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Nuclear medicine?

  1. Jul 26, 2013 #1

    I have a 2 more years planning ahead before I choose my major, however I like to plan ahead so I've come up with some questions.
    I've been considering studying nuclear engineering as my major degree when the time has come, and I wonder how the career opportunity is for working with nuclear medicine related jobs/research. I mean, working with nuclear physics related to human health & medicine, radiation physics and such. I've read about nuclear medicine on Wikipedia and it seems to be exactly the subject I'm thinking about.

    Is a nuclear medicine career as dead as the idea you get about careers in cosmology and such? Consider a career internationally, you know any countries where the job opportunity are higher than compared to other countries?
    Will more career opportunities open up with a PhD related to nuclear medicine?

    I don't know, I'm just young & curious - thanks in advance.

    Best regards,
  2. jcsd
  3. Jul 26, 2013 #2
    I'll make a few comments and hopefully anything I've said in error will be corrected by those more knowledgeable than myself.

    Assuming you aren't interested in going to medical school and becoming a nuclear medicine physician, it sounds like you are describing one of the four main branches of medical physics known as nuclear medicine physics (the others being therapeutic medical physics, diagnostic medical physics, and medical health physics). This is a scientific/medical specialty where professionals with physics backgrounds collaborate with physicians in the utilization of radionuclides for a variety of medical procedures such as medical imaging, physiological studies, and some forms of radionuclide therapy.

    It is not a dead field, but it is small and comprises only about 5% of the field of medical physics, which is itself a small field. Unfortunately the training pathways for entry into the field are a bit unclear to me. In the United States I know that the American Board of Radiology does certify nuclear medical physicists, but training programs that specialize in nuclear medicine physics seem very limited. Perhaps others can provide more detail here.

    In general, medical physicists receive undergraduate training in physics (or something very closely related with comparable physics coursework) and then pursue graduate education at either the M.S. or Ph.D. level in medical physics. At this point it becomes a little more hazy for nuclear medicine physicists. Therapeutic and diagnostic medical physicists would typically seek a residency position after graduate school for clinical training in preparation for both their careers and for their certification examinations. Since there are currently zero accredited residency programs in nuclear medical physics I am not sure what follows graduate school for those wishing to pursue certification and careers in that sub-field.

    If the application of physics to medicine interests you in general then you might consider exploring the other medical physics disciplines that I mentioned above. Feel free to ask any additional questions.
  4. Jul 26, 2013 #3


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    There are multiple paths to get into nuclear medicine. You can for example become a nuclear medicine and/or molecular imaging technologist - with couple of years of training right after your undergraduate degree. As Eric mentioned, you can go the medical route and specialize in nulear medicine. Or you can earn your PhD in nuclear medicine physics... a branch of medical physics.

    As for the PhD route, nuclear medicine doesn't have as strong a professional component as the other branches of medical physics however it is still a viable field (certainly a lot more viable than cosmology). In radiation oncology physics there are a lot more clinical/technical problems that come up that can't be solved as easily by technologist and a lot more quality assurance and calibration work that requires a high level of training to perform. I think in nuclear medicine a lot more of the day-to-day work can be managed by a team involvoing technologists, specialized nurses, radiochemists, and radiation safety officers.

    The PhDs in nuclear medicine (at least the ones I know) tend to be more research-involved than most RO physicists. And there's a lot of interesting work going on in this field. The Roberts prize was just awarded for recent work in PET imaging for example:
  5. Jul 27, 2013 #4
    Great, thanks for your informative replies.
    I had some questions in my mind before I came here to write them to you - but now, ironically, I've forgotten them... However I'll return when they come back. If anyone has anything more to add feel free too, I really appreciate it.

    Best Regards,
  6. Jul 27, 2013 #5
    By the way, what do you think the future looks like for a career in nuclear medicine? I know it's hard to answer correctly, but what do you THINK? About 5 years forward.
  7. Jul 27, 2013 #6


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    I can't say for sure, but I would predict stable growth over the next decade or two. The population is aging and demands on the healthcare system will increase. In cancer care it's predicted to be around 40% over the coming decade from what I've seen.
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