Registered Nuclear Medicine Technologist - A Radioactive Career

Above: Image © Movus, iStockphoto.com

Name: Paul Grigg

Age: 32

Born: Kincardine, Ontario

Profession: Health Care/Diagnostic Imaging/Nuclear Medicine

Nuclear medicine technologists are experts in the practice of nuclear medicine, an exciting area of imaging that uses radionuclides for diagnosis and therapy. We talk to Paul Grigg to find out more about this fascinating career.

What is Nuclear medicine?

Nuclear Medicine involves the use of small doses of radioactive drugs to produce functional images of the body in order to help diagnose, and in some cases treat,disease. In diagnostic nuclear medicine, radiopharmaceuticals are administered to the patient (either by injection, swallowing or inhalation) and the radiation emitted is detected by a nuclear medicine camera. Other tests use probes to acquire patient measurements and counters for the measurement of samples taken from the patient. In therapeutic nuclear medicine, higher doses of radiopharmaceuticals are administered to treat disease or provide palliative pain relief.

What is a Nuclear Medicine Technologist?

A Nuclear Medicine Technologist is a health care professional responsible for performing diagnostic and therapeutic nuclear medicine procedures in hospitals or private medical clinics. The technologist ensures the optimum operation of all equipment used in the profession, explains test procedures to patients, prepares a dosage of the radiopharmaceutical and administers it by mouth, injection,inhalation, or other means. We work closely with doctors, patients and their families, and other members of the health care team.

We position patients for imaging using a nuclear medicine camera, and process/analyze the images using sophisticated computer systems, and analyze biological specimens obtained from the patient in the laboratory setting. We also operate radiation detection equipment in order to make sure there is no loose radioactivity in a room and monitor radioactive garbage to be sure it is OK to be released to regular garbage.

What was the last book you read?

One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish

by Dr Seuss (the bathtub version), read to my 15 month old daughter.

Who doesn't love Dr. Seuss!

What's the best advice your mother gave you?

Look both ways before you cross the road!

What is a typical day as a Nuclear Medicine Technologist?

My day can start really early, about 0630-0700, the technologist must prepare all of the various radioactive drugs for patient use - this can take about 1.5-2 hours because we must test the radioactive drugs to ensure they are of high quality and OK to inject into patients. Once this is done, patients can start to be injected - some of procedures require a long wait after injection and therefore we start injecting them around 0830 so they can return for their scan around noon.

On the lab rotation I have to draw blood from patients in order to label their white blood cells to look for infection. For this we draw about 100 milliliters of blood from the patient and then we would begin the delicate procedure of separating the white blood cells from other blood components and "attaching" the radioactive tracer to the white blood cells. When this procedure is done (about 2 hours), I re-inject the patient with their own radioactive white blood cells and image their body to see if there is any areas of infection. When I am finished imaging we analyze the images on the computer and the doctor will then verify if they would like any more images of the patient.

My day may also include treating a patient with thyroid cancer. In this case, the physician would determine how much radioactive iodine is needed to treat (kill the cancer cells) this patient with, and we would be given a prescription for that amount. I would then dispense this amount of radioactive liquid iodine and have the patient drink it. I would also monitor how radioactive the patient is using a radiation monitor and determine when the radiation restrictions would be lifted based on this reading.

I may also perform a stress test on a patient. This involves obtaining the patient's blood pressure and ECG (electrical tracing of the heart) at regular intervals while the patient walks on a treadmill, and injecting them with a radioactive drug which highlights the blood flow to the heart to determine if the patient has any blocked or narrowed arteries.

I work 8 hour days and they can be quite busy. We are also on-call, so if there is an emergency procedure requested in the middle of the night, I may get called in to perform this procedure.

What types of general precautions would be taken to limit radiation exposure in your job?

We are taught ALARA "As Low As Reasonably Achievable" - We try to limit the Time and Distance we spend close to a radioactive source (which includes the patient) and Shield ourselves with lead when possible to limit our radiation dose. We wear badges/rings that measure how much radiation we are exposed to, however, this is a retrospective reading. We also wear gloves to prevent any skin contamination of radioactive liquid.

What's one thing you can't do but really want to be able to?

I'd like to be fluent in another language.

Did you always want to be a Nuclear Medicine Technologist?

Oddly enough I did - since grade 9. My sister was studying tobecome an x-ray technologist and I found some information on Nuclear Medicine and here I am today.

What courses in high school prepared you for this field?

Biology, Chemistry, Physics and Math - and Mrs. Macleod's grade 11 human kinetics!

Where did you go to university/college?

The Michener Institute for Applied Health Science in Toronto- that's where I studied. It is now a joint degree/diploma course through U of T/The Michener Institute.

How did you decide where to go?

It was easy – Uof T/Michener is the only school in Ontario to offer Nuclear Medicine Technology.

Was there extra training required for this career after you finished college/university?

Always - Our profession has a regulatory body that mandates us to a certain number of hours per year of continuing education. Also, Nuclear Medicine is constantly advancing field: on site training is needed for new equipment/technologies.

What's the most annoying thing about you?

Where do I begin... my laugh?

What is the coolest part of your job?

Injecting patients with radioactivity - does it get any cooler than that? I presented a poster at the Society of Nuclear Medicine in San Diego - amazing trip! On a serious note, helping people is probably overall the coolest part of the job.

What's the worst part of your job?

Decommissioning (glorious word for cleaning) patient therapy rooms (including toilets!). When a patient has received a radionuclide therapy, sometimes they excrete radioactivity via sweat and saliva or their urine etc. is radioactive - we must ensure there is no loose radioactivity before the housekeeping staff cleans the room.

Ooooops! Everyone makes mistakes so what was the dumbest thing you've ever done at work?

Our cameras have different "lenses" for different procedures - once I used the wrong lens to image a patient - still worked out OK and we didn't need to reimage the patient.

What's your favorite holiday?

Any holiday that includes turkey and stuffing

Any advice that you would give others seeking a similar career?

Stick with the sciences in high school and spend a day observing the profession you are interested in. That way you are able to see what happens in the real world.

What is a typical salary range for a Nuclear Medicine Technologist?

Salary ranges are variable - starting wage is approximately $27/hour.

What are some great web links or references for someone interesting in reading up more about this career?

College of Medical Radiation Technologists of Ontario

Canadian Association of Nuclear Medicine

Society of Nuclear Medicine

Programs:

The Michener Institute for Applied Health Sciences, Nuclear Medicine Program

British Columbia Institute of Technology, Nuclear Medicine Technology Program

SAIT Polytechnic,Nuclear Medicine Technology Program

Dalhousie University

, Nuclear Medicine Technology Program

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