From the technologist's point of view, positron emission tomography (PET) combines the interest derived from the 3D imaging of X-ray CT and MRI with the functional and physiological information of Nuclear Medicine. Until recently PET imaging was performed on "PET only" scanners and any direct comparison between the PET image and an anatomical one was either done by eye or required sophisticated hardware and software as well as extra human power to create a registered image. Now all the key manufacturers have developed and are marketing combined PET/CT scanners that allow patients to have both a PET scan and a CT scan without getting off the scanning couch. This creates an exciting imaging modality that offers the technologist the chance to develop a new range of skills.
Although clinical PET has been developing over the last 12 to 15 years, it is still relatively new and the high cost of introducing such a service has limited access for staff wishing to enter the field. As a result it is still the case that few staff entering the field will have previous experience. However, technologists with experience in other modalities will bring with them useful knowledge and, although PET in most cases is developing as part of nuclear medicine, recruitment does not need to be confined to nuclear medicine technologists alone. In the UK, training for PET technologists is performed on site with staff learning and gaining experience while working full time. Most recognized undergraduate and post-graduate courses cover PET in a limited capacity, providing theoretical information on a subject that is intensely practical. As with all new techniques there will, for a while, be a discrepancy between the number of centres opening around the country and the availability of trained staff. It is important for all concerned, and for the viability of PET itself, that training is formalized to create high national standards which can be easily monitored and maintained.
A common view is to assume that a PET scanner can be sited in an existing nuclear medicine department and that, once commissioned, will function with little extra input. Although there are obvious similarities between PET and nuclear medicine, there are also quite subtle differences and it is not unusual for experienced nuclear medicine staff to find PET quite bewildering. The advent of PET/CT adds an extra dimension as many Nuclear Medicine Technologists will not have any CT training or background. This too must be addressed in a structured way to ensure that the technique develops optimally. Currently, it is probably the least predictable imaging modality and staff working in a PET facility need to possess certain characteristics if the unit is to be successful. PET is multi-disciplinary, requiring input from various professional groups, and it is important that all these groups work together towards the same end. Teamwork is an essential component of a successful PET unit and without this, departments can easily flounder. More people are gaining the required expertise to work in these units; however, the numbers of people with the necessary expertise are still small and may not always be available to staff newly emerging departments. In the event that departments are unable to recruit people with existing PET experience, it is advisable to send staff to comparable PET centers to obtain initial training.
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