Norman Bolus is a 1989 graduate of the UAB Nuclear Medicine Technology Program, and he had big dreams when he became a part of the program 15 years ago. His biggest was acquiring a Gamma camera for student use in the program’s laboratory.

Assistant Professor Norman Bolus checks out a Gamma camera, one of the two recently donated to the UAB Nuclear Medicine Technology Program.
Bolus didn’t have a camera when the new lab was constructed in the School of Health Professions in 2001, but he had all the necessary wiring for the camera installed in the floor and the wall anyway. Bolus even thought of having one of the doors to the lab constructed wide enough to fit a camera through.

Not one, but two donated Gamma cameras finally were brought through the lab’s extra-wide door this past fall, and now nuclear medicine technology students have an opportunity for hands-on learning.

“I was nervous that the door still wasn’t big enough, but those cameras fit through by this much,” Bolus says, holding his thumb and index finger less than a half-inch apart. “We’re so excited to have these cameras. It’s really a dream come true for me. With these cameras and our new multi-channel analyzers we have the cutting-edge tools to give our students a strong advantage when they enter the clinical setting.”

The Nuclear Medicine Technology Program has been a part of the School of Health Professions since its inception 40 years ago; it is the only one of its kind in Alabama and one of only approximately 30 baccalaureate programs in the country. Some 90 percent of UAB students taking the Nuclear Medicine Technology Certification Board pass on the first attempt.

The program has grown to 18 students enrolled for this fall from five students 20 years ago. Sixty students applied to be part of the program for the coming academic year.

“Pre-nuclear medicine students have to interview for one of the slots available, and we interviewed 30 for the upcoming year,” says Amy Glass, a teacher and 2002 graduate of the program.

“Our field is growing, and the good news is we’re getting great students who have a desire for nuclear medicine, a desire to learn and a desire to help patients.”

The role of the technologist
Nuclear medicine uses unique, safe and painless techniques both to image the body and treat disease. A nuclear medicine technologist uses radioactive drugs to obtain information that will lead to disease diagnosis and monitoring therapy.

Hospital staff technologists operate cameras that detect and map the radioactive drug in a patient’s body to create diagnostic images. After explaining test procedures to patients, technologists prepare a dosage of the radiopharmaceutical and administer it by mouth, injection, inhalation or other means. They position patients and start a gamma scintillation camera, or scanner, which creates images of the distribution of a radiopharmaceutical as it localizes in, and emits signals from, the patient’s body. The images are produced on a computer screen or on film for a physician to interpret.

Other career opportunities for nuclear medicine technologists include state inspectors, sales representatives for nuclear instrumentation and radiopharmaceutical companies, health physicists, research assistants, hospital radiation-safety officers and educators.

On the forefront
Nuclear medicine technologists are seeing their roles evolve as technology continues to transform the industry.

Fusion imaging is becoming more prevalent, particularly in the area of X-ray and PET/CT scans. Eventually, Bolus says fusion imaging with magnetic resonance imaging — or PET/MR — will become prominent.

“Nuclear medicine technologists are taking their equipment and coupling it with other modalities and overlaying the images one on top of the other,” Bolus says.

“Traditionally in nuclear medicine we’re able to see physiology really well, but we’re not very good at seeing anatomy. Computed tomography and magnetic resonance imaging are very good at seeing anatomy, but they’re not very good at seeing physiology. So fusion imaging really gives you the best of both and enables the physician to interpret what’s going on in the patient much easier.”

Medicine with a personal touch
Producing the best high-quality image is a primary responsibility of a nuclear medicine tech, and it is a focus for students learning in the program; but learning the role that they play in a patient’s life also is important.

Bolus wants the students to be mindful of that.

“It’s medicine that touches individuals,” he says. “I’d like to think we’re a part of that whole process of fostering patient care along with the technical proficiency.”

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