Nuclear Medicine Technologist

Radiation has the reputation of being a dangerous substance that can cause sickness and even death. However, used appropriately, radiation can be a useful medical diagnostic tool. Radiologic technicians use radiation externally on patients at low levels in x-rays and CT scans, whereas nuclear medicine technologists use it internally through the use of radiopharmaceuticals.

Using radiation for clinical purposes requires specialized education and training. Nuclear medicine technologists must complete an associate’s degree higher in nuclear medicine technology. Certification in this field is optional, although it is an industry-standard and required by most employers. Nuclear medicine technologists must be licensed in at least 30 states.

While most nuclear medicine technologists work in hospitals, some are employed in physicians’ offices, outpatient clinics, and medical imaging centers. Day-to-day duties include preparing patients for diagnostic nuclear medicine procedures, administering radiopharmaceuticals, running diagnostic equipment, and writing reports on the findings. This is a growing field with an anticipated 8 percent increase in positions nationally between 2019 and 2029 (Bureau of Labor Statistics 2020). This increase is due to an aging population with an increased demand for diagnostic procedures.

Continue reading to learn how to start a career as a nuclear medicine technologist.

Nuclear Medicine Technologist Specializations & Degree Types

Nuclear medicine technologists must earn an associate’s degree or higher in nuclear medicine technology or related field. If a professional holds an associate’s degree or higher in a healthcare-related field, they need only to complete a certificate program to work in this field.

Nuclear technologists can earn three specialty certifications through the Nuclear Medicine Technology Certification Board (NMTCB). They are positron emission tomography (PET), nuclear cardiology (NCT), or computed tomography (CT).

Admissions Requirements for Nuclear Medicine Technologist Programs

Admission requirements for nuclear medicine technologist programs vary based on the program.

  • Associate’s degree programs can be quite competitive and may require prerequisite coursework, a minimum GPA, and hospital observations where students shadow professionals in this field.
  • Bachelor’s degree program admission requirements can be very similar but include additional prerequisite coursework, SAT/ACT scores, letters of recommendation, and sometimes even an in-person interview.
  • Certificate programs require applicants to have already a bachelor’s or associate’s degree in addition to prerequisite coursework, hospital observations, letters of recommendation, and a completed application.

Nuclear Medicine Technologist Program Accreditation

The Joint Review Committee on Educational Programs in Nuclear Medicine Technology (JRCNMT) is the primary accrediting body for nuclear medicine technologist program accreditation. Students should ensure the program is accredited as it guarantees a minimum level of quality in curriculum, faculty, and facilities. Attending an accredited program also ensures that a student is eligible to sit for certification exams upon graduation.

In the absence of attending an accredited program, students should ensure the program is at a minimum recognized by the Nuclear Medicine Technology Certification Board (NMTCB) or the American Registry of Radiologic Technologists (ARRT). While this is not accreditation, students who complete a recognized program will still be eligible to sit for a certification exam.

On-Campus Nuclear Medicine Technologist Degree Programs

Advent Health University

Advent Health University offers a bachelor’s of science in nuclear medicine technology. This program only accepts 15 students per year and boasts a better than 90 percent pass rate on the NMTCB or ARRT exam. Classes are taught in both the classroom and Advent’s state of the art nuclear medicine lab.

Applicants to this program must first complete two years of general undergraduate studies. During their third year of undergraduate and first in the program, students will attend professional classes. The fourth year is a combination of didactic courses and clinical internships. Admission to this program is very competitive, so students should strive to have high GPAs, strong recommendations, and good SAT/ACT scores.

  • Location: Orlando, FL
  • Duration: Four years
  • Accreditation: Joint Review Committee on Educational Programs in Nuclear Medicine Technology (JRCNMT)
  • Tuition: $7875 per trimester

The University of New Mexico School of Medicine

Students can pursue a bachelor’s of science in radiologic science with an emphasis in nuclear medicine imaging at the University of New Mexico’s School of Medicine. This two-year program is for students who have already completed two years of general undergraduate studies. Graduates will have the training and skills to perform complex diagnostic procedures using radiopharmaceuticals.

Required coursework students must complete to graduate includes clinical nuclear technology, imaging instrumentation, and clinical radiopharmacy. Students will also complete extensive in-person clinical rotations to gain hands-on skills performing diagnostic procedures and monitoring patients.

  • Location: Albuquerque, NM
  • Duration: Two years
  • Accreditation: Joint Review Committee on Educational Programs in Nuclear Medicine Technology (JRCNMT)
  • Tuition: $23,292 per year

Online or Hybrid Nuclear Medicine Technologist Degree Programs

Due to the hands-on nature of nuclear medicine technologists programs, there are no completely online programs. However, there are certificate programs and degree-completion options for medical professionals who already hold at least an associate’s degree. Here are two programs:

Massachusetts College of Pharmacy & Health Sciences School of Medical Imaging and Therapeutics

The one-year advanced certificate in nuclear medicine technology certificate at the Massachusetts College of Pharmacy & Health Sciences School of Medical Imaging and Therapeutics is designed for professionals who are already working in the medical field and hold a bachelor’s degree or higher.

This program is offered online with synchronous classes. This allows students to interact with staff and other students in real-time regularly. Students then complete clinical experiences at designated locations across the country.

  • Location: Boston, MA
  • Duration: 12 months
  • Accreditation: Joint Review Committee on Educational Programs in Nuclear Medicine Technology (JRCNMT)
  • Tuition: $990 per credit hour

Chattanooga State Community College

Chattanooga State Community College offers a one-year nuclear medicine technology certificate for medical professionals who already hold an associate’s degree or higher. Courses are offered primarily online, although students must travel to campus every four to six weeks for intensive lab courses. Students must be enrolled in this program full time as it is quite rigorous and requires intensive clinical experiences to gain hands-on experience.

  • Location: Chattanooga, TN
  • Duration: 12 months
  • Accreditation: Joint Review Committee on Educational Programs in Nuclear Medicine Technology (JRCNMT)
  • Tuition: $13,226.05 total

How Long Does it Take to Become a Nuclear Medicine Technologist?

For professionals who follow the traditional path of education and certification, it takes just two years of postsecondary education to enter this lucrative career.

How To Become a Nuclear Medicine Technologist – Step-by-Step Guide

Step 1: Graduate from High School or Complete a GED (Four Years)

Aspiring nuclear medicine technologists must graduate from high school or obtain a GED. Not only is this a requirement for admission to most nuclear medicine technologist programs, but it also demonstrates a minimum level of education. Students interested in pursuing this career should focus on classes such as math, chemistry, and biology.

Step 2: Complete Nuclear Medicine Technologist Education (Two to Four Years)

Nuclear medicine technologists must receive specialized training. This can be completed as an associate’s or bachelor’s degree program, or as a certificate, if the student has at least an associate’s in a related field.

Coursework students complete as part of their studies include medical imaging pathology, foundations of nuclear medicine, radiation physics and instrumentation, and imaging instrumentation. Programs also include extensive clinical internships to give students hands-on experience in the field.

Step 3: Earn a Nuclear Medicine Technologist Certification (Timeline Varies)

Certification is highly recommended for nuclear medicine technologists as it demonstrates competency in the field. The two primary certification bodies are the Nuclear Medicine Technology Certification Board (NMTCB) or the American Registry of Radiologic Technologists (ARRT). More details about certification can be found below.

Step 4: Obtain State Licensure (Timeline Varies)

At least 30 states require nuclear medicine technologists to be licensed. Requirements vary by state, so candidates should contact their local board to ensure they have the necessary qualifications. Most states require an exam or national certification, proof of education, and a licensing fee.

What Do Nuclear Medicine Technologists Do?

Nuclear medicine technologists primarily work in hospitals, although some are employed in private clinics and diagnostics laboratories. Job duties vary based on place of employment, but typical day-to-day responsibilities include:

  • Meeting with patients to explain procedures
  • Preparing radioactive drugs for diagnostic procedures
  • Administering radioactive medications
  • Using imaging equipment
  • Monitoring patients for reactions to the medications
  • Maintaining careful records
  • Following all radiation safety procedures

Nuclear Medicine Technologist Certifications & Licensure

Nuclear Medicine Technology Certification Board (NMTCB) and the American Registry of Radiologic Technologists (ARRT) are the primary certification agencies for nuclear medicine technologists (NMTs). Both certifications require candidates to hold at least an associate’s degree, complete an accredited or approved nuclear medicine program, and pass an exam.

Nuclear medicine technologists are required to be licensed in at least 30 states. Requirements for licensure vary by state, so candidates should contact their local boards to learn what qualifications they need. For example, in California, the requirements are:

  • Pay $268 application fee
  • Hold an NMT certification from the NMTCB or ARRT

How Much Do Nuclear Medicine Technologists Make?

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS May 2019), nuclear medicine technologists earn $78,870 per year on average. The percentiles are:

  • 10th percentile: $55,330
  • 25th percentile: $65,720
  • 50th percentile (median): $76,820
  • 75th percentile: $92,080
  • 90th percentile: $104,730
Kimmy Gustafson

Kimmy Gustafson

Writer

Kimmy is a freelance writer with extensive experience writing about healthcare careers and education. She has worked in public health, at health-focused nonprofits, and as a Spanish interpreter for doctor’s offices and hospitals. She has a passion for learning and that drives her to stay up to date on the latest trends in healthcare. When not writing or researching, she can be found pursuing her passions of nutrition and an active outdoors lifestyle.

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