What Does a Nuclear Physicist Do?

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Most people when they find out what I do for a living, they stop talking to me, sometime they walk away.  For awhile there I stopped telling people what I did for a living, but after being shunned (but also made some of my best friends) at a pre-school meeting, I decided… I am who I am, if I am shunned or berated for being me, I will accept that.

So what do I do?   Let me give you a little past history of my career, I have been practicing 29 years this November 2017.

I’ll start with most physicist have multiple jobs, and most are introverts who have ADD and quite a few of us have type A personalities.  I like to keep busy, but not at the expense of my family.  That would mean for me for years when the kids were little, I often took my children along with me to work ALOT.    I can remember bringing my elementary school children with me to my hospital office, which was the size of 10 normal offices (it was also next to the morgue in the sub basement) and I had space to let them run.  I would tell them, if they played nice while I answered emails and filed away papers, I would take them for McDonald’s, which was a great bribe that worked.  They have sat under tables in the Operating room conference area while I spoke on surgical radiation safety.   I dragged them to nuclear offices and asked for them to sit quietly for 20 minutes in the empty because closed office reception area when they were as young as 10 and 12 years old, while I quickly worked and had a receptionist keep and eye on them.  I would tell them if mom could do two nuclear accounts today, we could go to the zoo afterward.  If mom could write one lecture this morning, we could go out to lunch.  If mom could just test one quick test on mammography machine after dinner and you guys could sit in the closed facilities break room, I would buy a video on the way home and we could all stay up late and watch it together.   Physicist often work before and after hours, or weekends when patients are not around, we are called hospital vampires for our slipping in and out and being unseen.

I have worked at two large hospitals in the Metro Detroit area as both a Diagnostic Nuclear Physicist and a Radiation Safety Officer.  These jobs allow flexible hours perfect for raising children and working the most during school hours, but they also often allowed me to type paperwork at home, often with the kids asleep.  I work for a consulting group, that only wanted me to work evenings and weekends, which was ideal.  I started performing my own consulting for small jobs, such as helping to clean up and close nuclear facilities, or write radiation safety education lecture materials for facilities, or performing nuclear audits.  I decided to partner with a friend and worked endless extremely early mornings, even on family vacations, writing lectures to start up my website on education for the required training of 80 hrs for all Cardiologists who want to open their own clinics, or practice Nuclear Cardiology.

This week for me was the end of a quarter, last week of September, which means all Nuclear sites I cover must have an audit completed.  I work hard to not cram them into the last month, but it is always a busy week.  I also performed a nuclear lecture on Radiation Hormesis (the theory that small amounts of radiation exposure are actually healthy for you) at the local chapter of the Society of Nuclear Medicine.  I had to perform one digital mammography unit service call re-evaluation.  It is federal law that certain repairs performed on mammography have to have a physicist evaluation prior to human use, they are closed until that physics test is passed.  I performed a preparation and surgical procedure using Sir-Spheres, a liquid Yttrium 90 radionuclide used to treat liver cancer (these are long and exhaustive procedures, but the patients are last option of treatment stage, and I feel good to know this is life extending for them).  I visited a Nuclear Cat facility to start a re-calculation on reduced time of holding cats after an Iodine-131 thyroid treatment, this is a medical vet technology, but also performed often on humans as well.  I had my annual review with my hospital job, she said she thought it was unique I said in my comments about my job, that I love my job, which I do, I told her I was retiring in three years, and we laughed.  I performed multiple audits of my hospitals cancer treatment center, to audit the other physicists work with HDR (high dose rate- nuclear materials) cancer treatments to assure these physicists are performing their work with the highest standards.  I audit their work and I am audited by many different federal, state and insurance agencies to assure my work is at the highest standards.  I performed four lead room shielding evaluations, where you place a source of radiation Tc-99m in the center of a newly leaded x-ray room, and measure the radiation on the circumference of the room to prove there is not radiation exposure leaking out of the room, it should be a perfect lead box that is sealed from radiation leakage, so they can start using x-ray radiation in the room and keep people on the outside of the room safe.  I tested one new orthopedic office and three new CT room installs.   Whew!

I am so happy the week is over, and I get a rest week, although I don’t intend on resting too much, I am going to try and finish up outstanding work and send out a ton of emails tomorrow.

I’ll post another weeks work schedule in the future, sometimes I do really fun things.  More to share……Radiation symbols

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