Like other branches of health care, pharmacy has its own areas of specialized practice. One of the most challenging is nuclear pharmacy -- the supply, compounding and administration of radioactive drugs called radiopharmaceuticals. Nuclear pharmacists typically work collaboratively with doctors and technical staff in this highly specialized field, and seldom have direct contact with a patient. There are only a handful of schools training nuclear pharmacists, and entering the field requires a significant investment in education.
Pharmacy colleges vary in their entry requirements, but typically require three to four years' undergraduate education. Prerequisites for admission usually include a broad grounding in the humanities and basic sciences, and the majority of pharmacy programs also require students to take the Pharmacy College Admissions Test, or PCAT. Pharmacy college typically takes an additional four years, combining advanced classes in pharmacology, biochemistry and professional ethics with practical experience in a working pharmacy. A few schools accept students directly from high school, offering an integrated program that combines the pre-pharmacy and pharmacy material into one continuous course of study. Graduates earn a doctorate in pharmacy, or a Pharm. D. degree.
Specialized training in nuclear pharmacy can be earned through 4,000 hours' practical experience or a combination of experience and further academic training. The Board of Pharmacy Specialties permits up to 2,000 hours, or half of the total, through formal education. Nuclear pharmacy electives, taken as part of the pharmacist's education, can account for up to 1,500 hours. Aspiring nuclear pharmacists can earn a master's degree or Ph.D. in the field, which counts as 2,000 hours' experience. Purdue University and Ohio State University offer certificate programs in nuclear pharmacy, for over 200 hours, and the University of New Mexico and University of Arkansas offer an online certificate valued at 250 hours.
The remainder of a nuclear pharmacist's training must be earned through practical experience in the field. After earning a Pharm. D., pharmacists have the option of completing a one-year residency or internship in nuclear pharmacy at a recognized facility. Credit is given for actual hours worked, up to a total of 2,000 hours. This is approximately one year of full-time hours. Pharmacists can earn any remaining hours, or the entire required total of 4,000 hours' experience, though actual practice in a nuclear pharmacy setting under the supervision of a certified nuclear pharmacist.
The Board of Pharmacy Specialties oversees certification in nuclear pharmacy. Candidates must be graduates of an accredited pharmacy program and licensed in their own states, and must have completed the additional training and experience in nuclear pharmacy. Once eligible, candidates must take and pass a multiple-choice certification exam administered by the Board. The examination covers a range of topics, including the procurement and compounding of the drugs themselves and the pharmacist's knowledge of their health and safety requirements. Once earned, certification must be maintained on a seven-year cycle, either through continuing education or by taking a recertification exam.
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