What Is a Nuclear Medicine Technologist? Overview, Education, Jobs

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Explore what a nuclear medicine technologist does, job opportunities, required education, certification, and licensing needed for an entry-level position.

[Featured Image]: A male and female nuclear medicine technologist, wearing white lab coats, look over results of test as they work in the testing lab.

A nuclear medicine technologist works with patients scheduled for medical imaging tests. Also known as an NMT, the job requires a bachelor’s degree, and many states require licensing. As a nuclear medicine technologist, you’ll work with various imaging equipment and administer radiopharmaceuticals to patients that show the tissues and organs needed for the scan. Learn more about what an NMT does, required education, job outlook and salary, and how to get started in this career.

What is a nuclear medicine technologist?

A nuclear medicine technologist is a specially trained health care professional who works directly with patients needing medical imaging tests. As an NMT, you assist nuclear medicine physicians with nuclear medicine technology. 

Nuclear medicine technology is a medical process that uses imaging equipment to diagnose and treat a patient. Examples of imaging procedures are positron emission tomography (PET) and electrocardiogram (ECG).

You might also be referred to as an isotope technologist or radioisotope technologist because you work with radioactive isotopes and radioisotope equipment. You also give radiopharmaceuticals to patients before an imaging procedure, then use a specialized camera to create images where the radiopharmaceuticals show within the tissues and organs of the patient. 

What do nuclear medicine technologists do day-to-day?

A nuclear medical technologist typically works with patients scheduled for imaging procedures or who need radiation treatment for a disease such as cancer. As a nuclear medicine technologist, you’ll prepare the correct radiopharmaceutical dosage and administer it to the patient. Using imaging equipment, you’ll scan the areas of the body that the patient’s health care provider requested.

When a patient arrives for their appointment, you’ll explain the procedure and answer any questions they have. Some patients might be fearful or nervous, and some might be in pain, so you’ll want to be calming and reassuring. The position also requires you to maintain the imaging equipment and ensure it’s operating safely.

How do I become a nuclear medicine technologist?

To pursue a nuclear medicine technologist career, you’ll need a strong interest in physics and chemistry and attend an accredited school for an associate or bachelor’s degree. 

You may also need to be licensed. According to the Nuclear Medicine Technology Certification Board, as of 2020, 30 states require licensing, and each state has its requirements for obtaining a license [1].

Educational requirements

An associate degree from an accredited school is the minimum requirement to qualify as a nuclear medicine technologist. Coursework typically includes physics, chemistry, anatomy, and the study of radioactive drugs. Clinical experience under the supervision of a nuclear medicine professional may also be required.

Bachelor's degree programs are also available, and job responsibilities can differ from those who hold an associate degree. Professional Certificate eligibility may also vary.

Licenses and certifications

More than one-half of states require licensing, and each has its requirements for qualifying. When you’ve completed your degree, you can take the American Registry of Radiologic Technologists (ARRT) certification exam or the Nuclear Medicine Technology Certification Board (NMTCB). 

The ARRT requires candidates to have a degree as a nuclear medicine technologist and pass an exam. There is an exam fee, and it is administered by Pearson VUE.

The NMTCB offers a certification exam for nuclear medicine technologists, with a $175 fee. An application must be submitted two months prior to the exam, along with the fee. You will then have three months to take the exam.

Can I study to become a nuclear medicine technician online?

You can study to become a nuclear medicine technologist online, however, the clinical portion of your studies needs to be completed in person. 

Taking some of the required courses from an accredited school provides you with the flexibility to fit the program into your work and personal life.

How long does it take to become a nuclear medicine technologist?

To become a nuclear medicine technologist, you’ll need an associate or bachelor’s degree. An associate degree typically takes two years, while a bachelor’s degree generally takes four years to complete. The time can be shortened or lengthened depending on the number of credit hours you take each semester and whether you attend full or part-time.

Read more: Bachelor of Science (BS) Degree: What It Is and How to Earn One

What jobs can you get as a nuclear medicine technologist?

When you’ve completed a degree program and obtained any certification and licensing required in your state, you’ll qualify for work in hospitals and imaging clinics or you could choose to work for a physician in private practice.

Government and teaching hospitals offer other opportunities, and medical laboratories also need nuclear medicine technologists.

With additional training after becoming an NMT, you can specialize by completing a certification program beyond your degree. Some specialties include:

  • Nuclear cardiology technologist: The nuclear medicine technologist specializing in nuclear cardiology works solely with imaging the heart and circulatory system.

  • PET Positron emission tomography (PET) technologist: Specialization in PET scans involves using a special machine designed to take three-dimensional images of a specific body part.

  • Computed tomography (CT) technologists: A computed tomography technologist takes two- and three-degree views of specific organs. 

Job Outlook

According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, the jobs for nuclear medicine technologists are expected to see an eight percent growth through 2030. Retirements and aging populations will result in the need for nuclear medicine technologists [2].

Salary

According to the BLS, as a nuclear medicine technologist, you can anticipate earning an average salary of $78,760. The highest-paying positions are in outpatient care centers. The BLS reported that as of May 2021, the average salary in these workplaces is $125,920 [3]. Physicians’ offices, hospitals, and diagnostic laboratories all paid between $78,140 and $79,970 in the same period.

Jobs related to nuclear medical technology are available with the proper education and certification. The positions are in health care settings and require working one-on-one with patients under the supervision of a physician or other diagnostic professional.

Some options to consider are: 

  • Diagnostic medical sonographer: A career as a diagnostic medical sonographer requires either an associate or bachelor’s degree or completion of a certificate program with clinical experience. As a sonographer, you work with patients to take digital images using special equipment.

  • Neurodiagnostic technologist: The neurodiagnostic technologist performs tests on the brain and nervous system. The job doesn’t require a degree; however, certification is available after completing a two-year program.

  • Radiologic technologist: Radiologic technologists take X-rays to be interpreted by physicians. The position requires graduation from an accredited school, and certification is required. Some states also require licensing.

  • Radiation therapist: A radiation therapist works with cancer patients and others who need radiation therapy. You work as a member of an oncology team to administer treatment and monitor patients for side effects.

  • Cardiovascular technologist: The cardiovascular technologist works with EKG equipment to monitor heart and lung function. You may perform other tasks as needed, such as lung capacity testing.

Ready to start an NMT career? 

If you’re interested in pursuing a career as a nuclear medicine technologist, check with your state’s licensing requirements before enrolling in a program to ensure the school meets all the necessary exams and certifications.

To explore more about nuclear medicine, consider taking the course Life, Health and Radiation offered through the University of Sydney, on Coursera. 

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Article sources 

1. Nuclear Medicine Technology Certification Board. "Frequently Asked Questions: State Licensure, https://www.nmtcb.org/faqs/state-licensure." Accessed June 8, 2022.

2. US Bureau of Labor Statistics.“Nuclear Medicine Technologists: Occupational Outlook Handbook, www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/nuclear-medicine-technologists.htm#tab-6." Accessed June 8, 2022.

3. US Bureau of Labor Statistics.“Nuclear Medicine Technologists: Occupational Outlook Handbook, www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/nuclear-medicine-technologists.htm#tab-5. Accessed June 8, 2022.

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