Nuclear Medicine is a profession developed as a product of the atomic age. Nuclear Medicine Technology is one of the most advanced diagnostic technologies in todays medical field. The discipline of nuclear medicine began after radium was discovered almost a century ago. Following World War II, physicians recognized the potential medical implications of radium and developed artificial radio nuclides. Since this development the field of nuclear medicine has become a very important diagnostic discipline.
Nuclear Medicine Technology is the medical specialty concerned with the use of small amounts of radioactive materials for diagnosis, therapy, and research. It is one of the diagnostic imaging modalities similar to magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), ultrasound, CAT scanning, and X-ray. But Nuclear Medicine Technology procedures are totally different from other diagnostic imaging modalities. It uses radioactive materials to perform body function studies (Organ imaging), analyze biologic specimens and treat diseases. Organ Imaging is the oral administration, or inhalation of radioactive material called radiopharmaceuticals.
Radiopharmaceuticals are purified and compounded form of radio nuclides. After these radiopharmaceuticals are localized in a specific organ or the organ system of the body, instruments called scintillation cameras can detect the radiation emitted by the radiopharmaceutical concentrated in the organ and produce an image of the organ on a computer screen or photographic film. These images provide a way of studying the structure and measuring the function of that organ, as well as identifying tumors, areas of infection, or other disorders.
This procedure provides information that can assist the physician in diagnosing diseases where the patient feels little or no discomfort and the radiation does is very small. Another procedure of Nuclear Medicine Technology is the radioactive analyses of biologic specimens which provide great accuracy and sensitivity. Blood, urine, or other specimens are collected from patients and are combined with radioactive materials to measure the levels of various components in the sample such as hormones, drugs, or other chemical substances.
Sample collection is very simple, and because the radioactive is added to the specimen outside the body, the patient is not exposed to radiation. A therapeutic dose of radioactive materials are also administred to patients to treat a specific disease and is the least used diagnostic nuclear medicine procedures. But the treatment of disease with radiopharmaceuticals is a valuable contribution to patient care. Technological innovations may increase the diagnostic uses of nuclear medicine.
One example is the use of radiopharmaceuticals in combination with monoclonal antibodies to detect cancer at far earlier stages than is customary today and without resorting to surgery. Another is the use of radio nuclides to examine the hearts ability to pump blood. Wider use of nuclear medical imaging to observe metabolic and biochemical changes for neurology, cardiology, and oncology procedures also will spur demand for nuclear medicine technologists. Every Nuclear Medicine Technology procedures are administered and monitored by a Nuclear Medicine Technologist.
They have a solid background in anatomy, physiology, mathematics, chemistry, physics, radiation safety, clinical nuclear instrumentation, and laboratory technique. The technologists are the ones who administer radiopharmaceuticals to patients, operate gamma scintillation camera, adhere to safety standards, keep patient records and record the amount and type of radio nuclides received, used and discarded. They are highly skilled individuals who, in conjunction with the physician, either directs or participates in the daily operation of the Nuclear Medicine Department.
The technologist is responsible for explaining the procedures to the patient and follows the patient through the entire procedure. The responsibilities are varied and can include quality control procedures, preparing and administrating radiopharmaceuticals, operating nuclear medicine instruments, positioning patients for imaging procedures, collecting, preparing and analyzing biologic specimens, and preparing data for the physicians interpretation. Many employers and an increasing number of states require certification or licensure.
Certification is available from the American Registry of Radio logic Technologists and from the Nuclear Medicine Technology Certification Board. Nuclear medicine technology programs range in length from one to four years and lead to a certificate, associate degree, or bachelors degree. Generally, certificate programs are offered in hospitals, associate degree programs in community colleges, and bachelors degree program in four 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 attracts health professionals like radio logic technologists, diagnostic medical sonographers, medical technologists, registered nurses and other who wish to specialize in nuclear medicine. Others interested in this field have the options to do a two year certification course, a two year associate degree program, or a four year bachelors degree program.
The Joint Review Committee on Education Programs in Nuclear Medicine Technology accredits most formal training programs in nuclear medicine technology. In 2002, there were ninety two accredited programs in the continental United States and Puerto Rico. Nuclear medicine technologists generally work a forty hour week in hospitals, physicians offices, outpatient clinics and imaging centers, perhaps including evening or weekend hours in departments that operate on an extended schedule. Opportunities for part-time and shift work are also available.
In addition, technologists in hospitals may have on call duty on a rotational basis. Because technologists are on their feet much of the day and may lift or turn disabled patients, physical stamina is important. Although the potential for radiation exposure exists in this field, it is kept to a minimum by the use of shielded syringes, gloves, and other protective devices and by adherence to strict radiation safety guidelines. Technologists also wear badges that measure radiation levels.
Because of safety programs, badge measurements rarely exceed established safety levels. Nuclear medicine technologists held about 17,000 jobs in 2002. About two-third of all jobs were in hospitals. Employment of nuclear medicine technologists is expected to grow faster than average for all occupations through the year 2012. Growth will arise from an increase in the number of middle aged and older persons, who are primary users of diagnostic procedures, including nuclear medicine tests.
Nuclear medicine technologists start at a salary approximately $47,000/year, with a range of $42,000 to $90,000. They may find a variation in starting salaries depending on the geographical area, size of the community, and availability of registered technologists. However, the number of openings each year will be relatively low because the occupation is small. Technologists who are also trained in other diagnostic methods, such as radio logic technology or diagnostic medical sonography, will have the best prospects.