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Careers in Nuclear Medicine
By Jennifer Williams, allied health world Contributing Writer
Published: March, 2 2010
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What is Nuclear Medicine?
Before you can understand what to expect from a career as a nuclear medicine technologist, you must first understand what nuclear medicine is. The Society of Nuclear Medicine defines nuclear medicine as a way of documenting imaging or organ structure and function, as well as a way of gathering information to make a definitive diagnosis without the use of surgery or more expensive testing.
Nuclear medicine careers involve using radiopharmaceuticals to evoke a particular response from the body and emit a gamma ray, which can then be viewed as a photographic image. Some structural examples of what this type of technology is used on include the heart, brain, rectum, breasts, and prostate; however, the scope of nuclear medicine is not limited by any means.
What may sets nuclear medicine apart from more standard diagnostic testing is that it may detect diseases or conditions based on changes in metabolic function when combined with radiopharmaceuticals. Regular diagnostic testing only has the ability to diagnosis based on the changes in organ structure, which is not always apparent at certain stages of the disease process.
Job Duties and Daily Tasks
Most nuclear medicine careers involve working in a hospital or clinical environment; however, some professionals with large amounts of education and experience sometimes work at the scientific level of discovering new technology and new ways of making nuclear medicine more involved and effective.
Nuclear medicine schools may prepare students for all the basic functions of the job. When beginning your career you may start out working as a nuclear medicine technologist. The daily activities of your job may likely include the following:
- Operate cameras for photographic imaging
- Explaining procedures and risks of procedures to patients
- Injecting radiopharmaceuticals into a patient
- Limit the amount of exposure during imaging to both staff and patients
- Create and document medical records
- Document which type of radiopharmaceutical was used and at what amount
- Safely discard excessive amounts of radiopharmaceuticals
- Collect medical history background information on each patient
- Intervene with CPR when a life-or-death situation arises
As you can see, your job may require a lot from you on a daily basis. You will not only be responsible for understanding and employing the physics of nuclear medicine, but you may also be responsible for attending to patient care and being able to determine any medical history factors which might alter the outcome of a particular procedure.
Laboratory Nuclear Medicine
Some nuclear medicine technologists decide after working initially with patient care and imaging that would enjoy the challenge of actually making laboratory diagnoses by mixing received specimens with radiopharmaceuticals. There is no extra nuclear medicine degree required for a position of this nature but you will most definitely need experience in the field before you will be able to advance to this level.
Specialties of Nuclear Medicine
Nuclear medicine technologists also have the option of specializing in a particular area, including nuclear cardiology and positron emission tomography (PET) scanning. Both of these specialties would be positions that could be obtained with additional education and training, such as a bachelor’s degree or a master’s degree.
Nuclear cardiology stills employs the usage of radiopharmaceuticals, however it works by having a patient exercise at the time of administration and imaging so that an accurate account of the blood flow in the heart can be evaluated.
PET scanning, on the other hand, uses special equipment to produce a three-dimensional image of the body. This image can then be used to view the internal body and makes a definitive diagnosis in 96% of all cases.
Advancement in the Field
This profession holds a lot of room for individual and professional growth. There is no reason to feel that once you obtain your degree and begin working as a nuclear medicine technologist that you are limited to that position indefinitely. In fact, a good majority of technologists go on to become chief technologists, or supervisors; specialists; or institutional instructors of nuclear medicine.
Your ticket to advancement in this field will be furthering your education. If you begin by obtaining an associate’s-level nuclear medicine degree and go on to work on a bachelor’s or master’s degree, your combination of education and experience in the field will create a direct route for career advancement.
The Bureau of Labor and Statistics,
The Michener Institute,
The Society of Nuclear Medicine,
Nuclear Medicine Schools
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