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Physics Can I handle Medical Physics as an Engineer??

  1. Nov 19, 2016 #1
    Hello everyone!

    I just finished my Chemical Engineering bachelors degree and after my study I developed a strong interest in nanomedicine, but because I would really like to be in direct contact with medicine and make an impact on people's lives, I'm seriously considering to continue my masters in the field of Medical Physics. In a day-to-day work I am particularly interested in radiotherapy medical physics and nuclear medicine medical physics. But because I'm not a physics undergraduate (which is preferred to be), I'm afraid I won't be able to handle all the physics and math.

    Even though physics and math are the basis in all ChemE subjects (advanced math, general physics, quantum physics, fluid mechanic, chemical thermodynamic, etc.), my knowledge is not compatible with typical physics student. I really enjoyed quantum physics, but was struggling with high-level mathematics problems. Maybe because I never put so much attention in really understanding physics. I was actually struggling through whole undergraduate program, because I wasn't passionate about anything. Also my grades were really low (GPA 3.2). After graduating I don't see myself in any other field other than Medical Physics. I'm also taking classes in biochemistry of cancer, so I would be able to understand it from medical point of view.

    When I was looking into a job description of a medical physics, I got a feeling this is more of an engineering field than physics, but correct me if I'm wrong.

    So my question to you is as follows: Will I be able to handle Medical Physics, even though I'm not a physics major? How much of high-level physics and mathematics there really is? Is there any advice you could give me?

    I believe that if I'll work my ass off, I might be able to handle medical physics courses, but in a back of my head I'm still having doubts, because I really want to be great at this job (not just average).

    Thanks in advance for your answers!
  2. jcsd
  3. Nov 20, 2016 #2


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    No one can tell you if you'll be able to handle medical physics.

    Probably the most challenging mathematics comes on the imaging side of things: Fourier Transforms, filtered back projection, filter design, and/or deformable image mapping. At it's root most of the treatment planning in radiation therapy physics involves radiation transport and ultimately solving the linear Boltzmann transport equation -using either super-position convolution approximations, Monte Carlo techniques, or grid-based numerical techniques. You also have to understand some general optimization algorithms. That said, it's not like you're actually writing out solutions to these as a clinical physicist. The vast majority of the work is done by commercial software. It's the job of the clinical medical physicist to make sure the software is working properly though, and that means you need to have a basic idea of how it works. There can be some statistics as well, but the vast majority the day-to-day mathematics is very basic.

    I would agree that medical physics tends to be a lot more like engineering than what most laypeople tend to picture as "physics" - but then again, I think a lot of physics is a lot more like engineering than what most laypeople picture as "physics." By this I mean that you spend a lot of time:
    • making measurements and verifying that your equipment is operating within tolerance
    • testing and commissioning new equipment
    • developing or revising procedures
    • chasing or solving clinical problems
    A lot of the most challenging stuff comes in on the research side of things. There, all bets are off, but to a large extent you get to choose what you want to do in that respect.
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