May 19, 2010
Christian Basi, BasiC@missouri.edu, 573-882-4430
COLUMBIA, Mo. – According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 21,800 nuclear medicine technologists are employed in the U.S.; yet until now, there were no programs for advanced degrees in the field. A first-of-its-kind master’s degree is now being offered at the University of Missouri School of Health Professions to address the growing demand for advanced imaging practitioners as new technology and procedures expand.
The Nuclear Medicine Advanced Associate (NMAA) program is being offered through a consortium of three universities: MU, the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences and Saint Louis University. The distance-learning program provides professionals already working in the field with an opportunity for advancement. Upon completion of the program, students will earn a master’s degree in imaging sciences and can take national credentialing examinations for NMAAs.
“As a patient I would want the best qualified individuals taking care of me,” said Glen Heggie, chair of the Department of Cardiopulmonary and Diagnostic Sciences and director of the Nuclear Medicine Program. “As a technologist, I’d want as many opportunities to hone and improve my own skills. Recognizing that nuclear medicine has broadened, it follows that an advanced form of certification or degree should be available to recognize practitioners with additional and advanced abilities and skills. The program gives people a place to be recognized for what they are doing and lets the patients know that there are people in the field that have these additional skill sets.”
The program began this year with five students from around the country and runs for five semesters. Students with a bachelor’s degree in nuclear medicine are accepted on a rolling basis and may begin the program in the fall, spring, or summer semester. It is designed for distance learning with both online instruction and clinical instruction at facilities affiliated with the program and associated with the degree. After students finish the program, they take a certification exam recognized by the Society of Nuclear Medicine. The consortium will graduate its first group of nuclear medicine advanced associate students in 2011.
“The program is based on evolving information — today’s information,” Heggie said. “Therefore, it is important that all of the universities involved in the program share their knowledge, expertise and specialist faculty. It is the only way we can build a current, comprehensive and resilient program that we can all benefit from.”
In nuclear medicine, an extremely small amount of radioactively labeled material, or radiopharmaceutical, is given to a patient via injection, inhalation or ingestion. Nuclear images are produced by detecting radiation that is emitted from the radiopharmaceutical depending on where it localizes in the body. The main difference between nuclear imaging and other radiologic tests is that nuclear imaging focuses on assessing how organs function, whereas other imaging methods generally assess anatomy.
“This certification isn’t to replace physicians; however, many technologists are capable of doing more than we’ve allowed them to or acknowledged that they are competent to do.” Heggie said. “It makes economic sense because this certification would create a more timely delivery of care within the healthcare field.”