Michael PughMichael Pugh bleeds green and gold.

“I chose the UAB School of Health Professions because it has some of the best medical programs around,” says the fourth-year Nuclear Medicine Technology student. “It has the only nuclear medicine program in the state and one of the few physician assistant programs in the nation that offers a specialty in surgery.”

Pugh will graduate from the University of Alabama at Birmingham’s NMT program this Spring and enter the Physician Assistant program in Fall 2014. Both programs are housed in UAB’s Department of Clinical and Diagnostic Sciences. The Hueytown, Alabama native plans to work in surgery once he completes his Masters.

“I’m fascinated with anatomy and physiology,” Pugh says. “These organs function for many years to keep a person alive. It is just amazing to me, when I look at everything that has to happen in order for you to live just one day.”

A passion for science and a wide variety of scans drew Pugh to nuclear medicine. Normal x-rays, he explains, only show the anatomy of an organ. “But nuclear medicine scans show physiology, or how the body is functioning. We can see how a bone is rebuilding itself—not just what it looks like.” This is an important distinction, Pugh says. “The ability to observe physiology is important because a change in physiology is often observable before a change in anatomy. With the goal of detecting diseases at earlier stages, I believe that this will be a key concept in the future of medicine.”

As a student in the SHP Honors Program, Pugh has spent the past year conducting research on a nuclear medicine scan called a lymphoscintigraphy, a procedure commonly performed on patients with melanoma or breast cancer.

“This procedure is a direct link between nuclear medicine and surgery,” Pugh explains. “The scan is used to detect which lymph nodes are the sentinel nodes. If there is no cancer in this node then it is unlikely that the cancer has spread. The process can prevent total lymph node dissection, which causes swollen limbs and a lot of pain for the patient.”

Pugh’s work within the SHP Honors program has enabled him to unite his passion for nuclear medicine technology with his aspirations to work in surgery.

“I want to be a part of the team that helps someone when an organ stops functioning correctly, or when trauma damages the body,” he says. “Modern surgery can truly restore a person’s quality of life, and that would be a rewarding experience to take part in on a daily basis.”

As he completes his first degree and moves on to his second, Pugh advises incoming students to stay focused and study hard. “The programs offered at the School of Health Professions are challenging,” he says. “But through all this hard work, you will have some of the best training available in your chosen field.