The Value of Nuclear Pharmacists in an Evolving Specialty
by Leana Gebo, PharmD, BCNP
Vice Chair, BPS Specialty Council on Nuclear Pharmacy
Many nuclear pharmacists handle radiation as their day job, which has led to interesting myths. Contrary to popular myth, we don’t glow in the dark and we don’t have a tail growing out of our lab coats. However, even without interesting myths, nuclear pharmacy is a nuanced and exciting specialty area for pharmacists. I’m eager to share with you what I love about nuclear pharmacy and offer my insights into the first pharmacy specialty certification recognized by the Board of Pharmacy Specialties (BPS).
My path to nuclear pharmacy began in pharmacy school where I was lucky enough to take an elective that introduced me to this unique specialty. It was clear from the beginning that nuclear pharmacy is an exhilarating mix of hands-on work, problem solving, creativity, strategizing, and applying all realms of science to best care for our patients. No day is the same and entire teams come together to overcome supply chain logistics, prepare products in a USP <825> compliant environment (we have our own general chapter going into effect soon!) and provide timely care for our patients. Nuclear pharmacists receive additional training beyond a degree to practice pharmacy; we must meet the requirements to become an “Authorized User” set by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission. The safety of both nuclear pharmacists and the public is at the forefront of much of this training.
After this introduction in pharmacy school, I was eager to dive into a role practicing nuclear pharmacy. My career experience comes from working at a centralized nuclear pharmacy, one that prepares radiopharmaceuticals and supplies hospitals and clinics with these essential therapeutic and diagnostic agents. There are many avenues a nuclear pharmacist can pursue: from positron emission tomography (PET), manufacturing, academia, clinical roles, regulatory work, to a long line of opportunities within operations.
My early professional experiences prepared me to become board certified. Achieving and maintaining my BCNP certification is a personal commitment to the specialty and the exemplary work that nuclear pharmacists do. I take great pride in the role nuclear pharmacists play in providing care to our patients, as patients who need a radiopharmaceutical or nuclear medicine study are extremely vulnerable due to health uncertainties.
To continue my engagement with nuclear pharmacy, I pursued service on the BPS Specialty Council on Nuclear Pharmacy in 2022. Nuclear pharmacy was first recognized as a specialty in 1978, and one of the most rewarding takeaways I’ve found from specialty council service is maintaining and innovating this inaugural specialty area. During my service on the specialty council, I’ve connected with nuclear pharmacy colleagues who bring different perspectives and expertise, even within our already tight-knit specialty, which brings a depth of knowledge to our work. At the core, we share the common goal of supporting pharmacist board certification and the nuclear pharmacy niche.
As a nuclear pharmacist, it is incredibly fulfilling to know we assist patients at a challenging stage of their health journey. Many radiopharmaceuticals provide clinicians and patients with answers to critical questions, such as whether the patient needs to be rushed to surgery, if they have cancer, or whether the treatment they’re receiving is working. The radiopharmaceutical industry continues to delve further into areas where agents are used hand-in-hand to both diagnose and treat diseases (an approach known as theranostics). The number of drugs in the pipeline within our area of expertise is remarkable, in contrast to our approximately 50-year history, making this an exciting time for our specialty!
While the BCNP credential may be one of the oldest certifications for pharmacists, innovation continues and the need to support pharmacist certification in this specialty area persists. My role on the council allows me to appreciate the history of this specialty area and continue the peer-developed nature of the BCNP certification to reflect contemporary nuclear pharmacy. For pharmacists who are interested in nuclear pharmacy, I invite you to learn more about our unique practice area. Who knows, maybe you’ll start to glow in the dark!