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Physics Be A Doctor & Still Do Physics?

  1. Mar 30, 2012 #1
    Becoming a medical doctor is something I’ve always wanted to do because I feel like it is a rewarding career, and I really enjoy learning about biology/medicine and helping others. Physics and space are also things I love learning about, and becoming a theoretical or astrophysicist is something I am also very interested in. If I was forced to decide, I would choose going to medical school only because I feel the career is more meaningful. Is there any way I could possibly incorporate physics into my life/work if I was a doctor. Radiology is a specialty I heard has physics involved with it, but I’m not too interested in using technology. Also, I don’t think being a radiologist would feel as rewarding as being a surgeon or oncologist because I want to actually be involved with patients and help them directly. So I guess my real question is: can I have physics be a part of my work if I was to be a medical doctor?

    I know I still have quite a bit of time to decide, but I just want to know all of my future options. I’m thinking about going to university while I am a practicing doctor, but I am assuming this would be very overwhelming. Also, I am aware that I can take physics courses during my undergraduate degree and even major in it and still apply to medical school (which I definitely will be doing), but I also want to take biology and chemistry courses because I am interested by these other sciences as well. I am not sure if there is a way to incorporate all these different areas of science in my future profession, especially if I am able to get accepted into medical school and become a doctor…. so I’m just wondering if you guys/girls could help me solve my little dilemma.
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  3. Mar 30, 2012 #2


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    You want to be a Medical Doctor and a Physicist?

    I think if you like radiology that may be a path. Be a medical physicist.
  4. Mar 30, 2012 #3
    A Physician/surgeon already puts in too many hours of work (I've known a neurosurgeon who worked 100 hours/week) so it's going to be pretty difficult to work in Physics as well
  5. Mar 30, 2012 #4
    So you'd like to incorporate physics into a medical career, but aren't interested in radiology since it "uses technology"? Are you holding out for the field of theoretical radiology (but still somehow involves lots of meaningful patient contact) to break big? Anyway...

    The subfield of interventional radiology is one that might appeal to someone interested in greater patient contact. Although this would involve lots of modern technology that seems to be able to directly treat problems that were once only treated by surgical means - so it would be a conundrum of sorts, given your criteria.

    There are, of course, the funded MD/PhD programs, but that is a whole other can of worms.

    If you are in the US, the medical school admissions requirements are fairly unobtrusive, so you should feel free to consider doing what you like as an undergraduate, with the reminder that most medical school programs like to see both clinically-oriented volunteer work as well as a bit of basic science research. It may help clarify your career goals, as it did mine - I loathed the idea of dealing with patients for the rest of my professional life, but really enjoyed research, so I didn't go to med school.
  6. Mar 30, 2012 #5


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    There are lots of ways to combine physics and medicine. There are less ways of combining astrophysics and medicine.

    You've already mentioned radiology, but from the medicine side of things you could look into radiation oncology, nuclear medicine, or opthamology - all of which have a fair amount of physics involved in them. Or what about space and aviation medicine? As technology advances there are likely going to be more specialties that develop that will require a physics background, particularly if you're interested in the research side of things. Neuroscience (and thus neurology and psycholgy) for example is an exciting field right now that has a lot of crossover with physics and other disciplines such as computer science, mathematics, engineering, as well as the traditional biochemistry.

    From the physics side of things you could look into medical physics, biophysics, biomedical engineering, or back to neuroscience.

    You could also just keep physics as a hobby. One of the medical oncologists I work with is a member of our local astronomy club. Amateur astronomers have made significant contributions to the field too, so that's always an option, no matter what career fate has in store for you.
  7. Mar 31, 2012 #6
    Physics relates really to everything. I'm in the same kind of position as you, that's why I think i'm drawn to neurology. It just seems to incorporate everything I love and find meaningful into one.
  8. Apr 2, 2012 #7

    Andy Resnick

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    Increasingly, folks who want to maintain a research program while treating patients enter into a MD/PhD program. In practice, it's very difficult to do both (maintain an active research program and maintain a license to practice), but I know several people who have done this.
  9. Apr 3, 2012 #8


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    Have you taken the MCAT yet? Do you have all of the pre-requisite course material completed at the right level? That's a place to start - It'll give you an idea of the sort of academic rigor (and competition) to come.
    --If you're thinking about it, and are qualified, take the MCAT - Step 1.

    After that, you'll have to decide...M.D? D.O? PhD? PsyD? If MD/DO is your objective, you may have the cart a little ahead of the cart at this point.

    Do some research and schedule a visit with a medical school adviser - any medical school adviser. If, after you've decided that Med School is for you, say goodbye to any outside-subject thoughts for the duration of your schooling and residency. Find some schools that appeal to you and your requirements and apply.

    In your final Internship Phase of Med School (before you take your oath) you'll be exposed to all sorts of medical fields -- research, clinical practice, specific practice etc. Then you'll have to apply for Residency programs (VERY competitive) and pray you get one of your choice. Radiology, Oncology, Orthopedics are all seriously competitive because there is such high demand and high pay. You won't have much time to breathe, much less determine your own long-term will until you are in a position of selecting your residency path - which may or may not directly correspond to your desire to exercise your love of the applied sciences. That said, research Fellowships after residency are quite common in the practical sense too.

    As an addendum, there are MANY programs specifically oriented for Practicing Doctors in existence - i.e. Medical MBA, Engineering-Type Programs (Graduate & Post Graduate) for Medical Professionals etc. If you're thinking of a 10 year plan of schooling, look into programs for practicing medical professionals, and you'll likely be rather encouraged.

    Just take one step at a time and go from there.
  10. Apr 3, 2012 #9
    Check out....

    http://hst.mit.edu/index.jsp [Broken]

    I know someone that has three doctors degrees (a D.Phil. from the UK, a Ph.D. and an M.D.) and an MBA.
    Last edited by a moderator: May 5, 2017
  11. Apr 3, 2012 #10


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    --I'd hate to have his student-debt. Pretty amazing though.
    Last edited by a moderator: May 5, 2017
  12. Apr 3, 2012 #11
    The person that I'm thinking of got some big name scholarships and fellowships so I doubt debt was much of a problem. The last time I met that person, I asked them if they could invite me to the ceremony when they become president of Harvard or something like that and I was only half joking.
  13. Apr 3, 2012 #12
    Like some guys already said, you might want to check out doing something like biophysics or an MD/PhD in biophysics. MD/PhD programs are very competitive to enter into, but they are pretty flexible, for example I'm pretty much doing a masters in math, and the PhD in mathematical biophysics (as opposed to a more biochemistry driven PhD).

    There are definitely areas of biophysics that are more intense with physics and require you to earn a PhD awarded by a physics department ... but I have my doubts that even if you did an MD too, that you'd be practicing medicine much.

    I don't have any delusions that I will ever be doing much practice as a physician, but the standard goal is to try for 80% research 20% practice ... although with the PhD and the interest in research, most end up being closer to 95% research or more.

    Maybe, if you don't mind the loss in potential income / even small debt, you could pursue a masters in physics before heading to med school. It would certainly not hurt the strength of your application, and you'd be able to develop your physics skills more. Keep in mind this route would be more "personal fulfillment" than practical career path.

    I have a very avid interest in theoretical physics, but I'm not sure that anybody could really pursue both medicine and physics professionally and still have any sort of personal life at all ... or sleep for that matter. Clinical rotations during your 3rd and 4th year of med school usually occupy 12-16 hours of your day, which leaves little time for hobbies, and when you do have free time, most aren't motivated enough to crack open physics textbooks and work problems ... I prefer to spend my free time with my significant other or doing something relaxing. Residency only continues these hours ... plus, all this time you are NOT doing physics, so who knows how sharp you'll be by the time your schedule improves to the point where you can start to dabble in it again.

    I grew up watching Star Trek, Carl Sagan's Cosmos, listening to Feynman's lectures, reading Stephen Hawking, Brian Green, Michio Kaku, etc... so I've had an interest in physics since childhood. For quite a while I wanted to be a theoretical physicist. I found that many mathematically inclined young adults have romanticized dreams of either working in high-end robotics (who can blame them when they grew up with Transformers, Robocop, Starwars, Terminator, etc...) or theoretical physics ... mostly because both fields are super awesome!

    However, I think this urge passes for a lot of us, just like when we were young children who ardently proclaimed we wanted to be astronauts and firemen ... until we realize that you have to run into smoke filled, burning, structurally unstable buildings for very little pay, or that NASA's budget has ... well no need to get into that ... but it's not like the space program has bottomless pockets like during the cold war and the skies were the limits. I'm not sure if we can even call our astronauts astronauts anymore ... cosmonauts is more appropriate now, right? haha.

    Most eventually realize that robotics and theoretical physics are less glamorous than we had envisioned, and pursue other interests. Most engineers who are in robotics aren't working on the the Rocky IV servant robot, they're probably working on designing a machine for some major industrial company that precision welds a sprocket onto a widget, and most theoretical physicists are, in fact, working on Wall Street instead of doing ground breaking elementary particle research, writing novels, producing TV specials about the workings of the universe, serving as consultants to a sci-fy series, or even teaching physics at a college level.

    Political commentary aside, I know that it will be unlikely that I ever develop real skills in physics. I have enough knowledge of mathematics to be able to understand the basic mechanical workings of E&M, QM, relativity, and yeah, I guess stuff like field theory, and even string theory / other exotic theories. I'm fine with reading what others are working on via articles in Science, Scientific American, Popular Science, etc... and talking it over with buddies of mine on a slightly more academic level than non-scientists, but that's about it.

    Hope something I said helps you out a bit. Good luck getting to where you want to be. And yeah, keep in mind that you'll have to have a very well rounded biological science education to meet the entry requirements of medical schools, so that may cut into math/physics stuff depending on your school/program. Most schools have pretty good pre-med academic counselors that can guide you and help you fit everything into your degree, so definitely go see them ASAP.
    Last edited: Apr 3, 2012
  14. Apr 3, 2012 #13
    I sometimes wonder about that. The person I know with three doctorates and an MBA has a scarily successful career and a family, but one thing that I wonder is what the world looks like to her on the inside. I also wonder what she teaches her kids.

    Part of the reason I wonder about this is that I grew up as a Asian-American overachieving Tiger cub, and sometimes I wonder "how much is too much?"

    And don't think that it ends when you get out of med school. One thing about the person I know is that I'm sure she is spending totally crazy amounts of time doing whatever she is doing.

    For me, I have to *force* myself to relax. One thing about relaxing is that I feel guilty and even scared if I relax, but not being about to relax gets seriously unhealthy. One thing good about my wife is that she *forces* me to go to sleep at regular times and to stop working.

    Some of us find that theoretical physics *is* as glamourous as we had envisioned, but that presents itself with some different problems. One problem is that if you find yourself in heaven, then you are always deathly afraid of getting kicked out.

    One thing that's an extremely powerful force is social approval. People in academia are socialized to crave social approval from age five. If you get an *A*, great job!!! If you get an *F*, you stink!!! But having a life based on social approval is scary because social approval can be fickle.

    But there is glamour and money in Wall Street. One thing about our age is that it's one of cynicism and hypocrisy in which we just expect our dreams to get crushed. So it's sort of amazing when you do find that yes, it's really as good as advertised.

    But then what happens? It's not as if you make it to the top of the mountain, then you can relax for the rest of your life. Once you got stuff, then you are terrified that you will lose it. Something that seriously stresses me out is the knowledge that because of either global politics or corporate politics, I could be out on the street next week. What's really interesting is that my managers use this sort of fear in a clever way so that I do what they want. I could spend time working on a novel, but then I worry that if I don't spend every millisecond of my life trying to keep my job, then I'll lose it. Golden chains and handcuffs.

    But I try to laugh at the situation. Laughing at things keeps me from going totally nuts.

    But sometimes knowing that you can do something makes you a little crazy. One thing about the person that I know with three doctoral degrees, is that she isn't obviously smarter than me or more hardworking, and she doesn't have anything other than luck that I couldn't get. So knowing this, there is part of me that is just annoyed and jealous that she has three doctoral degrees, and I just have one. But where does it stop? Suppose I was able to get three doctoral degrees. Then someone else would come along at get five. And then ten and then twenty.

    What happens is that this game can't continue, because you end up hitting some sort of basic limit.
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