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What Is a Nuclear Medicine Physician?

Nicole Madison
By
Updated May 17, 2024
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A nuclear medicine physician is a specialist in the nuclear medicine field. This type of doctor uses radioactive materials, usually in very small amounts, to accomplish the diagnosis and treatment of a range of diseases and conditions. The most common type of materials a nuclear medicine physician uses are referred to as radiopharmaceuticals. Radiopharmaceuticals are radioactive forms of pharmaceuticals, which are substances used for diagnosis, evaluation, and treatment. He may also use radionuclides for imaging and treatment.

Most doctors use traditional techniques to diagnose and treat patients. A nuclear medicine physician, on the other hand, also works on the diagnosis and treatment of patients but proceeds in a different manner. This type of medical doctor uses a range of radioactive materials rather than traditional medicines and techniques for his diagnostic, evaluation, and treatment processes.

Often, a nuclear medicine physician uses radiopharmaceuticals in his practice. Radiopharmaceuticals are substances that are made from a combination of compounds and radioactive atoms. Nuclear medicine physicians commonly use them in the treatment of their patients.

A nuclear medicine physician may also use radionuclides, which are radioactive atoms, in his practice. For example, radionuclides are used in a type of imaging procedure that is referred to as scintigraphy. This type of imaging test is used to assess the distribution of radionuclides in body tissues. In order to perform this test, a nuclear medicine technologist has a patient swallow a radiopharmaceutical and then performs the test. A nuclear medicine physician usually analyzes the test once it is complete.

Some of the procedures a nuclear medicine physician may recommend for his patients include radioimmunotherapy and radionuclide therapy. Radioimmunotherapy combines radiation and immune therapy for the treatment of cancerous tumors. Radionuclide therapy, on the other hand, involves the uses of radiopharmaceuticals for treatment, which may be administered intravenously, orally, or through other methods.

Since nuclear medicine is a specialty, a person usually has to complete a nuclear medicine residency to be eligible for this health care career. Usually, these residencies last for about three years after medical school. Some jurisdictions may require additional training as well. A person who wants to become a nuclear medicine doctor also will usually need to seek a license to practice medicine in his field, which typically requires him to pass a rigorous examination. Some nuclear medicine doctors also go on to seek board certification, which may involve additional testing and requirements.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Nicole Madison
By Nicole Madison
Nicole Madison's love for learning inspires her work as a WiseGeek writer, where she focuses on topics like homeschooling, parenting, health, science, and business. Her passion for knowledge is evident in the well-researched and informative articles she authors. As a mother of four, Nicole balances work with quality family time activities such as reading, camping, and beach trips.
Discussion Comments
By ysmina — On May 11, 2011

We should not confuse the role of the technician with the physician. It is the technician that works with the equipment and prepares radiopharmaceuticals.

The physician, on the other hand, is the one who interprets the outcomes of screening and testing and determines how the course of treatment proceeds.

By fify — On May 10, 2011

@turkay1-- No, not at all, they are not affected. Because these drugs are either injected into the patient's arm or the patient is asked to inhale it or swallow it. The drug is not going to come into contact with the physician's body.

Also, nuclear medicine physicians are really well versed about how much radioactive material is safe. It's their responsibility to give the patient the right amount. They have to work really diligently and carefully for that reason. Believe me, they won't put the patient's or their lives at risk.

By candyquilt — On May 09, 2011

The Wisegeek article on radiopharmaceuticals mentioned that these radioactive drugs have the same effect as an x-ray on the patient. This is not a really big deal, because the patient will probably receive radioactive treatment a certain number of times.

But will these drugs affect the health of nuclear medicine physicians who have to deal with them on a regular basis?

What do they do to protect themselves while in labs and facilities that have radioactive substances?

Nicole Madison
Nicole Madison
Nicole Madison's love for learning inspires her work as a WiseGeek writer, where she focuses on topics like...
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