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Programs Considering Medical Physics.

  1. May 14, 2017 #1
    I was originally planning on studying physics but I changed my mind because very few actually gets a job in the field of physics.

    Does the same apply to medical physics?

    Is working as a medical physicist stimulating or does the job in a hospital environment become very repetitive and lack intellectual stimulation?

    Is it as hard as engineering physics? I want to study something challenging too! (Subjective )

    Is it hard to get into research if I grow tired of the hospital?

    I want to learn new things as I work. Do medical physicists learn a lot or is it more about using proven non experimental methods?
  2. jcsd
  3. May 14, 2017 #2


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    No, not really. Medical Physics is a professional field. Most other fields of physics tend to be far more academic in nature - meaning that the "jobs" in the field are found largely in either universities or major government labs. Medical Physicists are employed by hospitals, private healthcare institutions, commercial equipment vendors, and some are even self-employed as consultants or contractors providing services such as equipment commissioning or covering for temporary absences (locum tenens). In the more academic branches of physics you generally find a lot more PhDs being trained than the rate at which academic jobs open up. In Medical Physics this is more balanced because there are non-academic places for graduates to go.

    It's not a perfect equilibrium though. There has been some concern that we're still training too many Medical Physics students for the demand that exists, but it's far less of a concern than in academic circles. For very rough numbers you're looking at ~ 3:2 for Medical Physics graduates to residency positions (which is where the bottleneck tends to be), but even then those who don't go into residencies can go into research/academic positions, work as radiation safety officers, get into R&D for commercial companies, become trainers or go into technical sales, etc. This would be compared to a ~ 10:1 for more typical PhD graduates getting into a tenured position at a research university.

    Personally I find the job incredibly stimulating and I think most working Medical Physicists feel this way too.

    It's important to remember that just about all jobs will have their share of repetitive or mundane tasks (including research positions). Medical Physics is no exception in this respect. Most Medical Physicists will have some kind of quality control responsibilities - so this will mean the set up, oversight (and often the execution) of a QC program. Specifically this can mean repeatedly measuring the output of linear accelerators, testing image quality metrics, making mechanical measurements, performing patient-specific validation of complex beam deliveries.

    The thing is, the Medical Physicist is also the one responsible for figuring out what to do when those measurements fall outside of tolerance, or sometimes for establishing the tolerances in the first place. When new equipment comes into the clinic (which happens quite frequently), Medical Physicists have to figure out how to safely implement it, develop procedures, identify contraindications for use, etc. - in other words commission the equipment. One day you can be sitting in with architects figuring out how much concrete to put in a wall so that radiation exposure to staff from the new linear accelerator coming into your hospital is kept as low as reasonably achievable, the next you can be working with your treatment planners to help meet some strict planning constraints in a particularly difficult case, your IT group to figure out a licencing issue with your electronic medical record database, or consulting with your radiation oncologists to explain the degree of uncertainty in your treatment planning system for a particular case, or helping to design a clinical trial.

    Yes, definitely this is subjective. In a lot of ways Medical Physics is a lot closer to engineering than what most people think of when they hear "physics." Even a lot of the research in the field is a lot more about figuring out how best to implement/optimize a certain existing technology , or modifying that technology to improve it. By the time you get into your third or fourth year of undergrad, you could pick up journals like: Medical Physics, Physics in Medicine and Biology or the Journal of Applied Clinical Medical Physics to really see what's going on in the field to see if it's for you. Sure there can be a lot of jargon, but you should be able to get an idea of basically what's going on.

    Not at all in my experience. Really I think the biggest obstacle is time. If you end up at a smaller centre, the clinical duties can take up just about all of your paid time. So often if you want to get involved in research, you have to do it after hours. But my experience is that those who want to get involved in research do.

    Medical Physicist have to be learning new things constantly. Not only because it's necessary in the clinic, but it's also necessary for maintenance of certification.
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