Is the future of nuclear medicine, radiology heading in the right direction? Experts take a look

Nuclear radiology is quickly evolving, but recruiting medical students into the field has been a challenge. A new study suggests young trainees aren’t fully informed about the growing opportunity.

A group of nuclear medicine experts came to this conclusion after analyzing workforce trends, training pathways and the online presence of training programs within the specialty, publishing their findings Nov. 21 in Academic Radiology.

Training pathways changed for nuclear medicine programs in 2007, expanding the variety of opportunities for students, but complicating the standardization of required experience, range of required skills and educational reform, among other things, Don C. Yoo, MD, with Warren Alpert Medical School’s Division of Nuclear Medicine, and colleagues wrote. Paired with a lack of nuclear medicine and nuclear radiology subspecialists among long-time radiologists, some say change is needed.

“Such an abundance of training pathways, in combination with often disjointed publicly available information regarding their differences, has been described as confusing for physicians and medical students alike,” Yoo et al. explained.

“Online information from (nuclear medicine and nuclear radiology) NM/NR websites may play a significant role in not only clarifying the dynamic changes in the field and its training pathways, but also in attracting prospective applicants to the discipline altogether,” they added.

In order to understand workforce trends, the team looked at data from the 2017 American College of Radiology Commission on Human Resources Workforce Survey. They also reviewed board certification training pathway data and accredited nuclear medicine residency or nuclear radiology fellowship training websites to determine their “comprehensiveness.”

Over the last 10 years, the researchers noted, traditional training pathways for nuclear medicine and radiology programs have declined by 25%, while the number of trainees in the subspecialties has fallen by more than half.

It’s not all bad news though as recruitment into the American Board of Radiology's 16-month pathway (redesigned in 2017) has increased, with 64 enrolled trainees and 36 participating programs. The researchers attributed the gains to an increased exposure to important therapeutic radiopharmaceuticals and theragnostics.

When looking at the available information on 54 program websites, the team found “shortcomings” in their online presence. Most of these programs, the researchers noted, fall short of the content available on diagnostic radiology websites.

Yoo and colleagues warned that nuclear medicine and nuclear radiology could face “stagnation” if the number of trainee applicants and programs continues to fall.

“In this rapidly evolving field, it is imperative to champion NM/NR training and bolster the information accessible to potential NM/NR applicants as they weigh career options,” they concluded.