Physicians trained in the field of nuclear medicine have been trained to utilize medical imaging modalities and other radioactive procedures to diagnose or treat a wide range of conditons.

Watch an Overview of Nuclear Medicine

About Nuclear Medicine

Nuclear medicine is a field of medicine and medical imaging that utilizes radioactive substances (radiopharmaceuticals) to diagnose and treat a variety of illnesses and diseases. Nuclear medicine specialists, or nuclear medicine physicians, are trained to utilize safe, pain free and cost-effective procedures to view both the structure and function of organs and processes within the body. By utilizing nuclear techniques, physicians are able to gather information that would be otherwise unavailable or require a surgical operation or more expensive testing procedures.

While other imaging modalities throughout traditional radiology serve to reveal the anatomical structure of a patient’s body (such as CT or MRI scans), the modalities of nuclear medicine allow physicians to explore the physiological structures of the body. To perform diagnostic tests, nuclear medicine physicians inject radiopharmaceuticals into the area of the body that must be imaged, and information is relayed back to special cameras and equipment to reveal the intricacies of the organ or system in question. When treating patients using nuclear medicine, radiopharmaceuticals are sent directly to the organ that is to receive treatment. In both diagnosis and treatment, the nuclear medicine physician utilizes safe amounts of radiation, ensuring the patient isn’t subjected to unnecessary levels.

Diagnostic tests in nuclear medicine can be utilized to diagnose dementia, detect heart transplant rejection, diagnose pulmonary emboli, diagnose osteomyelitis, detect inhalation injury in burn patients, as well as many other uses. Nuclear medicine can also be utilized to treat a variety of diseases and disorders including many cancers, strokes, Alzheimer’s disease, coronary artery disease, tumors, hyperthyroidism and many other complications.

Nuclear Medicine Education & Training

Nuclear medicine specialists must complete a rigorous program of study before they begin to practice independently in the specialty. These physicians must first complete an undergraduate degree, which typically lasts four years and is heavily focused in the sciences. After completing an undergraduate degree, the student must complete a four year MD or DO medical degree where they receive training in classroom, laboratory and clinical settings.

After graduating with a medical degree, the student must complete one year of post-graduate clinical training before applying for a residency in nuclear medicine. A nuclear medicine residency typically lasts three years, and trains the physician in the various caveats of the specialty. Residents provide medical care while under the supervision of experienced nuclear medicine physicians. Physicians who have completed a residency in radiology may pursue an alternate path to nuclear medicine by completing a one year nuclear medicine residency that leads to a subspecialty certification from the American Board of Radiology. If a physician has completed a residency other than radiology or nuclear medicine, they may complete an additional two years of residency training in nuclear medicine to be eligible for subspecialty certification.

Following completion of all the required nuclear medicine training, mamy nuclear medicine specialists seek board certification from the American Board of Nuclear Medicine. Physicians who have completed residency training must seek a medical license in the states(s) they wish to practice prior to providing care to patients.