What Nuclear Medicine Technologists Do
Nuclear medicine technologists prepare radioactive drugs and administer them to patients for imaging or therapeutic purposes.
Most nuclear medicine technologists work in hospitals. Some work in physicians’ offices, diagnostic laboratories, or imaging clinics. Most nuclear medicine technologists work full time.
How to Become a Nuclear Medicine Technologist
Nuclear medicine technologists typically need an associate’s degree from an accredited nuclear medicine technology program. Formal education programs in nuclear medicine technology or a related healthcare field lead to a certificate, an associate’s degree, or a bachelor’s degree. Most nuclear medicine technologists become certified.
The median annual wage for nuclear medicine technologists was $77,950 in May 2019.
Employment of nuclear medicine technologists is projected to grow 5 percent from 2019 to 2029, faster than the average for all occupations. An aging population may lead to the need for nuclear medicine technologists who can provide imaging to patients with certain medical conditions, such as heart disease, or treatments for cancers and other diseases.
Nuclear medicine technologists prepare radioactive drugs and administer them to patients for imaging or therapeutic purposes. They provide technical support to physicians or other professional nuclear medicine personnel in the diagnosis, care, and treatment of patients and for research and investigation into the uses of radioactive drugs. They also may act as emergency responders in the event of a nuclear disaster.
Nuclear medicine technologists typically do the following:
- Explain medical procedures to the patient and answer questions
- Follow safety procedures to protect themselves and the patient from unnecessary radiation exposure
- Prepare radioactive drugs and administer them to the patient
- Monitor the patient to check for unusual reactions to the drugs
- Operate imaging equipment
- Keep detailed records of procedures
- Follow radiation disposal and safety procedures
Radioactive drugs, known as radiopharmaceuticals, give off radiation, allowing special scanners to monitor tissue and organ functions. Abnormal areas show higher-than-expected or lower-than-expected concentrations of radioactivity. Physicians and surgeons then interpret the images to help diagnose the patient’s condition. For example, tumors can be seen in organs during a scan because of their concentration of the radioactive drugs.
Radiopharmaceuticals can also be used to deliver concentrated doses of radiation to specific areas, such as tumors, for treatment of conditions that may not allow other forms of treatment. Various forms of internal radiation treatments also may be good alternatives to invasive surgical procedures.
In the event of a radioactive incident or nuclear disaster, some nuclear medicine technologists may be involved in emergency response efforts. These workers’ experience with radiation detection and monitoring equipment could be useful during the response to events that involve radiological materials.
After graduation from an accredited program, a technologist can choose to earn a certification in positron emission tomography (PET) or nuclear cardiology. PET uses a machine that creates a three-dimensional image of a part of the body, such as the brain. Nuclear cardiology uses radioactive drugs to obtain images of the heart. Patients may exercise during the imaging process while the technologist creates images of the heart and blood flow.
Some nuclear medicine technologists work in support of researchers in the development of new nuclear medicine applications in imagery or therapy.
Nuclear medicine technologists held about 18,500 jobs in 2019. The largest employers of nuclear medicine technologists were as follows:
|Hospitals; state, local, and private||73%|
|Offices of physicians||16|
|Medical and diagnostic laboratories||6|
|Outpatient care centers||3|
Technologists are on their feet for long periods and may need to lift or turn patients who are disabled.
Injuries and Illnesses
Although radiation hazards exist in this occupation, they are minimized by the use of gloves and other shielding devices. Nuclear medicine technologists wear badges that measure radiation levels in the radiation area. Instruments monitor their radiation exposure and detailed records are kept on how much radiation they get over their lifetime. When preparing radioactive drugs, technologists use safety procedures to minimize radiation exposure to patients, other healthcare workers, and themselves.
Like other healthcare workers, nuclear medicine technologists may be exposed to infectious diseases.
Most nuclear medicine technologists work full time. Some nuclear medicine technologists work evenings, weekends, or nights.
This table shows a list of occupations with job duties that are similar to those of nuclear medicine technologists.
|Occupation||Job Duties||Entry-Level Education||Median Annual Pay, May 2019|
Biological technicians help biological and medical scientists conduct laboratory tests and experiments.
Diagnostic Medical Sonographers and Cardiovascular Technologists and Technicians, Including Vascular Technologists
Diagnostic medical sonographers and cardiovascular technologists and technicians, including vascular technologists operate special imaging equipment to create images or to conduct tests.
Clinical Laboratory Technologists and Technicians
Clinical laboratory technologists and technicians collect samples and perform tests to analyze body fluids, tissue, and other substances.
Nuclear technicians assist physicists, engineers, and other professionals in nuclear research and nuclear energy production.
Radiation therapists treat cancer and other diseases in patients by administering radiation treatments.
Radiologic and MRI Technologists
Radiologic technologists perform diagnostic imaging examinations on patients. MRI technologists operate magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scanners to create diagnostic images.
For more information about nuclear and radiologic medicine, visit
For a list of accredited programs in nuclear medicine technology, visit
For more information about certification for nuclear medicine technologists, visit
Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Nuclear Medicine Technologists,
at https://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/nuclear-medicine-technologists.htm (visited ).