Hazlet alum speaks with students about nuclear medicine

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HAZLET Covering topics ranging from PET scans to cardiac stress tests, Raritan High School Alumni Katie Harden spoke with students about nuclear medicine.

Harden currently is vice president of operations for Shared Imaging Corporation and is an alumnus of Raritan High School Class of 2003.

“[For] general nuclear medicine basically what we do is we use radioactive substances and we attach it to a chemical that is specifically designed to a certain part of the body. The radioactivity can vary. There are different types of administration routes, which we can inject, we can have the patient swallow, or breathe in,” Harden said.

Harden graduated from Fairleigh Dickinson University and Rutgers University with a joint bachelor’s degree in Allied Health Sciences with a concentration in Nuclear Medicine.

Harden spoke with students from the school’s Dynamics of Healthcare in Society course and Anatomy and Physiology I course, on Nov. 17, at Raritan High School, located at 419 Middle Road.

The Dynamics of Healthcare in Society course is the first course that students take in the school’s Academy of Health Related Careers. This academy provides students the opportunity to explore career options and take college courses in the medical field through a partnership with Rutgers University, according to a prepared statement.

The school has established a partnership with Rutgers University’s School of Health Professions in which students can take Rutgers University courses and earn college credits, according to the school’s Supervisor of Science Mike Miller.

“As part of this program, the high school wants to provide students the opportunity to explore potential career paths. Having Harden speak to our students as an alumnus of Raritan High School encourages our students to begin to plan their post secondary education as they explore multiple career paths in the field of medicine,” Miller said.

Harden started working for Shared Imaging in 2009 as a nuclear medicine technologist where she did mobile PET/CT scans at local hospitals in the state, according to Harden.

“I have always been addicted to science. I always loved it, I was not sure healthcare wise what I wanted to do until a family member had gotten ill and I saw how nice the nurses were and I thought originally I want to be a nurse or doctor. Then once I started networking and talking to some of the staff members nuclear medicine really engaged me,” Harden said.

In nuclear medicine professionals use radioactive substances to help diagnose or treat disease, according to Harden.

“The way I like to explain nuclear medicine is kind of like a backwards x-ray. So everyone should know what an x-ray is, everyone has been exposed to that. If you go to the dentist you get dental x-rays,” Harden said. “So nuclear medicine is pretty much backwards of that, you are not having a scanner shoot rays into you [instead] the patient actually becomes the source of the radiation. You inject them and they emit photons and a camera will then detect all of the photons that your body is excreting and it will form a picture.”

In nuclear medicine gamma cameras are used to capture photons generated from the isotope in order to produce an image. The isotope dose is placed in a device known in nuclear medicine as the Pig, which is a heavy container. The dose also comes in a bigger package that weighs around 70 pounds, according to Harden.


“With a general CAT scan you can definitely see if there is a tumor or what the anatomy looks like. The nice thing with nuclear medicine is that you can get to see function or so then structure,” Harden said.

Harden spoke about other scans and tests that are performed in nuclear medicine that include: bone scans, renal scans, Cardiac Stress tests, PET/CT, and MRIs.

The PET/CT is used to look for cancer, what stage the cancer is in, the recurrence of cancer, and the body’s response to cancer treatment, according to Harden.

PET/CT is a highly sophisticated imaging technique that combines two scans during a single exam. Positron Emission Tomography (PET) scan that shows the body’s physiologic changes. Computed Tomography (CT) scan that shows the structure of the anatomy where the changes are taking place, according to Harden.

Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) is an exam that uses a magnet and pulses of radio wave energy to image organs and other structures inside the body non-invasively. There is no radiation and generally better at imaging soft tissue, such as the brain, according to Harden.

The MRI machine has a very strong magnet that is always on. All MRI field strength is measured in Tesla. The higher the Tesla, the stronger the magnetic field, according to Harden.

Harden said, that due to the magnet being so strong no metal objects are allowed near the MRI machine. If a patient has a pacemaker or any metal device in their body can not get an MRI scan. Nuclear medicine technologists are trained twice a year on MRI safety.

By the end of her presentation, Harden showed the students videos showing how powerful the MRI magnet is and the safety procedures nuclear medicine technicians are taught.

For more information about nuclear medicine visit www.sharedimaging.com/about-us/.

Contact Vashti Harris at vharris@newspapermediagroup.com.