medicine Technologist Job Description:
Nuclear medicine technologists prepare, administer and perform nuclear medicine procedures in either hospitals or privately run facilities. There are about 30 different nuclear medicine procedures that a technologist may be asked to carry out, some of which are quite common (bone scans, myocardial perfusion imaging, lung scans), and others that are rare and may be performed infrequently (salivary gland scans, esophageal transit studies). Because nuclear medicine has tests for almost every organ and (organ) system in the body, an advanced understanding of anatomy, physiology and pathophysiology is required. Nuclear medicine technologists must understand medical terminology and disease processes, and possess excellent communication and patient care skills.
Nuclear medicine procedures all require administering a radioactive tracer to a patient (by injection or orally). After the radioactive tracer is administered, we either follow the path of the tracer or localize it within the human body using special cameras called "gamma cameras." Nuclear medicine also involves radioactive treatments for various diseases such as thyroid cancer treatments and pain palliation from painful bone metastases. In some institutions, the nuclear medicine technologist is involved in acquiring, preparing and administering the radioactive tracers for that day’s procedures. In other facilities, the products come to the department pre-made and ready to use.
What were your steps toward a career in nuclear medicine technology?
After high school, I went away to Dalhousie University (in Halifax Nova Scotia) and obtained a Bachelor of Science degree in biology. I then worked in a research lab for four years, ultimately deciding to return to school to learn about nuclear medicine. My nuclear medicine training was three years long; although the same course now takes four years at my university. Most nuclear medicine programs do not require any previous university education. In my class of 7, two of the students were right out of high school and did very well.
During our course of study, we took courses in anatomy, physiology, pathophysiology, patient care, ethics, as well as many nuclear medicine specific courses that were designed to teach us about each of the many tests involved in nuclear medicine. After the academic term, we did an 8-week clinical practicum at a hospital in the region. The courses were very challenging and required excellent multi-tasking and prioritization skills. After completion of our academic work, we were required to write and pass a national certification exam prior to employment.
With jobs in nuclear medicine technology, how do you limit your exposure to radiation?
Since nuclear medicine involves administering (either by injection or orally) radioactive substances we try and limit our exposure to patients during their tests. We work on the principle of ALARA (as low as reasonably achievable). We are always working to limit our own exposure to radiation. By following the concepts of time, distance and shielding we are able to minimize our exposure.
Simple things such as wearing a lead vest or apron can greatly reduce our exposure. When talking to patients, we keep a few steps back from them, since doubling the distance from a radioactive source (the patient in this case) cuts our exposure by four times. When patients ask us about why we leave the room, we tell them that we are exposed to radiation on a daily basis. Since we are not benefiting from having a test performed, we try and limit our own exposure to the radiation.
What advice do you have for people interested in pursuing careers in nuclear medicine technology?
For those who are interested in careers in nuclear medicine technology, I think it is important to understand what you are getting into. If you can, try and set up a half-day job shadowing in a nearby department and ask lots of questions. Nuclear medicine is a very dynamic profession, constantly changing. For those who like to go to work, do the same task over and over, nuclear medicine is not the profession for you. A good nuclear medicine technologist is interested in life-long learning, meaning that he/she keeps up-to-date on new advances, new ways of doing things. This not only keeps your mind fresh, but also helps you become a better professional and puts you in a better position to answer questions that may come up.
Job prospects are quite variable. Some places have very few jobs; other areas have a great deal. I recently moved to Toronto from Halifax Nova Scotia because I was unable to find a job in Halifax. If you are willing to relocate or are located in a large urban setting then you probably won’t have a problem finding a job. If you have your eye on a specific place, I suggest checking the job market before your training and determine if there will be any prospects when you graduate.
What is the average nuclear medicine technologist salary?
The average nuclear medicine technologist salary varies widely depending on geographical area, experience and work setting. Some large union based centers pay very well; have great benefits and pension plans. Other small private places may pay competitive wages, but offer no pension. My advice is to check around the different areas that you are interested in for a “general” salary scale. The typical nuclear medicine technologist salary will be between $25 and $75 per hour depending on the city and the experience you have.
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