Nuclear Pharmacist

A nuclear pharmacist is specially trained to handle, prepare and distribute radioactive materials that radiologists use for certain imaging procedures and treatments. A nuclear pharmacist is one of many specialists who work in nuclear medicine.


What is a nuclear pharmacist?

A nuclear pharmacist (formerly known as a radiopharmacist) specializes in preparing and distributing radiopharmaceuticals or radioactive drugs for use in nuclear medicine tests and procedures.

Radioactive drugs or radiopharmaceuticals are essential components of nuclear medicine imaging. They can help diagnose and treat certain conditions.

Nuclear medicine imaging can show how your organs or tissues are functioning. For most diagnostic procedures, you swallow, inhale or receive an injection of a radiotracer, which contains the radioactive material. Common uses of radioactive drugs for imaging tests include scans of your:

Healthcare providers use radioactive drugs for certain treatments to target a harmful organ or tissue. Radioactivity damages or stops the growth of unhealthy cells. Two common uses of radioactive drugs for treatment include radioactive iodine therapy and brachytherapy.

What is nuclear pharmacy?

Nuclear pharmacy is a specialty area of pharmacy practice. It involves compounding, preparing and distributing radioactive materials for use in nuclear medicine procedures.

There are hospital-based pharmacies and commercial nuclear pharmacies. In hospitals, the nuclear pharmacy is part of the nuclear medicine department.

Nuclear pharmacies are relatively new in the world of medicine — they formed in the 1970s.


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What is the difference between a pharmacist and a nuclear pharmacist?

A traditional pharmacist and a nuclear pharmacist both prepare and distribute prescriptions. The difference is the type of prescriptions.

A traditional pharmacist usually provides prescribed medications (such as antibiotics or blood pressure medication) directly to the intended person. A nuclear pharmacist prepares and distributes radioactive drugs to a hospital’s nuclear medicine department. A radiologist will then give the drugs to the intended person as part of an imaging or treatment procedure.

Nuclear pharmacists also undergo extensive training in radiation safety and other aspects specific to the handling of radioactive materials, whereas traditional pharmacists don’t need this training.

What does a nuclear pharmacist do?

Nuclear pharmacists have several roles, including:

  • Managing the inventory of radioactive drugs and other supplies.
  • Preparing radiopharmaceuticals.
  • Filling prescription orders from nuclear medicine healthcare providers.
  • Checking equipment for quality and safety assurance purposes.
  • Properly handling dangerous substances.
  • Ensuring that you receive proper preparation before a radiologist administers radiopharmaceutical materials.

A nuclear pharmacist may also help teach nuclear medicine technologists and/or nuclear medicine residents.

Nuclear pharmacists can work in several settings, including:

  • Hospitals.
  • Nuclear pharmacies.
  • Medical schools.
  • Government and private research institutes.


Is nuclear pharmacy safe?

Even though nuclear pharmacists work with radioactive materials every day, the amount of radiation exposure is very low due to strict safety measures. They also have to receive extensive training in radiation safety in order to become a board-certified nuclear pharmacist.

Lead is an effective shielding material for radioactive emissions. Because of this, nuclear pharmacists work behind leaded glass shielding, use leaded glass syringe shields and use lead containers to hold the radioactive materials.

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Additional Common Questions

How do you become a nuclear pharmacist?

To become a nuclear pharmacist, you must:

  • Graduate from a pharmacy program accredited by the Accreditation Council for Pharmacy Education (ACPE).
  • Hold a current, active license to practice pharmacy.
  • Have at least at least 4,000 hours of training and experience in nuclear pharmacy practice.
  • Pass an exam in nuclear pharmacy.


How many nuclear pharmacists are there?

Currently, there are about 350 to 400 board-certified nuclear pharmacists in the United States.

A note from Cleveland Clinic

Needing to undergo an imaging test or treatment that involves radioactive materials can be stressful. Know that your radiologist works closely with a nuclear pharmacist to ensure that the radioactive drug dose is correct and safe. If you have any questions about the procedure, don’t be afraid to ask them.

Medically Reviewed

Last reviewed on 09/23/2022.

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