About the Profession
Nuclear medicine involves the use of radioactive tracers in studying a wide variety of normal and abnormal body functions and in treating certain diseases. A radiotracer, or radiopharmaceutical, is simply an element that emits radiation which, when administered to a patient, can be detected outside the body. Under the direction of a qualified physician, a nuclear medicine technologist prepares and administers radiopharmaceuticals, operates radiation detection equipment that measures the quantity or distribution of the radiopharmaceutical in the patient, and performs any calculations or computer analyses needed to complete the patient’s exam.
The most common procedures include cardiac imaging in which the technologist analyzes the blood flow through the heart and creates computerized images of the beating heart to map damaged heart tissue. Bone scans are usually performed to evaluate the spread of cancer in the body, but might also be used to test for bone infections or stress fractures. The thyroid can be scanned to determine its size or for the presence of nodules. In addition, special techniques can be used to determine the amount of thyroid hormones in the patient’s blood. These are just a few of the many types of procedures technologists will perform. Certified nuclear medicine technologists work primarily in the hospital setting or outpatient clinics.
In general, professionals in nuclear medicine imaging sciences (NMIS) are “people persons”. That is, they work well with others, including their co-workers, physicians, hospital employees, and especially with patients. Good technologists are concerned about patient welfare and demonstrate empathy toward others. Above all, they demonstrate the highest ethical behavior in dealings with others in the practice of their profession.
Technologists must demonstrate a high degree of motivation and be able to work independently. Because the practice of nuclear medicine requires patient cooperation, the technologist must be able to communicate effectively, speaking clearly and be easily understood. Writing skills are also important, especially as the technologist gains more responsibility in the workplace.
Nuclear medicine technologists work closely with nuclear medicine physicians and other professionals in the field of medical imaging. Technologists with additional skills in radiography, magnetic resonance imaging, sonography, laboratory and cardiac procedures are excellent candidates for employment.