How to Become a Nuclear Medicine Physician

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Nuclear medicine physicians are highly trained doctors who specialize in the diagnosis and treatment of diseases using radiopharmaceuticals. These are drug cocktails containing radionuclides. When taken by a patient, the drug gets localized and emits radiation that can then be recorded with a camera and projected on a computer screen. Nuclear medicine physicians use the information obtained to evaluate the molecular, physiologic, metabolic and physiologic conditions of the body to make the appropriate decisions in diagnosis, treatment and research. They oversee patient care in this area and serve as consultants to other physicians. To become a nuclear medicine physician, you need the appropriate residency training after your basic medical education.

Get the appropriate premed education in college, which includes a year each of physics, biology, organic chemistry, general chemistry and math. You do not have to be an official premed student. Medical schools prefer well-rounded college graduates.

Get into medical school. You will need excellent grades, leadership activities, appropriate experience in a hospital or medical research setting and good MCAT scores.

Complete medical school. While there, pay attention to any relevant electives or rotation opportunities that will expose you to nuclear medicine or radiology.

Complete your residency. Current residency requirements as set forth by the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education (ACGME) are 3 years of training after completing 1 year or more of patient-care training post-medical school in an ACGME-approved institution. See Resources below for the ACGME program menu on nuclear medicine as well as to search for nuclear medicine residency programs in the U.S.

Get board-certified upon successful completion of your residency in nuclear medicine. The American Board of Nuclear Medicine (ABNM) is the certifying organization. You must meet the training requirements outlined above before you are allowed to take the certification examination. You must also have an unrestricted medical license to practice in a state or territory of the U.S. or Canada. See Resources for more on ABNM certification and registering for the certification examination.

Maintain your certification by passing the Maintenance of Certification (MOC) exam once every 10 years. The ABNM also requires that you participate in all MOC activities, including paying MOC fees. The ABNM advises that you take the MOC exam 2 or 3 years before your certification expires in case you need to retake the exam. If you pass, your certification will be valid for another 10 years after the end of the previous certification.