Nuclear Medical Physicist’s ‘Hobby’ Helps Improve His Field
By Rodney Campbell, ABR Communications Manager
Patrick Byrne, PhD, has a unique way of thinking about his ABR volunteer work.
“If I spend a couple of weekends a year traveling to Tucson or Chicago or doing some committee work, I don’t feel too bad about it,” he said. “I approach it like a hobby in addition to my job.”
Volunteering isn’t his only hobby – he also enjoys hiking, traveling, and working on cars. He participates in those activities when he has free time, which doesn’t come often.
Dr. Byrne is a nuclear medicine consultant in Indianapolis and an adjunct lecturer at the Indiana University School of Medicine Department of Radiology. Some of his time off is spent volunteering as an oral examiner and as a senior editor for nuclear medical physics OLA questions.
“I love nuclear medicine,” he said. “I’m a nuclear medicine nerd.”
Dr. Byrne got to this position by taking a chance at the University of Michigan while earning his master’s in radiological health engineering in 2001. He said there were many advancements being made in nuclear medical applications on campus and he wanted to be part of it.
He and many of his nuclear engineering colleagues ended up in the medical physics field. Dr. Byrne specifically went into nuclear medical physics despite being warned more than 20 years ago that the field was slowly dying.
“When I look back at all the decisions I’ve made, I’m very happy to be in the position I’m in. For the last 22 years, I’ve been involved with something that I find unbelievably interesting, and I get to do it as a job,” he said. “I have never gotten bored. I’ve never gotten exhausted with it. I’ve just been fascinated by it.”
He brought his passion for nuclear medical physics to the ABR as an oral examiner in 2013. In that role, he told an ABR board member that he thought improvements could be made to the nuclear medical physics question bank.
“There was nothing dramatically wrong, but I felt like some improvements could be made,” Dr. Byrne said. “I thought there were a few things particular to nuclear medicine that we could revise. A little while after that, I was asked about serving on the oral exam committee.”
When later presented with the opportunity to join a second committee, for Maintenance of Certification, Dr. Byrne jumped at the chance. He liked the volunteer work and the people involved. That committee now develops OLA questions for Continuing Certification (formerly MOC).
“Even though I stay pretty busy at work, I was enjoying the committee work that I was doing,” Dr. Byrne said. “It was an opportunity to interact with people who have very similar interests.”
Being part of two committees means twice the work and time spent in either Chicago or Tucson. Fortunately, the work doesn’t get repetitive.
“It doesn’t overload me to be on both committees because they feel very different,” Dr. Byrne said. “In one, you’re writing deeper questions that are going to be presented orally. The other involves more rapid-fire continuing education questions. Even though it’s effectively the same subspecialty, it has very different feelings to it.”
Eventually, he was named chair of the Nuclear Medical Physics Oral Exam Committee. Those extra duties – remember, this is a “hobby” – give him the chance to work closely with the ABR’s exam development team in developing questions for the oral exam.
“It allows me to work a little more behind the scenes relative to somebody just being on the committee,” Dr. Byrne said. “It lets me see just how fantastic the ABR staff are and how much work they put into it. I have done committee work with other professional groups, and you see how easy everything is with the ABR because it’s so well facilitated by staff.”
ABR volunteers are some of the country’s best physicians and physicists, working together to develop exams and continuing education platforms that make their specialties stronger.
“I get a lot out of it by interacting with like-minded people,” he said. “Yes, I’m benefitting, but we’re also doing something good for the field.”