Nuclear Pharmacist: Education and Career Information
If you’ve ever been interested in pharmacy, but also have a love for all things dealing with radioactive materials or nuclear science, you may want to consider becoming a nuclear pharmacist. This is a specialized area of pharmacy that requires extensive knowledge of nuclear medicine procedures.
What does a nuclear pharmacist do?
Nuclear pharmacists work with radioactive materials, but are also regular pharmacists and can handle all the duties of a standard pharmacist. This means they administer radiopharmaceuticals in the hospital setting that can assist in revealing important information to determine the specific illness of a patient. They specialize in the procurement, compounding, dispensation and use of radiopharmaceuticals. These duties include bone scans, heart and breast scans, ovarian imaging, brain imaging and prostate cancer imaging. They work with other specialists of nuclear medicine in diagnosis and treatments. Most nuclear pharmacists are found in large corporate firms, universities, medical institutions and working with governmental entities. This can be a very dangerous position, and they do most of their work in contained workstations with lead glass screens and gloved ports to avoid heavy exposure to radiation. They also monitor the amount of radiation they are exposed to on a continuous basis.
How much does a nuclear pharmacist earn?
According to salary.com, the average annual salary for a nuclear pharmacist varies based on where they work, the location, how much experience they have and the level of education and training they have obtained. The annual pay as of August 2015 is $124,854, but can significantly increase based on a number of variables.
What are the skills needed to become a nuclear pharmacist?
A nuclear pharmacist must have the skill set of a general pharmacist, with additional specialized skills:
Research: A nuclear pharmacist must have extensive research skills to determine which radioactive medicines can be used on patients in the diagnosis and treatment of their illnesses.
Attention-to-Detail: Working with radioactive materials, nuclear pharmacists must be able to be detailed in the handling and care of radioactive materials. They must know what they are doing at all times and take the utmost precautions in using these materials around others.
Accountability: A nuclear pharmacist must be responsible in the handling of radioactive materials, and have to hold themselves accountable for exposure of the materials for their personal safety and the safety of others.
Chemistry and radiation knowledge: Knowing the composition of certain drugs, and how radiation can affect them is instrumental in successfully navigating this career.
Mathematical knowledge: It is important for nuclear pharmacists to understand mathematical calculations and statistics when working with radioactive materials. One wrong calculation could be detrimental, or expose patients and coworkers to unsafe hazardous materials.
Management: A nuclear pharmacist must be able to manage a variety of tasks at one time, taking in to account the risks associated with this field of work. They must be able to manage dispensation of medicines and other protocols with healthcare workers and technicians in the diagnosis of certain illnesses. They must also be able to manage keeping up with shipments of radioactive materials, and take responsibility for having every element in its proper place.
Collaboration: Most nuclear pharmacists work on a rotating schedule, which gives the opportunity of working with a variety of individuals. They must be able to relate to coworkers that do not understand, and be able to adapt to any sudden changes.
Communication: This is one of the most essential skills needed for a nuclear pharmacist. They must be able to clearly communicate any needs they have, and alert anyone of any pending issues or exposure to radiation. This is a highly sensitive position, and total communication is needed on all levels to ensure the safety of the staff and patients.
Monitoring: A nuclear pharmacist must be able to monitor patients and certain radioactive materials throughout their usage to keep patients and staff safe. They must have reasonable expectations of outcomes, and make sure all materials are properly disposed of or placed into safety containers to avoid exposure.
Most internship requirements include a two-year residency program in a setting where the student can become acclimated with nuclear pharmacy. There are a few nuclear pharmacy summer internship programs that acclimate the students to a career in the field. These types of internships help meet the experiential requirements for the Authorized Nuclear Pharmacist designation and can be credited toward pharmacist licensure by the state board of pharmacy. Coursework topics during the internship include radiation safety, personnel monitoring, routine pharmacist duties, internal audit, visiting a nuclear medicine department, quality assurance and delivery procedures.
This is a highly specialized area that requires extensive training. There is no special license to practice, but the training involved will allow the pharmacist to become an authorized user of radioactive materials on the license of the pharmacy or hospital.
Interested individuals should enroll in a bachelor’s degree or two-year program. Attending an institution that offers a pre-pharmacy program would be helpful, as you will become familiar with chemistry, biology, calculus and statistics.
Once you have been accepted into a pharmacy program, the curriculum becomes more intense. Although the curriculum for the first two professional years are standard, involving coursework such as pharmacy law and ethics, pharmaceutical calculations, integrated pharmacotherapy and pharmacy skills, the curriculum drastically changes in the concentration years to include nuclear physics, instrumentation, radiation safety and regulations, radiation biology and radiochemistry. Students will receive the Pharm.D. degree.
After completing pharmacy school, students must take the state licensing exam. In order to obtain a certification in nuclear pharmacy, the student must have a current and active license, 4,000 hours of training and experience in nuclear pharmacy practice, and have achieved a passing score on the Nuclear Pharmacy Specialty Certification Examination. The required 4,000 hours may be broken into 2,000 hours of academic hours and 2,000 hours of training and practice.
There is a rigorous recertification process that takes place after a certain period of time. This can be a very interesting position for someone who wants to work on the cutting edge of medical breakthroughs. With a lucrative salary as an incentive, this is a position that may be worth pursuing.