Contract offers nuclear medicine major

By Matt Michalek

Recently, one NIU graduate landed a job with a starting salary of $45,000 per year. He is not an MBA, CPA or law school graduate though. He majored in nuclear medicine technology.

Nuclear medicine is the process where a patient is given a radioactive compound, either through injection, swallowing or inhalation.

The compound travels through the body, giving off gamma rays. Special medical equipment, called a gamma camera then records these gamma rays, creating an image of the part of the body being studied.

The job of the nuclear medicine technician is to prepare the patient, prepare and administrate the radioactive drugs, operate the equipment and then use computers to analyze the data.

Sharon Miller, associate director of the College of Professional Studies, said NIU does not have an actual program in nuclear medicine technology. Anyone who wants to major in nuclear medicine technology has to become a contract major.

To become a contract major, the student has to first develop a program of study with an adviser’s assistance. This program has to parallel an existing nuclear medicine technology program at another university, she said.

This proposal is then presented to the college curriculum committee for approval. The committee looks at the proposed program of study, the student’s past academic record and how well the proposed courses line up with the model institution’s program, said Miller.

Once the contract major is approved, the student then takes approximately one year of science courses, she said. To qualify for the clinical portion of instruction, the nuclear medicine technology major must take a strong, but diverse background in science.

These courses include classes in biology, chemistry, allied health professions, math, computer science and physics.

After completing these courses, the student must then take a one-year, full-time clinical practicum at Hines Veterans Hospital in Maywood. At the end of the clinical practicum, the student graduates from NIU with a bachelor of science degree in nuclear medicine technology, said Miller.

The nuclear medicine technology major is a very demanding one. The students entering need to have a high level of maturity and self-motivation, she said.

But the hard work should pay off in the end. The average starting salary of a nuclear medicine technologist is approximately $30,000, she said, but it can be higher.