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Physics Current Outlook for Medical Physics?

  1. Mar 8, 2017 #1
    Hi all,

    I'm a current full-time employee in a calibration laboratory with a b.s. in applied physics. I see in my current position there is a ceiling for career opportunities and am looking to return to school for my masters. I feel that I would enjoy the clinical side of things, I consider myself to be a people person with an adaptive personality to those I work with.

    Will a masters in medical physics really expand job opportunities and earning potential, or is it a field where a PhD is now more or less mandatory? I've tried reading past (heated) discussions on whether the field is over/undersaturated, but they are old and I imagine the landscape of the job market is much different than 5-7 years ago.

    I haven't ruled out pursuing a PhD, but at 33 with family and financial obligations, I stress that I could dedicate the necessary time for my studies without stretching my degree out until I'm 50 (sarcasm, I'd hope).

    I plan to discuss my options with some of our division heads at my institution but feel some may be biased on the subject. I would welcome any fresh perspectives from recent graduates, those currently in the job market, and anyone in the field who has seen the evolution of physicist positions over the years.
  2. jcsd
  3. Mar 9, 2017 #2


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    Hi Spiral1183,

    I fall into the latter category I suppose. In general I'd say the outlook is pretty good, but it's not a meal ticket.

    If you want to look up some recent numbers, you can check out CAMPEP's graduate program report and residency report. It looks like 2015 is the latest year for which they have some numbers. Among MSc graduates it looks like just over half are ending up in either a residency position (28%) or a junior Medical Physicist position (25%). Only about 5% are "still seeking employment." The rest are either going on to do another degree (13% - in most cases this is probably a PhD), or have found some other position (13% - examples would be radiation safety officers, technical support (not as bad as it seems), technical sales, research and development, or research assistant positions), or are in the "other" category (16% - maternity leave, left the field, etc.) The odds of getting into a residency increase for PhD graduates, with about half of them getting into some kind of residency. I wouldn't say a PhD is necessary. It does seem to offer more flexibility, and it's the way to go if you want to do anything academic (teaching/research - not that MScs can't do those, but the PhD really helps).

    Interestingly in the residency report there doesn't seem to be much data on post-residency employment. There is a slide that shows most residents are employed within one month of completing the residency, but that seems like an odd bit of data to me because there's nothing about what that employment is. From my perspective (I'm in Canada) I haven't seen residency graduates go wanting for Medical Physics jobs, but the programs I'm most familiar with tend to be very selective (1 resident per year) and produce Medical Physicists with highly desirable skill sets.

    In general growth in the field of oncology has been slow, but steady over recent years. Numbers I've heard are around 4% per year - but that's based on increases in cancer incidence. The slower economy has forced many centres into "do more with less" modes of operation. About a decade or so ago, there was a huge boom in the field. As IMRT, VMAT and onboard imaging became popular, the role of clinical physicists expanded greatly. But that role has more-or-less levelled out again and it's unlikely that we're going to see another technological boom in the near future (although that's just my opinion).

    Anyways, hopefully that gives you something useful.
  4. Mar 16, 2017 #3
    Hi Choppy,

    Thank you for the information and links, I will give them a look over to help me with my decisions.

    Referring to residency programs and their selection process, what is your take on DMP programs? From my initial research they sound somewhat like a masters in which you pay for a spot in residency vs. receiving a stipend. I know only of a handful of institutions currently that offer that degree, do you feel it was created as a way to alleviate the bottleneck with limited residency spots?
  5. Mar 16, 2017 #4


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    As I understand it, the DMP programs are pretty much that - an MSc with a residency tacked on that you have to pay for.

    From a student's point of view, I can see why they're appealing. You avoid the uncertainty of getting a residency after investing a minimum of two years of your life into the field. And even from a professional point of view there are arguments in favour of tying the two aspects of the training together rather than introducing a bottleneck between them. There is also the argument that the PhD route is over-training people who will end up in clinical positions and end up doing very little research over the course of their careers because many of the MSc medical physics do the job extremely well.

    My concerns about the DMP programs are the following.

    The first is that residents need to be paid for their work. A residency is not exclusively a training position like a internship. Medical physics residents do a lot of (supervised) work for the departments they're in. They commission new equipment, develop new tools and procedures, take on a lot of the day-to-day quality control measurements, they check plans, etc. All of this requires proper training and vetting of course, but overall a resident should be a net gain for a department. And that needs to be recognized and reimbursed.

    Secondly, if the residency is just treated as a series of training modules, labs and job shadows, or if the presence of the resident is a net loss for the department, then the resident is not gaining the full range of clinical experience that residencies were set up to provide.

    There is also an argument in favour of a bottleneck for the profession overall. Not every student is going to make a good clinician. If you have a student who pays his or her tuition in such a program, there is an obligation to put them through the clinical training portion of it without that same opportunity to decline them if you're not confident they will be able to handle the work with the degree of professionalism and maturity that they need (even if their marks ate good).
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