What is Nuclear Medicine?
Nuclear medicine is a medical specialty that uses small amounts of radioactive materials, known as radiopharmaceuticals, for diagnostic, therapeutic, and research purposes. Highly simplified, a typical procedure would involve discussing the procedure with the patient, injecting the radiopharmaceutical which localizes in the area of interest, then is imaged using a special camera. It is something like taking an X-ray from the inside-out.
Some of the primary responsibilities for nuclear medical technologists (NMTs) are:
- Prepare and administer radiopharmaceuticals
- Work directly with patients throughout the procedure
- Work with sophisticated instrumentation and computers to generate digital images
- Evaluate new procedures
Nuclear medicine provides unique information about both structure and function of nearly every human organ. It is the ability to characterize and quantify physiologic function that makes nuclear medicine different from an X-ray. As radiopharmaceuticals become more sophisticated, it is becoming possible to see inside of human beings at the cellular and even at the molecular level.
Nuclear medical procedures are safe, both for the patient and the technologist. Patients experience little or no discomfort and do not require anesthesia. Exposure to ionizing radiation is monitored closely, and kept well below safety limits.
Nuclear medicine technology is a highly patient-oriented field and NMTs are an integral part of the health professions team. It is a vigorous, dynamic field that has seen dramatic growth over the past three decades and is expected to grow even more in the future. New radiopharmaceuticals and imaging technologies are continually being developed, making NMT an increasingly valuable tool for hospitals and clinics. To learn more about nuclear medicine, check out this brochure (PDF), produced by the Society of Nuclear Medicine.