Guide To Nuclear Medicine Technologist Programs

Nuclear medicine technologists (NMTs) use diagnostic imaging tools in conjunction with radioactive compounds to gather images of the body. They prepare these compounds, called radiopharmaceuticals, administer them to patients, guide the patients through the imaging process and operate the machines that create the images. NMTs work closely with physicians, who use the images the technologists produce to make diagnoses.

Currently, around 13,000 people in United States work as nuclear medicine technologists. The Bureau of Labor Statistics anticipates that the next decade will see growth in this industry. More than 100 accredited institutions in the United States, including universities and community colleges, offer programs in nuclear medicine technology.

 Choosing a The Right SchoolAccreditationWhile an institution does not have to be accredited to offer courses in nuclear medicine technology, degrees or certificates from unaccredited schools may exclude students from some employment opportunities. The main accreditation body for programs in nuclear medicine technology is the Joint Review Committee on Educational Programs in Nuclear Medicine Technology (JRCNMT). This committee is administered by the Nuclear Medicine Technology Certification Board (NMTCB). The NMTCB also recognizes programs accredited by one of the six regional organizations of schools and colleges.

Students participating in unaccredited nuclear medicine technologist programs are not eligible to take the national certification exam set by the NMTCB. However, students who have earned a degree in one of the sciences, or a non-science degree that includes a substantial science component, are eligible to take the exam. In the case of these exceptions, the students must seek permission to take the test. Only students who have fulfilled all of the requirements of a degree program from an accredited institution and have passed the exam receive certification. Another certification available to NMTs, that from the American Registry of Radiologic Technologists (ARRT) has educational requirements very similar to those of the NMTCB.

CertificationPrograms that offer degrees or certificates in nuclear medicine technology often post their pass rates for the NMTCB exam. Some schools provide additional details, indicating how many students performed in the highest percentiles on this scaled test. Having many students who perform well on the exam indicates that an institution more than adequately prepares its students for their profession.

Earning the certification that comes from passing the NMCTB or ARRT exam may make it easier to obtain a nuclear medicine technology license. Not all states require that NMTs be licensed; further, for those states that do require licensing, certification is never a prerequisite. However, applicants without a certification often have to pass tests to demonstrate their competency. Regardless of state requirements, many employers expect the nuclear medicine technologists they hire to be certified or licensed.

TechnologiesTechnologists with a background in multiple diagnostic imaging methods have an advantage in a competitive job market. Current nuclear medical technologies include positron emission tomography (PET), nuclear cardiology (NCT), magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), and computed tomography (CT). How extensively a student is trained in each during his NMT program depends on the equipment available to the institution. Often, specialization in a particular technology comes after graduation from on-the-job training or subsequent enrollment in a particular certificate program.

FacilitiesWhen potential students evaluate nuclear medicine technologist schools, they should consider the equipment that will be available during clinical training. The breadth of the clinical training component depends on the technologies in use at the affiliated hospital. Large teaching hospitals with plenty of resources to dedicate to their divisions of nuclear medicine provide students with useful experience on many machines and in many procedures. Knowing how to use a state-of-the-art 64-slice CT scan, for instance, makes a student valuable to employees. Choosing a school with such a machine available can improve post-graduation employment prospects.

While around two-thirds of NMTs work in a hospital setting, many of these professionals travel from one site to the next. An education that includes a variety of machines, imaging programs and patient types benefits students who may seek work as itinerant NMTs. Further, the range of both individuals and ailments that comes with high patient volume also enhances a student’s understanding of his field. Employers look for NMTs who are able to deal with patients from all backgrounds effectively and compassionately. A school that allows a student to work with many people of all types and ages develops skills valuable in the workplace.

 Degree Programs OfferedPrograms in nuclear medical technology may offer bachelor’s degrees, associate’s degrees or certificates.

CertificateOften, health professionals interested in nuclear medicine technology seek a post-baccalaureate certificate, which takes about a year to obtain. The skills earned in pursuit of the certificate make them more versatile in the workplace and increases their appeal to employers. For instance, an x-ray technician may undertake an NMT program in order to advance within the imaging department of his hospital. Other health care workers who seek certificates in nuclear medical technology include nurses, medical lab technologists, and respiratory therapists. Both hospitals and colleges offer certificate programs.

Associate’s DegreeA nuclear medicine technology student earns an associate’s degree, generally from a community college, over the course of two years. Some programs offer a third year that emphasizes clinical work. In addition to basic education requirements including anatomy, ethics and general chemistry, the curriculum for an associate’s degree introduces the student to the basic concepts of nuclear medicine, followed by instruction in radiation chemistry and the use of related technology. Tuition for an associate’s degree is usually less than that for a bachelor’s degree. However, bachelor’s degree programs include a longer time dedicated to particular diagnostic methods and working with patients, experience that could be valuable in the workplace.

Bachelor’s Degree
A bachelor’s degree in nuclear medicine technology is typically a four-year program requiring a terminal year of internship. Before he is admitted to a program in nuclear medical technology, a student must complete many hours of course work that including classes in science, math, chemistry and other associated areas. These programs tend to be very competitive, with higher grade point requirements than associate’s degrees in the same field. Often, students graduating with a B.A. or B.S. in nuclear medicine technology go on to teach or work in administration.

The field of nuclear medical technology is expected to expand further as the patient population ages and as researchers develop additional diagnostic tests. However, employment is currently very competitive, with more NMTs graduating than the workplace can absorb. Because nuclear medicine is a field where technology is always changing, continuing education is necessary to advance beyond entry-level positions. A degree or certificate from a well-equipped institution gives a student a good place to start, but courses continue to be part of the life of any successful NMT.

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