The main responsibility of the Radiopharmacist or Radiopharmaceutical Scientist in nuclear medicine is the preparation of radiopharmaceuticals to ensure their safety and efficacy. Many radiopharmaceuticals are administered by intravenous injection, so that preparation needs to be performed under aseptic conditions. All radiopharmaceuticals are, by definition, radioactive, so that radiation protection forms an integral part of the job.
Quality of the product is essential to the correct interpretation of the results of the investigation, or the delivery of the correct therapeutic dose, so that quality assurance and quality control testing form an important part of the responsibility. There is considerable scope for research and development in the field of radiopharmaceutical science.
A major challenge is the development of new radiopharmaceuticals, but there is still much work to be done in examining the mechanisms of action of established products, ways in which they interact with patient medication, and methods of improving performa
What skills are required?
A working knowledge of pharmaceutical sciences including microbiology, chemistry, physiology/pharmacology together with some radiation physics provides the essential academic background required of a radiopharmacist or radio-pharmaceutical scientist. In addition, practical skills in aseptic manipulation, and in the safe handling of radioactive products are required. A knowledge of analytical techniques including chromatography, gel filtration and electrophoresis is useful in relation to quality control, and in research and development activities. From the professional viewpoint, the practice of radiopharmacy is highly regulated, and it is necessary to be aware of proper procedures, bearing in mind the dual nature of radiopharmaceuticals as both medicines and radioactive products.
What qualifications are necessary?
Production of radiopharmaceuticals in hospitals is permitted in two ways.
In the first instance, materials are prepared under the terms of a Manufacturing (Specials) Licence, issued by the Medicines Control Agency. Under the terms of this licence, it is necessary to identify a Production Manager and a Quality Control Manager, one of whom is usually a pharmacist. It is often the case that one or other of these individuals is not a pharmacist, and may well be a clinical scientist or technologist, but in all cases, similar training considerations would apply.
In the second instance, materials are prepared under the so-called "section 10 exemption" and in this case supervision of the procedure has to be by a pharmacist.
Qualification as a pharmacist requires a basic four-year degree course followed by a one year postgraduate attachment to qualify for membership of the professional society (the Royal Pharmaceutical Society). During this period it is possible to gain some experience of radiopharmacy. Hospital pharmacists usually proceed to post-qualification diplomas or MSc courses in clinical pharmacy or pharmaceutical technology. A number of courses and workshops are open to pharmacists and non-pharmacists and these are listed below.
The postgraduate course on Pharmaceutical Technology and Quality Assurance (PTQA) currently running at Leeds University Department of Continuing Professional Education includes radiopharmacy modules.
The postgraduate diploma in Radiopharmaceutical Sciences at Kings College, University of London has run on two occasions to provide a specialised training. Short courses and workshops on specific topics are held as demand arises.
Brief contact details are given below.
Professional Development Programme on Pharmaceutical Technology and Quality Assurance (PTQA)
Information from: Dr Tim Sizer
Continuing Education Building
University of Leeds
Tel: 0113 233 3238
Fax: 0113 233 3240
Progress in Radiopharmaceuticals Workshops
Information from Paul Maltby
Royal Liverpool and Broadgreen University Hospital
Tel: 0151 706 4521
Fax: 0151 706 4522
MSc/Postgraduate Diploma/Postgraduate Certificate in Nuclear Medicine
Course leader: Simon King
Department of Allied Health Professions
University of the West of England (UWE Bristol)
Bristol BS16 1DD
Tel: 0117 32 83333
Postgraduate Course in Radiopharmacy - Kings College, London
Information from Professor S J Mather
Nuclear Medicine Department
St Barthlomew's Hospital
Tel: 0171 601 7153
Fax: 0171 796 3907
For general information contact Paul Maltby
Chairman BNMS Radiopharmacy Group
Royal Liverpool University Hospital
Liverpool L7 8XP
tel 0151 706 4521