Nuclear medicine technologists operate equipment that creates images of areas of a patient's body. They prepare radioactive drugs and administer them to patients. The radioactive drugs cause abnormal areas of the body to appear different from normal areas in the images.
Nuclear medicine technologists typically do the following:
Explain imaging procedures to the patient and answer questions
Follow safety procedures to protect themselves and the patient from unnecessary radiation exposure
Examine machines to ensure that they are working properly
Prepare radioactive drugs and administer them to the patient
Monitor the patient to check for unusual reactions to the drugs
Operate equipment that creates images of areas in the body, such as images of organs
Keep detailed records of procedures
Follow radiation disposal and safety procedures
Radioactive drugs, known as radiopharmaceuticals, give off radiation, allowing special scanners to monitor tissue and organ functions. Abnormal areas show higher-than-expected or lower-than-expected concentrations of radioactivity. Physicians and surgeons then interpret the images to help diagnose the patient's condition. For example, tumors can be seen in organs during a scan because of their concentration of the radioactive drugs.
After graduation from an accredited program, a technologist can choose to specialize in positron emission tomography (PET) or nuclear cardiology. PET uses a machine that creates a three-dimensional image of a part of the body, such as the brain. Nuclear cardiology uses radioactive drugs to obtain images of the heart. Patients may exercise during the imaging process while the technologist creates images of the heart and blood flow.