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What is a Nuclear Medicine Technology Degree?
Nuclear medicine technology uses radioactive drugs, also referred to as radiopharmaceuticals, to help diagnose and treat diseases. A nuclear medicine technologist prepares and administers a small amount of radioactive material to a patient and then tracks the course of the radioactivity with specialized equipment. Since radioactive particles can move freely inside the body, nuclear imaging provides information about both the structure and function of major organ systems.
Programs in nuclear medicine technology are organized around imaging studies tracks that provide specific instruction in areas such as computed tomography (CT), magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), and positron emission tomography (PET). Students also learn about patient communication and management, anatomy and physiology, radiation physics, nuclear medicine instrumentation, calculation of radiopharmaceutical doses, and radiation safety. Clinical practicums in hospital settings are an integral part of the curriculum.
Nuclear medicine technology programs prepare students for certification examinations offered by the American Registry of Radiologic Technologists (ARRT) and the Nuclear Medicine Technology Certification Board (NMTCB). Although certification is voluntary, it fulfills most of the requirements for licensure, which varies by state.
In addition to the degrees described below, one-year programs leading to a Post-Baccalaureate Certificate in Nuclear Medicine Technology are available. These programs are designed for students who have completed a degree in another health field.
Associate Degree in Nuclear Medicine Technology – Two Year Duration
Associate degree programs combine general education requirements with specialized coursework in nuclear medicine technology. The associate curriculum teaches students the basic tools, methods, and principles of the technology.
Bachelor’s Degree in Nuclear Medicine Technology – Four Year Duration
Bachelor’s programs in nuclear medicine technology offer the most comprehensive education in the field, with more in-depth study of nuclear medicine science, radiopharmacy, positron emission tomography (PET), and instrumentation, as well as and more extensive laboratory and clinical practice.
Despite the differences described above, the curriculum at both the associate and bachelor’s levels begins with foundational science courses in anatomy and physiology, microbiology, pharmacology, pathophysiology, organic chemistry, and physics. The following are examples of courses which make up the nuclear medicine technology core:
- Introduction to Hospital – basic patient care techniques, medical terminology, visits to hospital settings
- Nuclear Medicine Physics – the physics of nuclear medicine technologist as the technologist applies it daily, in relation to instrumentation, quality control, imaging techniques, and radiation doses
- Instrumentation Technology and Techniques – the theories and operations of circuitry for nuclear medicine technology equipment; applications of statistics for imaging and counting procedures
- Radiopharmacy – the production of radionuclides (unstable atoms that emit radiation spontaneously) and their uses, the use of generators, formulation of radiopharmaceuticals, and operation of equipment; the biochemical and physical properties of radiopharmaceuticals and their methods of localization
- Computer Applications for Nuclear Medicine – computer data acquisition and development of processing skills for quantification and analysis
- Radiation Safety – introduction to the principles of radiation protection and their implementation in the nuclear medicine setting; the federal agencies and regulations that control the use and handling of radioactive materials as related to nuclear medicine
- Clinical Techniques and Practice – introduction to the practical applications of the nuclear medicine laboratory; hands-on training in the techniques of radiopharmaceutical prepartations, quality control, In Vitro studies, Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) training, venipuncture (taking blood from a vein with a needle), and patient care
- Nuclear Medicine Technology and Techniques – introduction to the imaging procedures and techniques performed in a nuclear medicine department, with emphasis on the uses of radiopharmaceuticals and pharmaceuticals in the diagnosis and treatment of disease; administration of radiopharmaceuticals and pharmaceuticals to patients; imaging of radiopharmaceuticals and distribution in an organ or specific area within the body
- Instrumentation and Quality Control – operations and quality control of nuclear medicine equipment to comply with regulatory bodies and provide optimum patient care
- Radiation Biology – understanding the effect of radiation exposure on biological systems, which are the basis for regulations and medical physics practices concerning the use of radiation and radioactive materials
- Fundamentals of Healthcare Administration – the structure and financing of healthcare including healthcare delivery systems, technological innovations, the complex regulatory environment, and increased focus on preventative care
- Positron Emission Tomography (PET) – the cyclotron production of radionuclides and their uses, radiation safety for positron emitting isotopes, formulation of radiopharmaceuticals, and operation of imaging equipment; the biochemical and physical properties of radiopharmaceuticals and their methods of localization within the body
- Educational Methods for the Clinical Setting – the importance of professional communication with patients, families, caregivers, and other healthcare providers
- Clinical Practice – in a clinical environment, students expand their understanding of the functions and applications of imaging equipment in nuclear medicine, radiation safety, nuclear medicine departmental procedures, and patient care
- Clinical Practice – clinical practice focusing on an understanding of single photon emission computed tomography (SPECT), whole body and monoclonal antibody imaging, and therapeutic procedures
- Nuclear Cardiology – advanced cardiopulmonary theory and clinical practice, with emphasis on cardiopulmonary pathophysiology, cardiac data acquisition, cardiac data processing, troubleshooting and pharmaceutical intervention
- PET Clinical Practice and Research – PET imaging, equipment, radiopharmaceutical usage, and patient care; students will conduct research on one particular disease in conjunction with PET-CT imaging and present their research results in a paper and oral presentation
- Certification Seminar – a comprehensive review of all aspects of nuclear medicine technology in preparation for the certification examinations
- Computerized Tomography Technology – detailed analysis of computerized tomography technology including patient care, imaging procedures, physics, and instrumentation
- MRI Technology – detailed analysis of magnetic resonance imaging technology including patient care, imaging procedures, data acquisition and processing, and physical principles of image formation
- Cross-Sectional Anatomy – a specialized study of cross-sectional anatomy of the brain, chest, abdomen, pelvis, and extremities relevant to single-photon emission computed tomography (SPECT), computer tomography (CT), and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI); SPECT, CT, and MRI radiographs and diagrams are used to support the learning process
Degrees Similar to Nuclear Medicine Technology
Degree programs in cardiovascular technology prepare students to work as cardiovascular technologists (CVTs). These technicians assist doctors with the diagnosis and treatment of diseases and conditions of the heart (cardio) and blood vessels (vascular). The curriculum is threefold in nature. Students learn (1) the structure, function, and pathology of the heart and blood vessels, (2) the diagnostic tools and procedures used to test them, and (3) the care of cardiovascular patients.
Clinical Laboratory Science
Degree programs in clinical laboratory science prepare students to work as laboratory technicians, who use chemicals and other substances to test body fluids and tissues for the purpose of diagnosing diseases. The curriculum combines chemistry, biology, and medicine.
Students of nuclear engineering learn how energy released from nuclear reactions can be used in power plants, medical diagnostic equipment, and other industries. Nuclear engineering courses cover nuclear reactor theory, design, safety, and risks.
This degree program is designed to give students the knowledge and experience for safe, compassionate, evidence-based, competent, and ethical nursing practice.
This program prepares students to work as a physician assistant or PA. Under the supervision of a physician, PAs take medical histories, conduct physical exams, diagnose and treat illnesses, order and interpret tests, and provide preventative healthcare. They may also assist in surgery and conduct research.
There is no distinct pre-medicine degree. ‘Pre-medicine’ or ‘pre-med’ is merely a term that students planning to go to medical school use to describe their undergraduate studies. In fact, aspiring doctors enter med school having earned many different bachelor’s degrees. A science program such as biology or chemistry is certainly a common choice, but it is not mandatory. In other words, a pre-med student can be a psychology major, a statistics major, or a Spanish major. The key for students is to incorporate into their studies the classes needed to apply to medical school.
Radiation therapy is a type of cancer treatment that uses ionizing radiation to kill cancer cells. Radiation therapists are the healthcare professionals who administer this treatment. Degree programs in radiation therapy are comprised of classroom instruction, laboratory sessions, and clinical experiences. Students learn how to use advanced computer software for treatment planning, imaging technology for producing detailed pictures of internal body structures, and state-of-the art high energy linear accelerator equipment to deliver treatment.
Radiological Science and Technologies
Degree programs in radiological science and technologies prepare students for careers as radiologic technologists. These professionals, also known as radiographers, use medical diagnostic equipment, tools, and instruments to capture images of the organs, bones, and tissues inside the body. They also analyze and interpret these images in consultation with doctors and other medical team members.
In addition to learning imaging procedures and image interpretation, students take foundational courses in anatomy and physiology, physics, and pathology. They also learn how to maintain imaging equipment, prepare patients for imaging procedures, and protect patients from harmful radiation.
Respiratory care programs prepare students for careers as respiratory therapists. The curriculum focuses on how to diagnose and manage cardio-pulmonary disorders. Training includes performing CPR, using ventilators, and providing oxygen therapy.
Surgical technology certificate and degree programs teach students how to be effective members of operating room teams. Students learn how to equip operating rooms for specific procedures, how to prepare patients for surgery, how to sterilize surgical instruments, and how to assist doctors, nurses, and patients. Coursework includes anatomy and physiology, surgical patient care, and health law and ethics.
Skills You’ll Learn
In addition to their skills in the areas of anatomy and physiology, radiography and radiology, graduates of nuclear medicine technology programs leave their studies with several transferable skills:
Attention to Detail
Nuclear medicine technologists must capture clear and high-quality images of organs, bones, and tissues. This imagery is crucial to patients’ medical diagnosis and treatment.
Communication and Interpersonal Skills
Working with patients on a daily basis calls for someone who is not only adept at monitoring patients’ physical comfort, but sensitive and responsive to the emotional stress they may be experiencing. Empathy and compassion are essential.
Observation, Analysis, and Critical Thinking
Nuclear medicine technologists must assess whether the dosage of radioactive tracer material is accurate.
Nuclear medicine technologists are often on their feet for long periods and may need to lift and move patients who need assistance.
Teamwork and Collaboration
Nuclear medicine technologists are part of a team of medical professionals, who share information and work together for the well-being of the patient.
Nuclear medicine technology is an evolving field of medical science. It is, as the name implies, technology driven and complex. Anyone working in the field must be comfortable adapting to changes in computer software and technical equipment.
What Can You Do with a Nuclear Medicine Technology Degree?
The vast majority of nuclear medicine technologists are employed by hospitals. Some, however, work in physicians’ offices, outpatient care centers, medical and diagnostic laboratories, or research institutes. Others are faculty members of nuclear medicine technology programs or work for companies selling medical imaging equipment. Opportunities may also exist with regulatory bodies, commercial radiopharmacies, and computer applications developers.
Here are some sample job titles for nuclear medicine technologists:
- Certified Nuclear Medicine Technologist
- Isotope Technologist
- Nuclear Cardiology Technologist
- PET (Positron Emission Tomography) Technologist
- Radioisotope Technologist
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