Astronomer to Med Physicist or Dosimetrist - UK or US

In summary: What is the process for becoming a dosimetrist in the US? I've found the JRCERT programmes but a lot of them seem to require you to be a certified radiation therapist first - with my background, should I be aiming for a BS, MS, PhD or certificate?Certified radiation therapist is not a requirement for most programs. However, it's definitely an advantage. Most programs will require you to have completed a post-doctoral degree in radiation therapy. However, many programs also have waiver options available for individuals without a radiation therapy degree. 3. How can I strengthen my application for a medical physics or dosimetry programme? I'm looking at volunteer work in hospitals over
  • #1
Well, I have a bit of a complicated situation and I'd love some advice.

I'm a US/UK citizen living and working in London, UK at the moment. My husband and I are currently looking at moving back to the US in 2-3 years.

My background is in physics/astrophysics - B.S. Physics (Maths minor) from a university in America, PhD Physics (specialising in Observational Astrophysics research) from a university in the UK. I worked as a postdoctoral research associate in astrophysics for 5 years in the UK and published numerous articles. I then obtained a permanent position in public outreach and engagement and worked my way up to managing a team of scientists for engagement and the science public engagement programme. I've been doing this for the past 3 years or so.

I deeply miss the technical side of science in my job and I don't particularly want to go back into the world of academia with the uncertainty of temporary contracts. I've been considering how I might be able to apply my physics knowledge to real world problems, particularly my experience with visualising data and coding. I'm interested in switching to medical physics or dosimetry, though I have a few questions/concerns:

1. I've found the 1-year certification programmes for individuals with PhDs to switch into Medical Physics in the US, but from what I've heard it has become increasingly difficult to secure a residency. Is it true that residencies have become incredibly competitive and typically go to individuals who have PhDs in Medical Physics? What can you do with a CAMPEP 1-year certificate in Medical Physics if you don't get into a residency? I'm trying to avoid getting another PhD if at all possible.

2. What is the process for becoming a dosimetrist in the US? I've found the JRCERT programmes but a lot of them seem to require you to be a certified radiation therapist first - with my background, should I be aiming for a BS, MS, PhD or certificate?

3. How can I strengthen my application for a medical physics or dosimetry programme? I'm looking at volunteer work in hospitals over the next 2 years, but obviously the pandemic makes this more difficult at the moment. I'm happy to take supplementary courses in biology and anatomy if this would also be helpful.

4. What are the main differences between dosimetry and medical physics? What is the career progression/paths like for either of them? How are the job prospects looking for them?

5. I'm assuming retraining in the UK and then trying to secure a job in the US is probably a bad idea - from what I can tell, the qualifications/certifications don't translate between the countries very easily. It would be amazing if I could do some of the training over in the UK in advance, but I think that is probably not very likely. If anyone has moved from the UK to the US in these fields, I'd also love to hear from you.

Thanks for any insight! I appreciate this is quite a long post.

Best wishes.
 
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  • #2
I don't have much to offer on the UK side of things (I'm Canadian). But with respect to the US and Canada...

Volatile_Miniworld said:
1. I've found the 1-year certification programmes for individuals with PhDs to switch into Medical Physics in the US, but from what I've heard it has become increasingly difficult to secure a residency. Is it true that residencies have become incredibly competitive and typically go to individuals who have PhDs in Medical Physics? What can you do with a CAMPEP 1-year certificate in Medical Physics if you don't get into a residency? I'm trying to avoid getting another PhD if at all possible.

I think it's actually been getting better in the past few years. You can check out some general statistics for residency admissions on the CAMPEP website.
http://www.campep.org/2020AnnualGraduateReport.pdf
You can see in 2020 only about 3% certificate students were still seeking a position as of whenever they took those states.

Generally speaking, post-PhD certificate students are taken on par with medical physics PhD graduates. While they typically have less experience in the field than med phys PhD graduates, they can bring bring a different skill set to the profession and sometimes that can be seen as a boon.

There would be no reason to do another PhD. If you don't get into a certificate program, the alternative would be a medical physics MSc. One of the main advantages of going this route is that, depending on the program, MSc student receive financial support. Certificate students more typically have to support themselves.

For those graduates who don't get into a residency:
- post-doctoral research programs and fellowships
- industry research and development (there are a lot of companies that hire medical physics graduates from the big guns like Varian, Elekta, Philips all they way down to smaller start-ups)
- industry education and support (medical physics graduates can be hired as trainers, or customer support - and this isn't just sitting on a help-line helping people find the "any" key. Often this can involve very serious and high-stakes problem-solving.)
- some can be hired temporarily to help with commissioning new cancer centers or new linear accelerators
- government and regulatory positions (radiation safety officers)
- industrial sales (multi-million dollar contracts on new linear accelerators, etc.)
- start-up your own company

Volatile_Miniworld said:
2. What is the process for becoming a dosimetrist in the US? I've found the JRCERT programmes but a lot of them seem to require you to be a certified radiation therapist first - with my background, should I be aiming for a BS, MS, PhD or certificate?

All of the dosimetrists I know were radiation therapists first. I can't speak much to the formal process. I know there are programs for people to get certified in dosimetry without RT experience first, but something to consider is that often an RT department will look to hire and train from within its own ranks first rather than hire an outsider (at least in my experience). If you do decide to enroll in a dosimetry training program, make sure you see statistics on their graduates first.

Volatile_Miniworld said:
3. How can I strengthen my application for a medical physics or dosimetry programme? I'm looking at volunteer work in hospitals over the next 2 years, but obviously the pandemic makes this more difficult at the moment. I'm happy to take supplementary courses in biology and anatomy if this would also be helpful.
Yes volunteer work helps. Or really any involvement in a medical-physics or even medical physics-related project. While course work in anatomy or biology is not going to hurt, it's probably not going to be seen as a decisive factor that would get you admitted over another candidate because those are courses you'll have to take anyway. What they're really looking for is evidence that you're going to be successful in the program and then go on ang be successful in the field. So even publications in observational astronomy could be seen as a plus here.

Volatile_Miniworld said:
4. What are the main differences between dosimetry and medical physics? What is the career progression/paths like for either of them? How are the job prospects looking for them?
Dosimetrists concentrate almost exclusively on treatment planning. The scope of medical physics is a lot broader. This article has a summary...
https://www.physicsforums.com/insights/become-medical-physicist-3653-easy-steps/
 

What is the difference between an astronomer and a medical physicist/dosimetrist?

An astronomer studies celestial objects and phenomena in the universe, while a medical physicist/dosimetrist applies principles of physics to the field of medicine to ensure accurate delivery of radiation for cancer treatment.

Do astronomers and medical physicists/dosimetrists use similar equipment?

No, astronomers use telescopes and other specialized instruments to observe and study celestial objects, while medical physicists/dosimetrists use specialized equipment such as linear accelerators and treatment planning software to deliver and monitor radiation therapy.

What education and training is required to become a medical physicist/dosimetrist?

To become a medical physicist/dosimetrist in the UK or US, one typically needs to have a degree in physics or a related field, followed by graduate studies in medical physics or a medical physics residency program. Certification and licensure requirements may vary by country.

What are the job responsibilities of a medical physicist/dosimetrist?

Medical physicists/dosimetrists are responsible for ensuring the safe and accurate delivery of radiation therapy to patients. This includes treatment planning, quality assurance, and radiation safety measures. They may also conduct research and provide support for new technology and equipment.

What are the career opportunities for a medical physicist/dosimetrist in the UK or US?

There is a growing demand for medical physicists/dosimetrists in both the UK and US, with opportunities in hospitals, cancer treatment centers, and research institutions. With experience and additional training, one can also advance to higher positions such as chief medical physicist or director of a radiation therapy department.

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