For the next several weeks (and possibly months), we will start with a new theme: how to be successful in each of your subspecialty rotations. (and of course, today how to be successful in nuclear medicine!) Why should I even bother to tackle this theme? I mean, most residency programs have some guidelines about what residents need to do each month. Well, I can tell you that most of the time, these guidelines are only set up as a way to satisfy the needs of the ACGME and may not be all that relevant to what you need to know. Often, they are very boilerplate and merely copied from one institution to the next. Moreover, these summaries are “oh-so-boring” to read and likely outdated. Additionally, I aim to give this a bit more entertainment value (as I usually do!) and provide some more relevancy to what you actually should do on your rotations.
To organize this series, I am going to mirror the subspecialty rotations at our institution. At Barnabas (my humble program), we have a mix of modality and organ-based rotations. Now, you may ask, how can this be relevant to your situation if your program arranges your month slightly differently? Well, regardless of how it’s sliced and diced, you can infer many of the same themes at your institution. The information is still here to help you out. These include the books you need to read, how you should learn the material during each year of residency, and the actions to succeed in your rotations.
So, why start with nuclear medicine? Well, for one, it is my area of expertise. And, of course, what better place to start than my home base?
What You Should Read
Hands down, there is one resource that I like the most. It used to be Nuclear Medicine, The Requisites (which is OK). But all that has changed since the newest version of Mettler. (I am an affiliate of Amazon if you decide to click on the links and buy them!) I found Mettler to be comprehensive and reasonable to tackle. It was straightforward to read when I had to study for my recertification examination in nuclear medicine/radiology. Also, it covers most of the nuclear medicine topics. And I believe that is an excellent way to go.
When To Study Topics In Nuclear Medicine
During that first year of nuclear medicine, you need to first start by concentrating on the studies that can kill patients or cause severe morbidity if you miss something. What are these sorts of cases? These include V/Q scans (you don’t want to miss pulmonary emboli). Then, check out myocardial perfusion scans (you don’t want to miss ischemia from a left main coronary artery widow-maker lesion). Go through GI bleeding scans (you don’t want your patients exsanguinating). And finally, read about renal transplant scans (missing dying kidneys).
Then, next, you need to study what is most common when you’ve covered these bases. Of course, what occurs frequently can vary somewhat from institution to institution. But, for the most part, we are talking about bone scans, hepatobiliary scans, infection detection studies (gallium, indium-WBC, and Ceretec-WBC), and iodine scans for thyroid disease. Or perhaps, your institution may specialize in procedures such as parathyroid adenomas (as we do at ours). The bottom line is that you should study what you see most often to communicate intelligently with your attending.
Finally, you should study everything else. And, in nuclear medicine, that can be a lot. But, the core exam will pretty much cover most of nuclear medicine. That includes anything from PET-CTs of all types to DAT SPECT studies to evaluate Parkinson’s disease (or even the rare salivagram!) This order should allow you to be successful in your successive nuclear medicine rotations.
How You Should Learn Nuclear Medicine As A First Through Fourth Year Resident
Try to sit with your attending as much as possible at the beginning. Get a feel for what your faculty dictates and why. Then, without much further ado, be aggressive and ask to dictate cases as soon as possible on your own. Why? Because you want to convert what your attendings are thinking into a viable and logical report. That is what we do as radiologists. Without this skill, all your learning with be for naught!
Also, try to spend a little bit of time with the technologists. See how they operate the machinery. Check out how the patients undergo stress tests. Watch how the cameras work. All this observation is essential for understanding how technology translates into clinical operations and patient care.
Second and Third Years
During these years, you need to become a bit more independent. Now that you know some of the basics, you should try to pre-dictate cases even before the nuclear medicine attending arrives on the scene. Grab that bone scan and give it a whirl. What’s the worst that can happen? You will miss a few findings and learn something!
Instead of only concentrating on the less complicated material, try learning the nuts and bolts of some more esoteric studies. Also, be sure to understand how the software works. You might need it at your first job. For instance, ask how your attendings process the PET-FDG brains for quantification. Or, maybe you should try to interpret some of the more arcane PET scans like Amyvid, Axumin, and Dotatate. Bottom line: this is your last chance to learn nuclear medicine before starting your fellowship. Maximize what you know before it is too late. You don’t want to be struggling with nuclear medicine’s nuances when you take your first job if they assign you to tackle that specialty.
The Basics Of How To Be Successful In Nuclear Medicine
Let’s be honest. Nuclear medicine is not the most formidable rotation of all. (A little biased coming from a nuclear guy!) Or, what I mean is that you are usually not worked to the bone. However, it certainly has its challenges.
To summarize, I would concentrate on those studies that have the most clinical impact first, dictate soon after starting, spend some time with the technologists, and be somewhat aggressive and attempt to preview and dictate studies when you are ready. This targeted approach is how I would proceed if I were starting anew. These guidelines can give you a bit of a boost when starting out and give you the tools to be successful in nuclear medicine. Go for it!