Nuclear medicine technologist

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Lauren, 30

How did you become a nuclear medicine technologist?

When I was in Year 9 I had a nuclear medicine bone scan for a back injury. I was really interested in what was happening, so I asked the person who was looking after me what and where they studied. I also wanted to know what subjects I might need to study at school to get into the course.

Science was my favourite subject and I already knew I wanted to work in healthcare, but I didn’t want to be stuck in a lab because I’m more of a people person. Nuclear medicine ticked all of the boxes. It’s a little bit of chemistry, a little bit of biology, and a lot of people contact.

What does a nuclear medicine technologist/scientist do?

Nuclear medicine is a branch of medical radiations, which uses radiopharmaceuticals and high-tech equipment to perform diagnostic tests (mostly imaging) and to treat disease. A radiopharmaceutical is a radioactive isotope attached to a pharmaceutical medicine that, once inside the body, will target a specific organ or area of interest.

Nuclear medicine images provide information about the structure and function of different organs in the body and can be used to diagnose and/or monitor conditions like heart disease, cancer, sports injuries and epilepsy. The use of radiopharmaceuticals to treat or control certain diseases is a small but critical part of nuclear medicine.

Nuclear medicine technologists/scientists prepare and administer radiopharmaceuticals (via injection, inhalation or ingestion), perform studies using machines including gamma cameras and PET scanners, and then process, analyse and display the results, which are reported by a nuclear medicine specialist.

What sort of skills and qualities do you need?

You need really good communication and patient care skills because you have to be able to explain the scans to patients. Lots of people come in thinking that radiation is scary. We also need to be able to get the right information from patients in order to be able to provide the best care for them. Nuclear medicine procedures can take from 30 minutes up to multiple visits over several days, so we can end up spending quite a lot of time with some patients.

Time management and organisational skills are really important. You also need to be forward-thinking, flexible and a little bit creative because every patient and every procedure is slightly different.

It’s also important to understand where nuclear medicine fits into the wider healthcare system and how the results of a study can contribute to patient management.

What are the pros and cons of the job?

The best part of my job is the people that I work with, like the other technologists, doctors, nurses and our admin team. Nuclear medicine is a really exciting field, with new technology being trialled and introduced all the time. We have the opportunity to be involved in research studies and to attend and present at seminars and conferences.

Every day and every patient brings something different. It’s really rewarding to know that I’ve played a part in a patient’s care. We also don’t have to work shift work or on weekends, but are able to do on-call work to earn extra money.

The worst part about my job is a lack of understanding about radiation within other areas of the hospital and in the general public. Sometimes working in such a busy department can be difficult - there is never any spare time, so if a patient requires an extra scan or needs extra care it can affect our whole day.

What does a typical day involve?

In the morning we prepare the radiopharmaceuticals that will be used in the department during the day and perform quality control tests on the equipment.

When a patient arrives for their appointment I’ll explain the procedure to them and take their clinical history. I’ll then administer the required radiopharmaceutical, perform the study, and then process the results and display the data for our doctors.

There’s a lot of planning ahead involved in each day, such as working out when inpatients and urgent scans can be fitted into the schedule. It’s often our job to liaise with wards, patients, our doctors and referring doctors.

I’m also responsible for coordinating my department’s radioiodine therapy program, and I attend multi-disciplinary meetings where everyone involved in the care of thyroid cancer patients gets together to plan their treatment.

What did you have to study to follow this career path?

RMIT University offers a three-year full-time Bachelor of Applied Science (Medical Radiations) in which you can choose to specialise in nuclear medicine. The prerequisites for the program are Units 1 and 2 Chemistry or Biology, and in Units 3 and 4 you have to get a study score of at least 30 in English and a score of at least 20 in Mathematical Methods or Specialist Mathematics.

You also need to complete a supplementary information form about why you want to become a nuclear medicine technologist/scientist.

Find out more about this career path at myfuture.edu.au (new window) (Note: free registration is required to access the myfuture site).