Career Definition of a Nuclear Medicine Physician
Nuclear medicine physicians are medical doctors who specialize in using radioactive materials, such as radionuclides and radiopharmaceuticals, in their work. There are a variety of diagnostic imaging procedures that involve radioactive materials, and nuclear medicine physicians approve and interpret the images that result from these scans in order to diagnose patients.
For example, during a PET scan of the brain, a technologist injects the patient with a substance made of sugar and radioactive material, known as a radiotracer, which will accumulate differently in different parts of the brain based on chemical activity. A nuclear medicine physician can then review and interpret the PET scan to identify parts of the brain that have abnormal activity levels based on the brightness of the regions on the scan. Nuclear medicine physicians order different types of nuclear medicine testing to help them diagnose conditions as varied as dementia and hyperthyroidism.
As part of their duties, these physicians may prescribe medications or specific treatment plans to their patients, and some of these treatments may also involve the application of radioactive materials, such as radioisotopes. They may also present test results to other medical professionals who have referred patients for diagnosis. Since they work with hazardous materials, they are responsible for ensuring the safety of colleagues and patients by maintaining procedures that will ensure a safe working environment.
|Educational Requirements||Medical degree, residency, license|
|Job Skills||People skills, problem solving skills, computer skills, good vision, compassion, communication skills, physical fitness|
|Median Salary (2017)*||$316,457|
|Job Outlook (2016-2026)**||13% (physicians and surgeons, all other)|
Sources: *Salary.com; **U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics
As medical doctors, nuclear medicine physicians need a high level of postsecondary training and must complete medical school, a residency and licensure. The residency lasts at least three years and involves a combination of research experience and clinical experience. Additional studies are common for those working in this field. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported that 78% of those working as nuclear medicine physicians have post-doctoral training.
Nuclear medicine physicians interact with patients while diagnosing and treating them, so they need to have good communication skills and people skills in order to work with them effectively. Since their patients may be quite ill, they need to have compassion. They must use special equipment and computers, so they need to have technological skills to perform their duties. Good vision is important for correctly interpreting diagnostic images. Since it's common for physicians to work long shifts and spend a lot of time on their feet, they also need to be reasonably fit.
Career Outlook and Salary
Salary.com reported that nuclear medicine physicians earned a median annual income of $316,457 in 2017. The job growth for 'physicians and surgeons, all other', a category that includes nuclear medicine physicians, is expected to be 13% from 2016 to 2026, according to U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports.
Those who are interested in pursuing a highly specialized area of medicine may also want to consider focusing on anesthesia, oncology or pathology. Links to information about these specialties are provided below.