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Detailed Guide for

Nuclear Medicine Technologists in San Diego County

May also be called: Nuclear Medical Technologists; and Nuclear Medicine Technicians

What Would I Do?

Nuclear medicine technology provides imaging of microscopic biological changes in the body. These detailed images provide data to identify diseases and conditions that are not possible with other diagnostic imaging technologies. The images document how well tissues and organs function rather than physical changes in their shape or structure. This allows for identifying abnormalities sooner than other diagnostic tests.

Nuclear Medicine Technologists, working under the direction of a doctor, administer radioactive compounds or drugs, known as radiopharmaceuticals, to patients. These substances are designed to target specific tissues or organs in the body. Special computerized cameras detect the distribution of radiopharmaceuticals to create images of specific areas in the body. After explaining test procedures to patients, Technologists prepare an appropriate dosage of the radiopharmaceutical to be swallowed, injected, inhaled, or taken by other means. After a specific waiting period, they position patients and start a specialized camera. The camera works with a computer to provide a high-resolution image.

When preparing radioactive drugs, Technologists comply with safety standards that keep the workers' and patients' exposure to radiation as low as possible. Technologists make sure the patient has been properly prepared for the procedure. They also keep patient records and document the amount and type of radioactive drugs that the Technologist obtains for the patient, uses, and discards.

Nuclear medicine is a specialty of radiology. Because radiopharmaceuticals are designed to target a variety of tissues, the body parts that nuclear medicine can image are numerous. One use is cardiovascular imaging. This traces a radioactive drug, which attaches to red blood cells, as it passes through the heart's chambers.

This field of medicine also treats abnormalities or diseases by destroying targeted tissue. For instance, a cancer patient is given a radiopharmaceutical designed to bind to specific cancer cells. This compound targets and destroys the cancer cells, making it more effective than conventional external radiation techniques. In addition, stronger doses of radiation can be administered this way than would be safe through a conventional external radiation treatment. As new compounds are created by combining radioactive materials with drugs attracted to other tissues, opportunities to use nuclear medicine increase.

Tools and Technology

The positron emission tomography (PET) procedure uses a special medical imaging device, shaped like a doughnut, which produces a three-dimensional image of the body. The PET can detect the precise locations of radiation concentrations imaging metabolic abnormalities linked to disease. Another technique is the single photon emission computed tomography (SPECT) which uses a camera that moves around the body to create a three-dimensional image. The PET and SPECT images can be combined with images from other imaging technologies to provide even more informative data.

Nuclear Medicine Technologists also use hypodermic needles, gamma cameras, liquid scintillation counters, medical software for the cameras, office suite software, radiation detectors, radiation dosimeters, and spectrometers.

Important Tasks and Related Skills

Each task below is matched to a sample skill required to carry out the task.

View the skill definitions
TaskSkill Used in this Task
Calculate, measure and record radiation dosage or radiopharmaceuticals received, used and disposed, using computer and following physician's prescription.Critical Thinking
Maintain and calibrate radioisotope and laboratory equipment.Operation Monitoring
Produce a computer-generated or film image for interpretation by a physician.Deductive Reasoning
Dispose of radioactive materials and store radiopharmaceuticals, following radiation safety procedures.Category Flexibility
Perform quality control checks on laboratory equipment and cameras.Problem Sensitivity
Process cardiac function studies, using computer.Computers and Electronics
Prepare stock radiopharmaceuticals, adhering to safety standards that minimize radiation exposure to workers and patients.Judgment and Decision Making
Record and process results of procedures.Writing
Gather information on patients' illnesses and medical history to guide the choice of diagnostic procedures for therapy.Oral Comprehension
Measure glandular activity, blood volume, red cell survival, and radioactivity of patient, using scanners, Geiger counters, scintillometers, and other laboratory equipment.Near Vision
Source: U.S. Department of Labor Occupational Information Network (O*NET)

Working Conditions

Most Nuclear Medicine Technologists work in clean, medical environments, such as hospitals, doctors' offices, or mobile imaging vehicles. Physical stamina is important in any setting because Nuclear Medicine Technologists are on their feet much of the day and may have to lift or turn disabled patients. In addition, Technologists must operate complicated equipment that requires mechanical ability and manual dexterity.

Because radioactive material can cause harm to people and the environment, use of these materials is highly regulated. While the potential for radiation exposure exists, it is minimized by the use of shielded syringes, gloves, and other protective devices and by following strict safety guidelines. Technologists also wear badges that measure radiation levels. The amount of radiation in a nuclear medicine procedure is comparable to that received during a diagnostic X-ray procedure.

Nuclear Medicine Technologists generally work a 40-hour week. Technologists may work evening and weekend hours in departments that operate on an extended schedule. They may work on call or part-time. In addition, Technologists in hospitals may have on-call duty on a rotational basis, and those employed by mobile imaging services may be required to travel to several locations.

Although some hospitals have unions, the health care industry is not heavily unionized.

Will This Job Fit Me?

This occupation may appeal to those who like searching for facts and figuring out problems mentally. People who like working with ideas and desire to continue learning may enjoy this occupation. It is valuable for Nuclear Medicine Technologists to be detail-oriented and meticulous when performing procedures to assure that all regulations are being followed.

It is beneficial for Technologists to have good communication skills to interact with patients and their families. They should be sensitive to patients’ physical and psychological needs and have a genuine concern for the welfare of patients and clients. The ability to deal with people of diverse backgrounds in stressful situations is valuable.

What Wages and Benefits Can I Expect?

Wages

The median wage in 2016 for Nuclear Medicine Technologists in California is $106,786 annually, or $51.34 hourly. The median wage for Nuclear Medicine Technologists in San Diego County is $94,186 annually, or $45.28 hourly. The median is the point at which half of the workers earn more and half earn less.

Change to Hourly Wages
Annual Wages for 2016Low
(25th percentile)
Median
(50th percentile)
High
(75th percentile)
California$90,401$106,786$125,259
San Diego County$67,281$94,186$115,449
Source: EDD/LMID Occupational Employment Statistics Survey, 2016 Wages do not reflect self-employment.
View Wages for All Areas

Benefits

Typical benefits include medical, dental, life, and vision insurance as well as vacation, sick leave, and retirement plans. Employers frequently provide tuition reimbursement. Several employers also provide assistance with continuing education, such as time off to attend courses and employer-provided training.

What is the Job Outlook?

The technological developments in nuclear medicine treatments and the increase in the middle-aged and elderly populations will likely increase the use of nuclear medicine. The use of technologies, including PET and SPECT, is expected to increase and contribute to employment growth. The wide use of nuclear medical imaging to observe metabolic and biochemical changes during neurology, cardiology, and oncology procedures also will spur demand for Nuclear Medicine Technologists. However, new procedures will likely replace older technologies, keeping the actual number of job openings relatively low.

In addition, the cost for the procedures will be a factor that limits growth. Some promising nuclear medicine procedures are extremely costly. Facilities contemplating these procedures will have to consider equipment costs, reimbursement policies, and the number of potential users. Technologists who are trained in multiple diagnostic methods should have the best job prospects.

Projections of Employment

In California, the number of Nuclear Medicine Technologists is expected to grow slower than average growth rate for all occupations. Jobs for Nuclear Medicine Technologists are expected to increase by 13.3 percent, or 200 jobs between 2012 and 2022.

In San Diego County, the number of Nuclear Medicine Technologists is expected to remain stable between 2012 and 2022.

Estimated Employment and Projected Growth
Nuclear Medicine Technologists
Geographic Area
(Estimated Year-Projected Year)
Estimated
Employment
Projected
Employment
Numeric
Change
Percent
Change
Additional Openings
Due to Net
Replacements
California
(2012-2022)
1,5001,70020013.3200
San Diego County
(2012-2022)
25025000.040
Source: EDD/LMID Projections of Employment by Occupation
View Projected Growth for All Areas

Annual Job Openings

In California, an average of 30 new job openings per year is expected for Nuclear Medicine Technologists, plus an additional 20 job openings due to net replacement needs, resulting in a total of 50 job openings.

In San Diego County, an average of 1 new job opening per year is expected for Nuclear Medicine Technologists, plus an additional 4 job openings due to net replacement needs, resulting in a total of 5 job openings.

Estimated Average Annual Job Openings
Nuclear Medicine Technologists
Geographic Area
(Estimated Year-
Projected Year)
Jobs From GrowthJobs Due to
Net Replacements
Total Annual
Job Openings
California
(2012-2022)
302050
San Diego County
(2012-2022)
145
Source: EDD/LMID Projections of Employment by Occupation
View Data for All Areas

How Do I Qualify?

Education, Training, and Other Requirements

A high school diploma or the equivalent is required for entry into an accredited program for nuclear medicine technology. The Joint Review Committee on Education Programs in Nuclear Medicine Technology accredits formal training programs in nuclear medicine technology. Completion of a training program takes one to four years and leads to a certificate, an associate degree, or a bachelor’s degree. Generally, certificate programs are offered to health professionals who already have an associate or bachelor's degree. These programs attract radiologic technicians, medical technologists, registered nurses, and others who wish to change fields or specialize. Training is provided by a few universities, community colleges, and hospitals. Courses cover the physical sciences, biological effects of radiation exposure, radiation protection and procedures, the use of radiopharmaceuticals, imaging techniques, and computer applications. Some training programs require passing a background check and drug test.

Experience

Experience is important in this highly regulated field. Training programs provide hands-on clinical experience as part of their curriculum. Furthermore, in order to obtain and maintain the state-required certification, applicants must provide evidence that they executed a minimum number of specified procedures. In addition, employers frequently require a minimum of one to two years' experience in the field.

Early Career Planning

Those interested in becoming a Nuclear Medicine Technologists would benefit from taking algebra, biology, chemistry, English, physics, and computer courses. Students could also benefit from exposure to the healthcare environment by working or volunteering in healthcare facilities.

While nuclear medicine is not offered, there are several preparatory courses offered by Regional Occupational Programs (ROP). They offer courses in exploring medical careers, medical terminology, and preparing to work in health care. To find an ROP program near you, go to the California Association of Regional Occupational Centers and Programs Web site.

Continuing Education

Because of the frequent technological changes in the field of nuclear medicine, Technologists must continually update their skills. In addition, to renew state-required certification, Nuclear Medicine Technologists must obtain five hours of continuing education between the five-year renewal periods. One method to renew registration of the American Registry of Radiologic Technologists (ARRT) certification is to earn 24 approved continuing education credits every two years. The Nuclear Medicine Technology Certification Board (NMTCB) has similar continuing education requirements for renewal of their certifications.

Licensing and Certification

California requires users of medical radioactive materials to be certified by the Radiologic Health Branch of the California Department of Public Health. Applicants must obtain certification from the ARRT or NMTCB as a prerequisite. They also must provide evidence of education and the performance of at least 10 various procedures, such as withdrawal of blood samples. Contact the agency that issues the license for additional information. Click on the license title below for details.

The two national organizations offering certification are the ARRT and NMTCB. The most common way to become eligible for certification by the ARRT or NMTCB is to complete a training program recognized by those organizations. Other ways to become eligible are completing an associate or bachelor’s degree in biological science or a related health field, such as registered nursing, or acquiring, under supervision, a certain number of hours of experience in nuclear medicine technology. The ARRT and NMTCB have different requirements. Both require that applicants pass a comprehensive exam to become certified. The NMTCB offers specialized exams for those with extensive knowledge in nuclear cardiology and PET. The ARRT and NMTCB also require passing their ethics review. Although not required, some Technologists receive certification from both agencies. For more information, go to the U.S. Department of Labor's Career InfoNet Web site and scroll down to "Career Tools." Click on "Certification Finder" and follow the instructions to locate certification programs.

Where Can I Find Training?

There are two ways to search for training information:

  • Search by Field of Study to find what programs are available and what schools offer those programs. You may use keywords such as: Nuclear Medicine or Nuclear Medicine Technologist.
  • Search by Training Provider to find schools by name, type of school, or location.

Contact the schools you are interested in to learn about the classes available, tuition and fees, and any prerequisite course work.

Where Would I Work?

The largest industries employing Nuclear Medicine Technologists are as follows:

Industry TitlePercent of Total Employment for Occupation in California
General Medical and Surgical Hospitals 55.8%
Offices of Physicians 23.9%
Medical and Diagnostic Laboratories 13.3%
Colleges and Universities 1.9%
Source: EDD/LMID Staffing Patterns

Finding a Job

Direct application to employers remains one of the most effective job search methods. Job openings can be located in newspaper classified ads, the Internet, and through professional associations. Applicants may also find employment opportunities through placement offices through their college or university. It can also be helpful for candidates to contact facilities providing nuclear medicine imaging services, even if no job announcement has been posted, to see if they accept applications. Online job opening systems include JobCentral at www.jobcentral.com and CalJOBSSM at www.caljobs.ca.gov.

To find your nearest One-Stop Career Center, go to Service Locator. View the helpful job search tips for more resources. (requires Adobe Reader).

Yellow Page Headings

You can focus your local job search by checking employers listed online or in your local telephone directory. Below are some suggested headings where you might find employers of Nuclear Medicine Technologists.

  • Medical Imaging
  • Nuclear Diagnostic Imaging
  • Nuclear Medical Therapy

Find Possible Employers

To locate a list of employers in your area, go to "Find Employers" on the Labor Market Information Web site:

  • Select one of the top industries that employ the occupation. This will give you a list of employers in that industry in your area.
  • Click on "View Filter Selections" to limit your list to specific cities or employer size.
  • Click on an employer for the street address, telephone number, size of business, Web site, etc.
  • Contact the employer for possible employment.

Where Could This Job Lead?

A Nuclear Medicine Technologist may advance to supervisor, then to chief Technologist, and to department administrator or director. Some Technologists specialize in a clinical area, such as nuclear cardiology or computer analysis, or leave patient care to take positions in research laboratories. Some become instructors or directors of nuclear medicine technology programs, a step that usually requires a bachelor’s or master’s degree in the subject. Others leave the occupation to work as sales or training representatives for medical equipment or radiopharmaceutical manufacturing firms. Still others may become radiation safety officers in regulatory agencies or hospitals.

Related Occupations

Below is a list of occupations related to Nuclear Medicine Technologists with links to more information.

OccupationOccupational
Guide
Industry
Report
Occupational
Profile
AnesthesiologistsGuide
Cardiovascular Technologists and TechniciansGuide
Dental HygienistsGuide
OptometristsGuide
Physician AssistantsGuide
Radiation TherapistsGuide
Health Technologists and Technicians, All OtherProfile
Radiologic TechnologistsProfile

Other Sources

These links are provided for your convenience and do not constitute an endorsement by EDD.

For the Career Professional

The following codes are provided to assist counselors, job placement workers, or other career professionals.

SystemCode
SOC - Standard Occupational Classification29-2033
O*NET - Occupational Information Network
   Nuclear Medicine Technologists29-2033.00
   Interest Codes (RIASEC)IRS