The health care field is growing fast, and the sophisticated tools and techniques used to diagnose and treat today's patients are creating medical technology jobs that balance technical expertise with clinical skill. Nuclear medicine technology is emerging as one of the more technical of these new vocations, and the Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that more than 4,000 new positions are expected to open up by 2020 (BLS.gov/ooh, 2012).
A word about vocational education
Whereas an academic education is often primarily theoretical or analytical in nature, vocational colleges instruct students in more practical disciplines. Students in vocational education programs are instructed in a specific body of knowledge with a specific set of skills, and the expectation is that they'll put those same skills to use in the workforce.
Administering radiopharmaceuticals and performing the careful art of molecular imaging requires committed professionals with detailed knowledge and technical expertise. Junior colleges, hospitals, vocational schools and universities all may offer dedicated training programs for nuclear technologists.
Real skills for real technology
Nuclear medicine technologists work with some of the most highly advanced tools and substances available to the medical profession. They're required to understand dose equivalency, radiation survey techniques, shielding protocol, and practical applied maths such as the inverse square law.
While nuclear medicine isn't entirely unique among modern medical professions in that it's tied closely with technology, it is certainly among the most technologically integrated occupations in the clinical field. Even during your education in nuclear technology, you'll likely be working with a variety of advanced devices used to contain, administer, monitor and dispose of radioactive material.
Some professions mention technology as a component of their day-to-day operation as a marketing strategy to attract young, bright, technically capable applicants, only to learn they won't be asked to make full use of their skills. Students in nuclear technology programs learn in short order that technology is a real, fundamental part of their chosen career.
How to become a nuclear medicine technologist
The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that aspiring nuclear medicine technologists typically earn an associate degree before they become certified and begin practicing (BLS.gov/ooh, 2012). In fact, according to the American Registry of Radiologic Technologists (ARRT), an accredited associate degree will be required in order to be eligible for ARRT certification in nuclear medicine beginning in 2015.
The ARRT does note, however, that the required associate degree can be in any subject -- a dedicated nuclear medicine degree isn't necessary. The goal is to promote the certification of nuclear technologists who have earned the cognitive skills and psychological insights encouraged by academic coursework. Certification programs in nuclear medicine contain the lion's share of hands-on, clinical experience that the profession requires.
The most qualified candidates for nuclear medicine jobs have earned an associate or bachelor's degree in an affiliated health care field -- radiology or nursing, for example -- and then completed a one-year program for certification in nuclear medicine technology.
Institute of Education Sciences, "Vocational Education in the United States: The Early 1990s," National Center for Education Statistics, U.S. Department of Education, http://nces.ed.gov/pubs/web/95024-2.asp
U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, "Nuclear Medicine Technologists," March 29, 2012, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/nuclear-medicine-technologists.htm
Nuclear Medicine Technology Certification Board, "NMTCB Pre-Application Review," 2010, http://www.nmtcb.org/policies/preappreview.php
Nuclear Medicine Technology Certification Board, "Components of Preparedness," 2010, http://www.nmtcb.org/exam/cops.php
The American Registry of Radiologic Technologists, "Associate Degree Requirement FAQs," 2013, https://www.arrt.org/FAQ/Associate-Degree-Requirement