About Nuclear Medicine
Nuclear Medicine is a medical specialty that uses safe, painless, and cost-effective techniques both to image the body and treat disease. Nuclear medicine imaging is unique in that it documents organ function and structure, in contrast to diagnostic radiology, which is based upon anatomy. It is a way to gather medical information that may otherwise be unavailable, require surgery, or necessitate more expensive diagnostic tests.
As an integral part of patient care, nuclear medicine is used in the dagnosis, management, treatment, and prevention of serious disease. Nuclear medicine imaging procedures often identify abnormalities very early in the progression of a disease, long before some medical problems are apparent with other diagnostic tests. This early detection allows a disease to be treated early in its course when there may be a more successful prognosis.
Nuclear medicine uses very small amounts of radioactive materials or radiopharmaceuticals to diagnose and treat disease. Radiopharmaceuticals are substances used in nuclear medicine emit gamma rays that can be detected externally by special types of cameras: gamma or PET cameras. These cameras work in conjunction with computers used to form images that provide data and information about the area of the body being imaged. The amount of radiation from a nuclear medicine procedure is comparable to that received during a diagnostic x-ray.
Today, nuclear medicine offers procedures that are helpful to a broad span of medical specialties, from pediatrics to cardiology to psychiatry. There are nearly one hundred different nuclear medicine imaging procedures available and not a major organ system which is not imaged by nuclear medicine.
Fast Facts about Nuclear Medicine
- An estimated 10 to 12 million nuclear medicine imaging and therapeutic procedures are performed each year in the United States.
- Nuclear medicine procedures are unique, safe, and cost-effective.
- There are nearly 100 different nuclear medicine imaging procedures available today.
- Nuclear medicine uniquely provides information about both the function and structure of virtually every major organ system within the body.
- Nuclear medicine procedures are among the safest diagnostic imaging tests available.
- The amount of radiation in a nuclear medicine procedure is comparable to that received during a diagnostic x-ray.
- Nuclear medicine procedures are painless and do not require anesthesia.
- Children commonly undergo nuclear medicine procedures to evaluate bone pain, injuries, infection, or kidney and bladder function. Common nuclear medicine applications include diagnosis and treatment of hyperthyroidism (Grave's Disease), cardiac stress tests to analyze heart function, bone scans for orthopedic injuries, lung scans for blood clots, and liver and gall bladder procedures to diagnose abnormal function or blockages.
- There are approximately 2,700 full-time equivalent nuclear medicine physicians and 14,000 certified nuclear medicine technologists nationwide.
If you have a keen interest in the health sciences and computer technology and are looking for a people-oriented career, consider Nuclear Medicine Technology!
Nuclear medicine combines chemistry, physics, mathematics, computer technology, and medicine in using radioactivity to diagnose and treat disease. Though there are many diagnostic techniques currently available, nuclear medicine uniquely provides information about both the structure and function of virtually every major organ system within the body. It is this ability to characterize and quantify physiologic function which separates nuclear medicine from other imaging modalities, such as x-ray. Nuclear medicine procedures are safe, they involve little or no patient discomfort and do not require the use of anesthesia.
The Nuclear Medicine Technologist is a highly specialized healthcare professional who works closely with the nuclear medicine physician. Some of the technologist's primary responsibilities are to:
- Prepare and administer radioactive chemical compounds, known as radiopharmaceuticals
- Perform patient imaging procedures using sophisticated radiation-detecting instrumentation
- Accomplish computer processing and image enhancement
- Analyze biologic specimens in the laboratory
- Provide images, data analysis, and patient information to the physician for diagnostic interpretation.
During an imaging procedure, the technologist works directly with the patient. The technologist-
- Gains the patient's confidence by obtaining pertinent history, describing the procedure and answering any questions
- Monitors the patient's physical condition during the course of the procedure
- Notes any specific patient comments which might indicate the need for additional images or might be useful to the physician in interpreting the results of the procedure.
Nuclear medicine will continue to be a field at the forefront of modern clinical medicine and technological development. The future has never been brighter thanks to-
- The development of new radiopharmaceuticals for diagnostic and therapeutic purposes
- Promising research and development of cancer-detecting and cancer-killing agents, such as genetically engineered antibodies
- The expanding clinical use of exciting new technology such as Positron Emission Tomography (PET), PET/CT and SPECT/CT Fusion imaging, which provide new and unique means of studying biochemistry and metabolism within living tissues.
Nuclear Medicine Technologists work in a wide variety of clinical settings, such as
- Community hospitals
- University-affiliated teaching hospitals and medical centers
- Outpatient imaging facilities
- Public health institutions
- Government and private research institutes
Salaries in nuclear medicine tend to vary with geographic regions and cost of living, but are extremely good nationwide. Entry level technologists in this region average$45-50,000 per year.
Technologists have a wide variety of alternative career paths available, including-
- Senior staff technologist
- Nuclear Medicine Physician Assistant (New Opportunity)
- Research technologist
- Technology program educator
- Chief technologist
- Departmental administrator
- Hospital administrator
- Industry sales representative, technical specialist, or research-and-development specialist.