What does a nuclear medicine scientist do?
Simply – nuclear medicine scientists prepare and administer small amounts of radioactive substances called radiopharmaceuticals, and then image the distribution in the patients body, for diagnosis. So we can work out what is wrong with them using functional or molecular imagng. Nuclear medicine scientists also use radiopharmaceuticals to deliver therapy for some diseases.
How is it different from radiography?
I get this question a lot! Unlike plain X-rays and other diagnostic imaging (like sonography), which show the anatomy or structure of the body, nuclear medicine shows how organs or tissues functions and whether they are working correctly.
Some of that function is rudimentary like using a radiopharmaceutical to see metabolism in a bone, while others at the high end provide molecular level function like imaging over expression of certain receptors on cell surfaces.
So we are able to provide pretty unique information that is
Give me an example.
There are so many! You could be doing cardiovascular imaging, which is the imaging of the heart and blood vessels.
So a patient may have had a
Or, they could have had bypass surgery or another revascularisation procedure designed to restore blood supply to the heart and a doctor wants to check the results. Or, on the other hand, it might not be reactive and maybe someone has seen their doctor because they have an unexplained chest pain, or a shortness of breath when they are exerted; and a doctor wants to be proactive in the diagnosis. There are lots of different scans you could be doing; for example, you might want to visualise blood flow patterns to the heart walls; this is called a myocardial perfusion scan.
I want to get an understanding of what kind of person would like the course, can you describe your personality?
I like understanding how things work, I like problem solving and I enjoy understanding ideas that require critical thinking. I am a decision maker in team situations, though I really like talking problems through. Probably not a surprise, I liked science at school and the human body interests me. I also really like practical things. I think I am a really hands on learner, and enjoy real world subjects. I get told often that I have a great attention to detail; which comes in handy in the course. Also, I would say I am a caring person. I have a genuine care for others – which again, comes in handy for the course.
Sum up nuclear medicine in one sentence.
Nuclear medicine combines imaging, patient care,
What would you be doing day to day in this job?
There are two main elements to the job, procedures and then reporting. So you could be preparing stock radiopharmaceuticals, working with the patient or processing the results of procedures. When a patient arrives for their appointment I’ll explain the procedure to them and take their history.
I’ll then prepare and administer the required radiopharmaceutical, perform the required imaging (some are short, others are complex), and then process (computer analysis) the results and display the data for our physicians to report. In between, we have to perform the quality assurance on the state of the art equipment to ensure everything is functioning, do any therapy doses and help with any research studies.
Did you do chemistry, physicals, maths and computer technology at high school?
Ha, no… I did chemistry and maths. You could definitely do the course without having done these subjects, but you do need to have an interest in learning about them. The computer technology subjects aren’t hard tech; it’s about understanding how the machines work.
What does the course look like, how long is it and how does it all work?
I am doing a Bachelor of Medical Radiation Science (Nuclear Medicine) at Charles Sturt University. I study on the Wagga Wagga campus, but there is also a campus in Port Macquarie. I am studying full time and the course will take 4 years, including my clinical placements. I’ve done two so far, both were in Sydney and the university organised them for me.
What do you like about it?
Working with people is a big plus. But I also love that I get to be involved with so many specialities within medicine and then interact with all the different disciplines.