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Nuclear Medical Technology - Overview


Nuclear medical technology programs teach people how to use radioactive atoms to diagnose and treat health problems. Students learn health physics. They learn how to operate equipment and maintain radiation safety.

To hear the word "radioactive" probably makes you think "DANGER." Who could blame you? After all, radioactivity has been associated with many dangerous things - from the stream of nuclear energy that Godzilla unleashes when he breathes to the terrifying blast of nuclear energy that's released when an atomic bomb is dropped.

But radioactivity is used for positive purposes as well. In nuclear medicine technology, radioactivity is used to help diagnose diseases or disorders. In very small quantities, radioactive atoms called "radionuclides" are prepared much the same way pharmacists prepare other kinds of drugs. The resulting product is called a "radiopharmaceutical."

Nuclear medical technologists give small doses of these radiopharmaceuticals to their patients – by injection, by mouth, or in other ways. Because radioactive atoms give off light, nuclear medical technologists can then trace the path of these atoms through a patient's body, using special cameras. Depending on the situation, these atoms may be helpful in checking organ function, hormone levels, or other conditions.

As a student in this program, you study principles of radioactivity – its chemistry and physics. You learn how radioactivity applies to medicine, especially to medical diagnosis. Because tracing radioactivity requires special equipment, you also learn how to operate this machinery. These are just a few of the things you learn while studying in this cutting-edge program.

Over 90 schools and institutions offer programs in nuclear medical technology (also known as nuclear medicine technology). These programs are sometimes part of a larger department such as medical imaging or radiologic sciences. In those cases, you may first have to take a course with an overview of the different technologies used for medical diagnosis. Afterwards, you can branch out into nuclear medicine as your preferred specialty.

In this program, you can earn a certificate, an associate degree, or a bachelor's degree. A certificate usually takes one to two years of full-time study after high school. However, many of the certificate programs are accelerated programs. They assume (and require) that you have a credential in a related field such as radiation therapy or a science- or health-related degree. So even though the certificate itself usually takes between one and two years of full-time study, there may be additional study involved as well.

An associate degree typically takes between two and three years, and a bachelor's degree generally takes four years.

Source: Illinois Career Information System (CIS) brought to you by Illinois Department of Employment Security.
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