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Physics Dosimetry vs Medical Physics

  1. Jul 8, 2012 #1

    I have a BS in Biochemistry from 2010, and after working for a couple of years in research lab would like to go into either medical physics or medical dosimetry. I have never worked as a radiation therapist, and don't have clinical experience. Only issue that is sort of ruling out MP for me is lack of physics coursework during undergrad. I took Physics 1/2 but did not take modern/EM/quantom/atomic etc. I did take a lot of math (up to multivar, diff EQ, linear alg) and also took compsci/physiology/anatomy. Right now I don't know which path to take.

    Adv: much faster route than medical physics, lower stress and slightly more jobs
    Disadv: lower pay, no growth within field
    Timeline: Apply this winter, 1 year program starting in Fall 2013, then start working after.
    I have all pre-reqs for dosimetry but never worked as RT so there are some programs I cannot apply to.
    I'm also guessing a MS would be better than a certificate? If so I'll target UOklahoma, Southern Ill U, or UW Lacrosse.
    If MS won't have adv over certificate then I can apply to Maryland, San Antonio, Indiana, Arkansas.

    Medical Physics:
    Adv: higher salary, able to be more research/academic oriented
    Disadv: work is more stressful/more hours, takes much longer (6-8 yrs for PhD + Residency), hard to predict job market 7 yrs from now
    Timeline: Take Modern/Quantum/EM/Atomic this Fall/Spring, take GRE this Fall, apply this winter for programs starting in Fall 2013.
    Can only apply to programs that do not require a physics/engineering major, and will mostly apply to programs with associated accredited residency (Duke, UCLA, UW Madison most likely)

    Which route would you guys recommend I go after? I have no debt from undergrad but obviously getting paid earlier won't hurt. No family obligations so I can move to wherever, but prefer East Coast.

    I guess I could also take physics courses while working M-F 9-5 as a dosimetrist (are there evening undergrad physics courses?), and then apply for medical physics PhD. Maybe this is the safest route, and would allow me to potentially be a professor at a university cancer center. This is what I really want, teach, research, and clinical work.

  2. jcsd
  3. Jul 8, 2012 #2


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    Hi AwareMeBrah,

    For medical physics I would be wary of a program that would accept students without a solid physics or engineering background. You'll have a hard time with the imaging side of things. And there is likely not as much emphasis on the physics either - which may hurt you over a long-term career when the technology changes and the standard "didactic" ways of doing things become obsolete. There is also the issue of competition. Remember, you'll be competing with applicants who have stronger backgrounds for a limited number of spaces, so even if technically you qualify to apply, you may have a hard time being accepted. If you really want to go the medical physics route, I strongly advise strengthening your physics background.

    As far as dosimetry goes, it's also a major advantage to have worked as a therapist. I don't know any dosimetrists that do not have experience on the floor (but then again, I think the traditional route into that career is through RT, direct admission type programs haven't been around for too long).

    A word on salary is that when comparing these two careers it makes more sense to compare career-integrated earnings. As a dosimetrist you're final take-home wage may be less, but if you start your career a decade earlier, you may actually come out on top.

    With regards to job market, my impression is that demand and supply are reasonably similar. However, when a department needs a dosimetrist, they can often look at the pool of RTs interested in dosimetry and hire/train from within. The advantage of coming through a dedicated dosimetry program is that you would show up on day one with your CMD (presumably). The disadvantage is that you're adding onto an existing supply. When a department needs a physicist, they look to the pool of newly graduated residents and this seems to be bottlenecking right now due to recent initiatives from the ABR where certification requires having completed an accredited program.
  4. Jul 13, 2012 #3
    Thanks Choppy,

    any insight on whether a MS would be much better than a certificate for medical dosimetry? There are only 3 schools that offer MS (UW Lacrosse, Southern Illinois, and Oklahoma)
  5. Jul 13, 2012 #4


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    I suspect what really matters is the CMD certification.

    I would first question what exactly a master's degree in dosimetry means and how it differs from a certificate. I don't actually know what the difference is in such programs. I suspect introducing a dosimetry program as a master's degree has more to do with elevating the status of the profession than introducing more academic material. There are similar trends in other fields such as physiotherapy.
  6. Aug 8, 2012 #5
    As a certified medical dosimetrist with a background (MS) in physics, please let me clarify some things. Certification requires actual job experience. You don't come out of any program and have the ability to take your boards. If you graduate from a jcert program you can take your cmd exam after 1 year on the job. http://www.jrcert.org/ This would apply to an MS program as well. You don't come out from an MS program with a cmd certification. You come out with a "dosimetry certification" from THAT program, which is NOT the same thing and NOT what centers are looking for!

    Please see the cmd website for exam routes/eligibility information. http://www.mdcb.org/examinfo/eligibility.htm

    All dosimetry programs require either a radiation therapy background or BS in physics or other science with prerequisite courses in things like medical terminology and CT imaging. Prereqs will vary by program. The program itself is FULL TIME, 40 hours a week classroom plus floortime/training. Cost varies by institution but can be over 10K in some cases.

    I'd say job prospects are good in dosimetry because the market is good now - lots of jobs available across the US. Insititutions can't FIND cmd certified dosimetrist with experience to fill the positions they have. I think a lot of smaller clinics end up doing in-house training of their radiation therapists, but that's changing and in the next few years cmd certification will probably be a state requirement to be a dosimetrist.

    But I see 50+ medical physicists applying for every open position we have here (large teaching hospital), 10 get interviewed, and only 1 gets hired. I think the physics market is oversaturated. 7+ years... who knows. If you are a PhD level physicist with experience, you are golden, but that's going to take some time (10+ years) and persistance. Better hope you have citizenship too, or the competition is going to be fierce.

    Dosimetrists get paid the same as MS physicists here. It depends on what you are interested in doing with your life. I don't do research, but I do teach radiation physics to our therapists and dosimetry students. Hope this helps in your career choice. Cheers.
  7. Aug 8, 2012 #6
    IMO, either the CMDs at your place have a very generous pay package, the physicists are getting ripped big time, or you are mistaken. In my 30 plus years, dosimetrists have never come close to physics pay, as a class. There are some exceptions. I can remember talking with a post doc at MDACC in the 80s that was making less than half of what I was making as a physicist at a university medical center. The logic for taking the very low pay centered around being able to put that facility on their resume. Only recently, I'm seeing a couple CMDs crack the $100k level, with most in the mid to upper 5 figure range. While I'm sure they exist, I don't personally know any physicist below $100k and most are well over that. Those that I know personally range from $150-250k (most $175-225k), based on experience, workload, skill set, etc. The salary surveys, which I'm not allowed to link (membership required), show that the pay for physicist to be well above dosimetrists.

    As for the OP, IMO, the MS in medical dosimetry won't be of much help. If you wanted an MS, I'd get it in Medical Physics. While there is competition of Medical Physics positions, there isn't much competition for high quality candidates. There are a fair few resumes for poor candidates, often non-boarded physicists that "transitioned" into medical physics from some other field (sometimes not even physics) that just didn't know enough, some with work history issues, drinking issues, VISA issues, etc. As a solo physicist, there is stress.

    As a final thought, I'd stay with the BS in dosimetry, get your CMD, and have a life. We Medical Physicists are all salaried (or contractors), and while we can take a long lunch and leave early some days, we are frequently working nights and/or weekends because we need uninterrupted access to the equipment for long periods. We are often in Solo positions with no backup. The doctors want to add new things all the time that we must do acceptance, commissioning, QA, and surveillance with no additional resources (people), and the stress sucks. By contrast, my CMDs have hardly ever had to work outside the normal work hours, no call, no beeper, no weekends, etc. BTW, changes are in the works to require all treatment planning dosimetrists to have the CMD. At this point, there is no plan to grandfather non-CMDs, so they will have to go through the new CMD process (school, etc.) or find another line of work. IMO, demand for CMDs should be VERY strong in the coming years.

    Just reread OP, Note there are only 3 JECERT Medical Dosimetry programs. Thomas Jefferson in Philly, CARTI in Little Rock, and MDACC in Houston.

    The approved medical dosimetry programs (needed for ABR cert.) are http://www.campep.org/campeplstgrad.asp
    Last edited: Aug 8, 2012
  8. Aug 8, 2012 #7


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    I left at quitting time once, about a year ago.
  9. Aug 9, 2012 #8
    I'm lucky to have a first class CMD. She can crank out IMRT plans for almost anything faster than most physicists I know. But, yes, it's been pretty good over recent years. No more TBI, TBE, no more electron arcs, no radiopharmaceutical use in the department, etc. Since I left the University Medical Center, no teaching RTR, RTT, radiology residents, no Protocol Groups (RTOG, POG, GOG, SWOG, etc.), etc. is done. I don’t even have to do the diagnostic radiology anymore. Life is good :smile:

    When I stay after, it's usually IMRT QA, machine QA, working with Varian on an issues, weeklies, monthlies, annuals, etc. Although the ACOS and ACRO accreditations look like we’re going to get pushed into Protocol studies, so I will have a little more to do.
  10. Aug 9, 2012 #9
    Regarding the field of medical dosimetry...

    At the recent AAMD (American Association of Medical Dosimetrists) national meeting, Professor Michael Mills from the University of Louisville gave a presentation on his "Medical Dosimetry Workforce Study" and it was very informative.

    You may find it by navigating here and selecting to view the 2012 Handouts. The talk is found under the June 11, 2012 listings.

    Some of the information would not be of any interest to someone that is currently not a practicing medical dosimetrist (for example, there are many slides going over the seemingly infinite number of medical billing codes), but there is some excellent information on work environment, training pathways, typical responsibilities, hours worked, salary, job satisfaction, job growth and outlook, etc.

    I hope that I am not in the wrong by pointing the way to this presentation, it does not require a membership to view and is stored in plain sight on the organization webpage. Hopefully someone will find it helpful.
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