What is a Nuclear Medicine Technologist?

 

Nuclear Medicine Technologists carry out diagnostic imaging and some treatment procedures in hospitals or private medical clinics. They perform imaging exams that help pinpoint the nature of a disease and how it is affecting the body based on changes in physiology. Their work also enables doctors to monitor a patient's response to treatment. Depending on the type of scan, it may take minutes to several days to complete imaging. Nuclear medicine takes advantage of the way the body handles the radioactive substances differently when there is a disease or pathology present within the body. In the presence of disease, the radioactive material will be distributed throughout the body and/or processed differently than in a healthy body. 

Testing can be split into two broad groups:

In-vivo tests are measurements directly involving the patient.
In-vitro tests are measurements of samples taken from the patient (e.g. blood, urine, breath).

Some of the main uses of nuclear medicine include:

  • Evaluating coronary disease, and cardiac function
  • Studying how the brain, heart, lungs, kidneys and other organs are functioning
  • Determining the location of tumors
  • Monitoring the progression of cancer and the results of cancer treatments
  • Diagnosing hormonal disorders
  • Assessing orthopedic injuries

Nuclear medicine involves the use of radioactive tracers that concentrate on specific organs when introduced into the patient's bloodstream. Given in small amounts, usually by injection, the tracers expose patients to a very low-level of radiation for a short period of time. As the tracer emits radiation, a special detector called a gamma camera collects data. Nuclear medicine technologists use computers to process the data and produce images of the organ from different angles. Cross-sectional images can be obtained if required. 

As part of their professional duties, nuclear medicine technologists:

  • Explain the procedures to patients.
  • Answer questions as fully as possible.
  • Educate patients.
  • Prepare the tracer (radio-pharmaceutical) prescribed.
  • Ensure that proper radiation handling and protection techniques are followed.
  • Administer the tracer.
  • Position patients and equipment correctly.
  • Perform the required diagnostic exams and therapeutic procedures.
  • Monitor patients during the procedure.
  • Comfort patients and provide emotional support.
  • Conduct computer analysis to produce diagnostic medical images.
  • Ensure equipment is working within required specifications

Required Education
There are numerous approved nuclear medicine technology programs available in Canada. A full list can be viewed through the provided link. In Nova Scotia, the program is a four-year degree program offered through Dalhousie University. Upon completion of this degree, you must then write a national entry to practice certification exam developed by the national association (Canadian Association of Medical Radiation Technologists). MRTs must be a registrant of this association to work in Nova Scotia as an MRT.