Physicist - Careers in Nuclear Medicine

Physicist - Careers in Nuclear Medicine

Nuclear medicine physicists and engineers are experts in the interactions between ionizing radiation and matter, nuclear imaging instrumentation and radiation dosimetry. They typically also have expertise in image processing and computer science. Nuclear medicine physicists and engineers have advanced degrees in physics, medical physics, biophysics, computer engineering, electrical engineering or biomedical engineering. The nuclear medicine physicist is part of the nuclear medicine team along with the nuclear medicine physicians and technologists providing assistance with the physical aspects of any new applications for nuclear medicine, performing acceptance testing and maintaining a quality program of nuclear medicine instrumentation and making any necessary dosimetric calculations.

The Physicist's Role in Nuclear Medicine

By definition, physics is the study of the properties and interactions of matter and energy in all their forms. The very nature of nuclear medicine depends on physics since it deals with the interaction of the radiation emitted from within the patient with the detectors used to provide the images as well as with the patient him or herself. The operation of nuclear medicine equipment is dependent on complex physical principles. Optimal operation of the nuclear medicine imaging equipment depends on a clear understanding of the fundamentals upon which the technology is based. Issues of the radiation dose to the patient and workers depend on how the radiation interacts within the individual. Knowledge of these processes allow for accurate estimates of the radiation dose received by the patient as well as ways to keep the radiation dose to the workers as low as possible. The physicist may also have expertise in image reconstruction and data analysis and thus can assist in determining the optimal approaches to be used for processing different types of nuclear medicine studies. Thus the nuclear medicine physicist plays an integral role in the nuclear medicine team. In addition, physicists and engineers work in research labs, both in academia and industry, developing the new instruments and data analysis approaches for the next generation of nuclear medicine and molecular imaging.


Physicists in nuclear medicine can be certified by the American Board of Science in Nuclear Medicine in Nuclear Medicine Physics or Health Physics or by the American Board of Radiology in Medical Nuclear Physics.

Medical Physicist

The American Association of Physicists in Medicine defines a qualified Medical Physicist as an individual who is competent to practice independently one or more of the subfields of medical physics.

Medical Nuclear Physics is a subfield in medical physics that pertains to:

  1. the therapeutic and diagnostic applications of radionuclides (except those used in sealed sources for therapeutic purposes)
  2. the equipment associated with their production, use, measurement and evaluation
  3. the quality of images resulting form their production and use
  4. medical health physics associated with this subfield