Nuclear medicine course: Bright avenue for healthcare professionals
Amartya Sinha, 29 Jun 2016
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Nuclear technology is usually perceived as something associated with destructive weapons or power generation. What is not that known is that it has tremendous potential in the field of medicine. To put it in a simple fashion, it is a medical speciality that deals with the application of radioactive substances in the treatment of diseases.

What is nuclear medicine?

Nuclear medicine, medical specialty that involves the use of radioactive isotopes in the diagnosis and treatment of disease. Nuclear medicine began only after the discovery by Enrico Fermi in 1935 that stable elements could be made radioactive by bombarding them with neutrons. The atoms of the elements so bombarded capture these neutrons, thus assuming a different nuclear form while remaining the same elements. These radioisotopes have unstable nuclei, however, and dissipate excess energy by emitting radiation in the form of gamma and other rays.

In isotope scanning, a radioisotope is introduced into the body, usually by means of intravenous injection. The isotope is then taken up in different amounts by different organs. Its distribution can be determined by recording the radiation it emits, and through charting its concentration it is often possible to recognize the presence, size, and shape of various abnormalities in body organs. The radiation emitted is detected by a scintillation counter, which is moved back and forth over the organ being scanned; these messages can then be electronically recorded and studied by clinicians. The radioisotope usually has a short half-life and thus decays completely before its radioactivity can cause any damage to the patient’s body.

Different isotopes tend to concentrate in particular organs: for example, iodine-131 settles in the thyroid gland and can reveal a variety of defects in thyroid functioning. Another isotope, carbon-14, is useful in studying abnormalities of metabolism that underlie diabetes, gout, anemia, and acromegaly. Various scanning devices and techniques have been developed, including tomography and magnetic resonance imaging.

Pyron, S et al (2013) Nuclear medicine. In Encyclopaedia Britannica Online [online] Retrieved from https://www.britannica.com [22nd April 2016].

The emergence of complex ailments has created a huge demand for professionals in this field. “This discipline is fast experiencing growth in India due to its immense potential and contribution in the fields of cancer, cardiology and neurology. Currently India has 234 nuclear medicine centres and 20-30 new nuclear medicine facilities are added every year. Due to its rapid growth in last decade, there is shortage of trained manpower in the field,” says Dr. Anshu Rajnish Sharma, President, Society of Nuclear Medicine India, the body of nuclear medicine and molecular imaging professionals in India.

Dr. Anshu Rajnish SharmaDr. Anshu Rajnish Sharma,
President,
Society of Nuclear Medicine India

This discipline is fast experiencing growth in India due to its immense potential and contribution in field of cancer, cardiology and neurology. Currently India has 234 nuclear medicine centres and 20-30 new nuclear medicine facilities are added every year. Due to its rapid growth in last decade, there is shortage of trained man-power in the field.

Eligibility

Many universities offer a BSc or MSc degree in nuclear medicine, while many medical colleges offer an MD in the subject. About 40 medical professionals are awarded with MD/DNB degrees in nuclear medicine every year across various centres of learning.

For admission to the BSc programme, the candidate must have scored at least 50% marks at 10+2 level with Physics and Chemistry as compulsory subjects and Biology or Mathematics as optional subjects. For MSc, candidates must have a BSc degree in Nuclear Medicine or Medical Imaging Technology. MBBS qualified candidates can apply for MD in nuclear medicine.

 

Course Curriculum

The curriculum for BSc students includes human anatomy and physiology, radiochemistry and radio pharmacy, medical ethics and computer applications. Postgraduate students pursuing MSc and MD degrees study nuclear physics, image processing techniques, statistical tools on nuclear medicine and high end computing related to nuclear medicine. Rigorous laboratory work and dissertations are compulsory for students. Students also have to pursue internships for hands-on experience towards the end of their courses.

 

Selected institutions offering courses in Nuclear Medicine

Institution

3-year MD

MSc

BSc

AIIMS, Delhi

Yes

Yes

--

PGIMER, Chandigarh

Yes

Yes

--

SGPGI, Lucknow

Yes

Yes

--

JIPMER, Pudducherry

Yes

Yes

Yes

Tata Memorial Hospital, Mumbai

Yes

--

--

Radiation Medicine Center, Mumbai

Yes

--

--

Christian Medical College, Vellore

Yes

--

Yes

Amrita Institute of Medical Sciences, Kochi

Yes

--

--

SVIMS, Tirupati

Yes

--

Yes

Ram Manohar Lohia Hospital, Delhi

--

Yes

--

MAHE, Manipal

--

Yes

Yes

Kovai Medical Center & Hospital, Coimbatore

--

--

Yes

Career prospects

After completing a degree in nuclear medicine one has the option of working with government and private sector hospitals. “After doing BSc/MSc, candidates get the job of Nuclear Medicine Technical Officer or Medical Physicist in Department of Nuclear Medicine at various government or private hospitals or Diagnostic Centres in the country. These courses are approved by Atomic Energy Regulatory Board. Their job profile is to prepare Radiopharmaceuticals and operate on high end scanners like SPECT-CT, PET/CT and PET-MRI for acquiring images of patients. The remuneration of Nuclear Medicine Technologist may range from Rs.30000-40000 per month in government institutes,” adds Dr Sharma.

Industry demand

There is a massive requirement of nuclear medicine professionals in the industry. “With an exponential rise in the numbers of SPECT gamma cameras and PET scanners in recent years, there has been a visible presence of this speciality in the medical practice. Currently, for the functional evaluation of various organs like kidneys, and heart; and for the diagnosis and assessment of various cancers, a vital role is played by nuclear medicine. But, the availability of this service is far less than the demand,” states Dr Regi Oommen, the Head of Department of Nuclear Medicine at Vellore's Christian Medical College.

Dr Regi OommenDr Regi Oommen,
Head of Department, Nuclear Medicine,
Christian Medical College Vellore

With an exponential rise in the numbers of SPECT gamma cameras and PET scanners nuclear medicine has a visible presence in medical practice. It plays a vital role in the functional evaluation of various organs like kidneys, and heart; and for the diagnosis and assessment of various cancers.

Professionals generally opt for corporate jobs or for academic careers. “I completed my BSc in Nuclear Medicine and Technology from Manipal University in 2009. After completing my DNMT and MSc degrees, I opted for an academic career. In the near future, I plan to pursue PhD in nuclear medicine,” says Ramandeep Bhalla, Assistant Professor, Department of Nuclear Medicine, School of Allied Health Sciences, Manipal University.

Research:  The prospects and challenges

As nuclear medicine evolves, there is a huge room for research in this field. “At present, India lag behinds many western countries in nuclear medicine as the equipment required are very expensive and these are mainly available in tertiary care hospitals. However, it is expected that these would reach to more health centres. The R&D in the field can be given boost if the Govt. of India invests more in the field by providing special grants to departments involved in research in developing novel radiopharmaceuticals as it is very expensive and academic institutions cannot procure them out of their own resources,” says Dr Rajat Sandhir, Head of the Department, Centre for Nuclear Medicine, Panjab University.

Dr Rajat SandhirDr Rajat Sandhir,
Head of Department, Centre for Nuclear Medicine,
Panjab University

The R & D in the field can be given boost if the Government of India invests more in the field by providing special grants to departments involved in research in developing novel radiopharmaceuticals as it is very expensive and academic institutions cannot procure them out of their own resources.

Considering the pace of technological advancements, the future for nuclear medicine looks bright in India.

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