Last Updated: 03/17/15
Nuclear Medicine Career Guide
Physicians that specialize in nuclear medicine use a variety of techniques to diagnose physiologic, metabolic, molecular and pathologic disorders. In this field molecular imaging is the most common form of diagnostic method, but often anatomic imaging such as PET or CT scans are also used. Some of the diseases that are detected through nuclear medicine include artery disease and cancer; this is also how cancers can be staged and treatment can be evaluated. There are also certain radioactive molecules that can be used as a treatment method for hyperthyroidism and certain cancers and also as a way to relieve pain caused by cancer. Nuclear medicine physicians are the ones that would recommend this type of treatment and administer it. Some of the things a nuclear medicine physician might do on any given day include:
- Administering radionuclide to patients and imaging their organs for diagnostic purposes
- Setting up the PET or gamma camera for imaging patients
- Reviewing and evaluating image reports in order to determine a treatment plan
- Monitoring preparation of radionuclide, as well as its administration and disposition
- Studying samples of urine as well as dilute, radioimmunoassay and hematological studies
Most nuclear medicine physicians work for hospitals, clinics or health care service centers, generally as consultants or sometimes therapists. However, you can also choose to work independently as a consultant – this way you would more than likely make more money, but this is a much more competitive sector. You could also choose to work as a professor teaching medical students about the techniques of nuclear medicine or work at a research institution developing ways to improve the field of nuclear medicine. No matter what sector you choose to work in, the work hours of a nuclear medicine physician are commonly 40 hours a week. There is generally no need for emergency treatment or intervention in this field.
In order to become a nuclear medicine physician you must first complete four years of a medical school program. Then you will need to complete a residency program which can last anywhere from two to five years. During the residency you will complete a clinical rotation in order to learn how radiation therapy can be used in a wide variety of ways to diagnose a broad range of conditions. Most residency programs require one to two years of internal medicine training, followed by two to three years of nuclear medicine training. Before you can practice, you will also need to pass the United States Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE).
Nuclear Medicine Salary:
According to Salary.com (2012), the median salary for nuclear medicine physicians in the United States is $276,454. Other reports show salaries for nuclear medicine physicians to be upwards of $300,000. What you make can depend on what type of facility or sector you decide to work in and what area of the country you work in.
The outlook for a career as a nuclear medicine physician is very good and growing every day. One of the reasons for this is that non-invasive procedures and diagnostics are becoming more and more popular to diagnose common health issues like gall bladder inflammation, kidney function, bowel bleeding, heart functioning, respiratory problems and others. Radioactive therapies are also becoming more popular when it comes to treating lymphatic cancer, hyperthyroidism and blood disorders. This paired with the ever-increasing population and the baby boom generation reaching retirement, the demand for nuclear medicine physicians will continue to grow.