Nuclear Medicine Physician: Requirements, Salary & Training

Jan 15, 2021

Career Definition of a Nuclear Medicine Physician

Nuclear medicine physicians are medical professionals who are specifically trained to use radioactive materials to diagnose medical conditions or to treat illnesses. Nuclear medicine physicians will review patient files to determine the type of treatment or diagnostic test needed and direct technicians to prepare the patient for the treatment or tests. Radioactive materials are taken internally and once this happens it's possible to produce images of the internal organs and monitor the radioactive material as it is metabolized. This can help nuclear medicine physicians determine if a patient has an organ or system that isn't working properly.

Nuclear medicine physicians may also use radioactive materials to treat patients with cancer or other conditions, such as thyroid problems. In their work they may also use positron emission tomography (PET) scans to evaluate brain functions and produce diagnostic images. Once the nuclear medicine physician has all the diagnostic images that they need they are able to diagnose the patient. They may also consult with the patient's referring physician or determine a course of treatment for the patient.

Educational Requirements Medical degree; residency
Job Skills Communication skills, computer skills, decision-making skills, analytical skills, investigative skills, leadership skills
Median Salary (2020)* $339,543
Job Outlook (2019-2029)** 4% (physicians and surgeons, all other)

Sources: *Salary.com; **U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Required Education

In order to pursue a career as a nuclear medicine physician, the first step is completing a bachelor's degree. Some students opt to pursue graduate studies before applying to medical school. It's common for those considering a career in medicine to study subjects such as biology and to also take courses in core subjects such as mathematics and English. In order to become a nuclear medicine physician it's necessary to complete medical school and earn a medical license. Nuclear medicine physicians are required to complete an extensive residency program as part of their training.

Required Training

After earning a medical degree, aspiring nuclear medicine physicians must complete training in a program approved by the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education (ACGME). This involves one to two years of practical experience in medicine. At that point, nuclear medicine physicians spend up to two years completing their residency in nuclear medicine. This prepares them to work with the equipment needed to produce images with radiation and to treat patients. They are required to spend at least a year and a half acquiring clinical experience in their field to be fully qualified as a nuclear medicine physician.

Required Skills

Nuclear medicine physicians may interact directly with patients and will also confer with other medical professionals so they need to have good communication skills. In their work they also provide direction to nuclear medicine technologists so they must have good leadership skills. They use their analytical skills when they review images to determine if they have sufficient data to make a diagnosis and they also use investigative skills when reviewing patient information to help determine what may be causing their symptoms.

Career Outlook and Salary

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) includes nuclear medicine physicians in its data for 'physicians and surgeons, all other' and projects that from 2019 to 2029, this group of medical professionals will see a job growth rate of 4%. This rate is a national average job growth for all occupations that the BLS expects for the same time frame. Nuclear medicine physicians are highly paid professionals. According to Salary.com, as of 2020 they earned a median annual income of $339,543.

Related Careers

Individuals considering a career as a nuclear medicine physician may also be interested in considering a number of other medical specialties. Information about what anesthesiologists, oncologists and thoracic medicine specialists do is available through the links listed here.

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