Nuclear Medicine Physician Vs. Practitioner

Nuclear medicine physicians and practitioners both work to ensure that patients receive appropriate medical tests and treatments safely, but their level of training and authority differs. Read on to compare these professions in greater detail.

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Comparing Nuclear Medicine Physicians to Practitioners

Nuclear medicine physicians are specialized medical doctors who work with radioactive material as medical treatment. Nuclear medicine practitioners are part of a relatively new field of physician extenders who work under the nuclear medicine physician's direction or supervision. Nuclear medicine physicians must have more training, have a higher level of authority and earn a substantially higher salary.

Job Title Educational Requirements Median Salary Job Outlook (2016-2026)**
Nuclear Medicine Physicians Medical degree & residency $316,457 (2017)* 13% (physicians and surgeons, all other)
Nuclear Medicine Practitioners Master's degree $78,286 (2017)*** (lead nuclear medicine technologist) 10% (nuclear medicine technologists)

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

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Responsibilities of Nuclear Medicine Physicians vs. Practitioners

Nuclear medicine physicians are specialists who see patients referred to them by other medical professionals; they are trained to use radioactive materials to assess how effectively a patient's organs are working. They also use radioactive materials to treat cancer and other medical conditions. Nuclear medicine physicians are qualified to diagnose and treat patients.

Nuclear medicine practitioners are more advanced versions of nuclear medicine technologists, and their purpose is essentially to help ease the caseload of the nuclear medicine physician. They may assist nuclear medicine physicians by performing the duties of a nuclear medicine technologist, but they are also qualified to assess patients themselves and prescribe certain medications or order medical tests. They often consult with nuclear medicine physicians but are capable of completing certain medical tests and treatments independently.

Nuclear Medicine Physicians

Nuclear medicine physicians oversee the use of radioactive materials in medical procedures. Since their work can involve large diagnostic medical equipment, it's common for them to work in a hospital. After earning a bachelor's degree and a Doctor of Medicine, they are required to complete a year of preparatory training followed by a two-year residency in nuclear medicine. A medical license is also required. Nuclear medicine physicians need to be thorough and pay close attention to details to ensure that they obtain all the information needed from the medical tests they prescribe. Communication skills are also important because they may need to consult with other doctors concerning the diagnosis and treatment of patients.

Job responsibilities of a nuclear medicine physician include:

  • Prescribing radioactive materials to patients
  • Overseeing nuclear medicine technologists
  • Examining diagnostic images
  • Prescribing treatments to patients
  • Producing a summary of the test results

Nuclear Medicine Practitioners

Nuclear medicine practitioners are not medical doctors, but they do have a higher level of training than nuclear medicine technologists and are qualified to perform a technologist's duties as well as other tasks. Considered mid-level healthcare practitioners, their role can expand to include prescribing medication and examining patients. The common designation for this role is Nuclear Medicine Advanced Associate (NMAA). Those interested in this career can pursue a master's degree in this field after earning a bachelor's degree in nuclear medicine technology. NMAAs must also be certified through an organization like the Nuclear Medicine Technology Certification Board (NMTCB).

The nuclear medicine practitioner needs to have good interpersonal skills since they regularly interact with patients. They also need strong attention to detail so that they ensure patients receive the right drugs in the right amounts. Furthermore, they need to observe patients during procedures and determine if the patient suffers side effects from the drugs they received.

Job responsibilities of a practitioner include:

  • Getting patients ready for treatments
  • Updating medical records
  • Referring patients for medical tests
  • Ensuring tests are performed safely
  • Making sure that materials are handled safely

Related Careers

Aspiring nuclear medicine physicians may also be interested in pursuing a career as a neurologist, since both are highly-specialized medical doctors and may both treat disorders affecting the brain. Practitioners may also want to consider becoming radiological technicians, who use other types of equipment to capture diagnostic images of patients.

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