Nuclear Medicine and radiology are often confused for one or the other. Even worse, some tend to assume practicing nuclear medicine is the same as radiology.
Isn’t, Nuclear Medicine And Radiology The Same?
No! nuclear medicine and radiology are not the same, and here is why:
If you want to work with imaging technology along with radiology, you will predominantly be focused in the anatomy of sizes and shapes of your subjects. On the other hand, nuclear medicine is specifically focused on the physiology like the make up of cells, molecules, chemical interactions, etc.
Despite both nuclear medicine and radiology using imaging in their practice, Nuclear medicine’s imaging technology only uses minute amounts of radioactive material to assist in the diagnosis, evaluation and in most cases of cancer,heart conditions or neurology is treated using nuclear medicine practice.
Is Becoming A Nuclear Medicine Doctor For You?
Overall, suppose you have the right skills, qualifications, approved licenses, and motivation. In that case, you enjoy the benefits of helping people and earning a six-figure income while you do it.
If you want to know more about what it takes to be a nuclear medicine doctor, you have come to the right place. Let’s get right to it.
Who are Nuclear Medicine Doctors?
Nuclear medicine physicians are medical doctors who concentrate the usage of radioactive materials, such as radionuclides and radiopharmaceuticals in their day-to-day work.
When we speak of the usage of radioactive materials in the health sector, there are many variations of diagnostic imaging procedures done by these nuclear medicine specialists.
These physicians’ work is to approve and interpret the images that result from these scans to diagnose patients’ health conditions.
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.
In this case, the specialist then reviews the results to recognize parts of the brain that have abnormal activity levels. This is clearly shown based on the brightness of the cranial regions.
These doctors may recommend medicines or specific treatment plans to their patients, and some of these treatments may also involve the application of radioactive materials, such as radioisotopes.
Since they work with dangerous materials, they are responsible for ensuring the safety of colleagues as well as their patients. This can done by simply introducing and sustaining safe procedures. In due course, the environment is made safe.
What do they do?
In general, nuclear medicine specialists use radioactive materials to diagnose and treat a wide range of diseases.
Besides the main goal, they do a lot of tasks from time to time (which will be explained in a moment). Just to highlight a few of these duties, nuclear medicine doctors are required to monitor the quality control of radionuclide preparation, administration as well as the disposition.
Also, they mainly work on ensuring that all the activities performed in their office, either by them or their subordinates, comply with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s standards.
Also, they prescribe medications, verify accuracy of patient information and Monitor the handling of hazardous materials or medical wastes.
Besides all these intensive duties, they also handle some other higher roles, although this may depend on the health facility’s size.
In this position, the nuclear medicine doctors instruct and direct nuclear medicine technologists on the subject of desired dosages, techniques, positions as well as projections.
They may also present test results to other medical professionals who have referred patients for diagnosis.
To become a nuclear medicine doctor, there are couple of requirements that have to be satisfied. Firstly, you need to have a MD degree, which should be from an accredited school.
After this, you will need to have a license that allows you to get into practice.
On top of that, you need to have several years of work plus training experience, which are two of the most important factors that will put you on a spotlight in the job market.
As such, this is a job that requires highly motivated people. In fact, most people that are well-suited for this type of job are the ones who have skills like problem-solving, working with ideas and spend a reasonable amount of time working on computers. They also tend to fall into a habit of thinking.
On top of this, they like to associate and interact with people, since communication is crucial to the success of this career.
Overall, the demand for nuclear medicine is at a constant rise. It has been estimated that there will be job growth at an approximate rate of 8% by 2028, which makes this job worth all the years of education.
What is this career like?
In this section, let us take a look at some of the duties that nuclear medical doctors are assigned to perform. These duties are:
- They are required to prepare and organize reports that review all the activities on the patient.
- Before each patient is discharged, the nuclear medicine doctor has to check and commend the quality of that particular patient’s diagnostic images
- Nuclear medicine specialists should create radiation protection standards and monitor the usage of these materials, in order to ensure that the patients and team members are kept safe.
- They are expected to provide a summary on rules regarding how each medical procedure is conducted.
- In order to effectively plan and execute treatments, nuclear medicine doctors should work with other healthcare experts.
- These doctors provide recommends on radionuclides as well as the dosages which will be given to the patients.
- They also communicate the information, about the diagnosis or treatment, to the patient and all family members.
- Nuclear medicine doctors also inspect all the medical equipment in his/her office. This ensures that the instruments are fit for their purpose.
- In most cases, they are required to consult other medical professionals on a wide range of health issues.
- They are also required to create and communicate plans as well as procedures across the entire nuclear medicine division. Other experts will then be able to follow such plans.
- Occasionally, they will carry out several heart nuclear medicine tests such as isometrics testing and the pharmacologic strain tests.
- As much as they formulate plans on medical procedures, they also direct nuclear medicine technicians as regards to the preferred dosages. They also control the techniques and forecasts of such nuclear medicine.
- Nuclear medicine doctors also deliver radioisotopes. These are either given to other medical professionals or on research subjects.
- Lastly, they Study their patients in order to assess that particular patient’s physical state.
In terms of the number of hours, Nuclear Medicine Doctors work for as long as 40 hours per week- that’s a regular 9 to 5 just like most jobs in other occupations.
However, they may sometimes exceed their standard time, depending on the work required on that particular day.
The nuclear medicine specialty requires these doctors to create detailed interpretive reports of various findings on a daily basis.
Once these reports are prepared, he/she must and communicate the reports to the doctors as well as the patients. Also, they check and approve the quality of diagnostic images before the patient discharge files are signed.
This means that the job requires a high level of communication and coordination skills, which we will cover later in this article.
On a regular day, they usually talk to a lot of people on the phone. In fact, a high percentage of the Nuclear Medicine doctors mostly speak to their customers. However, it isn’t all a piece of cake.
A recent survey fetched a conclusion that about 9% of nuclear Medicine doctors have to deal with angry customers from time to time.
Nonetheless, it is also very important for the doctor to maintain a close relationship with other staff members of the facility.
Not only does this improve the coordination among them. It also gives them a teamwork spirit which, at the end of the day, motivates employees in the workplace.
What skills are needed?
Let’s highlight some of the most required skills that these physicians need to have.
First of all, they are required to interact with several patients in a day, throughout the process of diagnosing and treating them.
This, without a doubt, means that the Nuclear Medicine doctor has to have good communication skills, which will allow him to work with them efficiently, hence making his job a lot easier.
Compassion is another skill that Nuclear Medicine Doctors need to develop, since they will encounter very ill patients frequently.
They should also be skilled on the technical side. Nuclear medicine doctors will spend most of their time around computerized equipment, hence developing such skills will allow them to perform their jobs in the right way.
Good Eye Vision
Once Nuclear medicine doctors perform their intensive tests, their results usually appear in form of diagnostic images, which the doctor is supposed to interpret. As such, the good vision is the key factor.
Since it’s common for doctors, especially these specializing in nuclear medicine, to work long shifts and spending a lot of time on their feet, they also need to be profoundly fit.
Nuclear medicine is a highly dedicated job. To be a good doctor in this field, you must have problem-solving skills, as you will come across predicaments a lot more times than usual.
This means you have to have the ability to chase a problem and become obsessed trying to solve it, until it is fixed.
Just like any other job, you will need certain prerequisites that will take you a step ahead in your career.
As a Nuclear Medicine Physician, you are supposed to have a general understanding of the following areas of study.
- Medicine and Dentistry: This gives you an understanding of medications, which includes the types and how they function.
- English Language: for better communication with clients and staff
- Biology: to give you a better understanding of the human body
- Physics: Gives you an understanding of how physical state of matters and more.
- Computers and Electronics: enables you to know how computers work and their relevance in the nuclear medicine field.
What is the pay?
The average Nuclear Medicine Doctor is said to earn a salary of $334,443 as of 2020 in the United States. Commonly, the salary should range between $282,268 and $394,707- that’s according to Salary.com.
In other countries, this may vary on numerous factors. Some of these factors are the level of education, certifications and the number work experience years.
On top of that, any additional skills that the nuclear medicine doctor possesses can attract more earnings as well.
What is the career outlook?
Like most medicine jobs that are worked with highly qualified and licensed personnel, a nuclear medicine doctor earns a six figure income.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the market for a nuclear medicine specialist, like most doctors and surgeons, is expected to grow at rate of 8% in 10 years, which is from 2018 to exactly 2028.
With this report, it clearly indicates that the salaries are more likely to increase, hence the competition will stiffen in this field.
All in all, if you have the right qualification, certifications, licenses as well as required years of experience, you will stand out in the face of potential employers.
What education is required?
Since nuclear medicine specialists are medical doctors, they are required to have a great level of training and must complete medical school, a residency and licensure- all the elements that a standard doctor needs to have.
After graduating from high school, candidates are supposed to study their bachelor’s degree. This can be either in medicine or in any other science related program.
From this step, they are required to go through medical school, which takes about 6 years to complete, on average.
The residency lasts at least three years and involves a combination of research experience and clinical experience.
Some student often opt for additional studies. In fact, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported that 78% of those working as nuclear medicine doctors have post-doctoral training.
License and Certifications
It is important to note that every state requires a Nuclear Medicine Physician to have an authentic license. However, the exact requirements vary depending on the state laws, so you might want to do a deep research to find out about the state you live.
While the requirements may vary by city, the method of qualifying and earning the license is similar.
For a candidate to become eligible to earn the license, he/she must first graduate from a medical school. The license terms state that the medical school must be an accredited institution.
After graduating, the take the residency training in their specialty, which in this case is Nuclear Medicine, and even after they complete, they won’t still qualify for the license.
After they pass the written and practical examinations, they will become fully eligible for the license. In true sense, this may take around a year or two, but then again, this also depends on the state.
In general, all Nuclear Medicine Medical doctors will be required to pass a standardized national licensure examination.
Candidates who have a master’s degree mostly opt for the Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE), US-based.
On the other hand, Students that have a D.O. will usually take the Broad Osteopathic Medical Licensing Examination (COMLEX-USA).
Lastly, you should always check with your state’s licensing board to find out more information about the requirements that specifically apply to your state.
They should be able to give you all the information that will definitely benefit you as you go into the industry.
Work Experience Required
It is arguable that most organizations require a candidate to have prior experience to the specialized field.
Several organizations use this strategy to pinpoint the potential candidate that has some knowledge about the operations at work and won’t need an on-the-job training.
In terms of the exact number of years of experience required, that mostly varies from one organization to the other. For instance, a surgeon must complete four years of college, which should be further supplemented by five to seven years of proficient medical training before they begin work.
You will need a broad amount of skill, knowledge as well as experience to be a Nuclear Medicine Physician.
According to statistics in the Nuclear medicine field, about 55% of organizations require a candidate to have at least 2 to 4 years of prior experience to be considered for this physician job.
On the other hand, 19% of companies need a candidate to have years of experience ranging from 4 to 6 years, roughly. A higher percentage of those companies are large organizations.
If you do not have any experience in this career, there are still many opportunities for you- I mean we all start have to start from zero at some point in our lives.
It is said that 9% of organizations will hire a Nuclear medicine doctor that has no working experience. Most of these careers assume that the person will already have the required skills, knowledge, and work-related experience and training.
You can catch more of such opportunities if you start working as an apprentice alongside another Nuclear Medicine doctor.
These careers usually involve coordinating, training, supervising, or managing other personnel’s activities to accomplish common, corporate goals.