Exploring a Career in Medical Physics: Advice from PhD Physicists

In summary: If you can convince your advisor that your current research is relevant to medical physics, then you may have a better chance of being accepted into one of the programs. You could also look into doing a online part-time master first, like the one in UCL. This would give you a good foundation in medical physics and could help you stand out from the other candidates.
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Lyra
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Hi All,

I am currently doing a PhD in condensed matter physics (experiment) and want to enter medical physics. My ideal job is more like a mix of research and clinical as I want to be able to actually help people. I wonder whether anyone has any suggestions on what I should do. I already have a plan but I'm not sure if it's feasible.

My current plan is finishing my Phd first. I only have a moderate undergraduate GPA and lack medical physics related experience. So I feel it's hard for me to directly apply for another PhD degee in medical physics now.

Then I'll apply for a master program in medical physics. The other option would be applying for a CAMPEP accredited certificate program prepared for individuals with a doctorate degree. Does anyone know how hard it is to get into these programs?

The thing is I don't think my current research has anything to do with medical physics. So I'm quite worried whether I can be accepted by those programs mentioned above. So to increase the odds of getting into these accredited programs, I'm thinking doing a online part-time master first, like the one in UCL. I think I can also get to know this area more through this sort of program. But I don't know whether it's worthwhile and would really like to hear you guys input.

The other path I'm thinking about is doing anothr PhD in medical physics after I've graduated from this PhD in physics. But I just wonder whether having a PhD degree in medical physics can increase the possibility of getting residency, comparing with only having a PhD degree in physics + master/accredited program in medical physics? Also, I'm actually interested in a career mixing research, clinic and teaching rather than clinic alone. I also wonder for such a job, is the latter enough?

Another question would be is there anything I can start to do now? I mean before finishing my Phd in physics. Is there any specific aspect of physics that may help in a career of medical physics?

Thanks in advance! Any suggestion would be greatly appreciated.
 
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How far along are you in your current PhD program? What is your estimate of how much longer for completion?
 
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CrysPhys said:
How far along are you in your current PhD program? What is your estimate of how much longer for completion?
I started my PhD in August, 2019. I've finished all the courses required and have several ongoing projects in hand (also a paper in preparation). In order to finish the projects, my estimation would be I can graduate before June, 2024.
 
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My advice
Finish your existing PhD as quickly as possible. Hopefully you can discuss your plans with your advisor ASAP so that he (she) is aware of the direction you wish to go and can help. I assume there are post-doc positions that might be transitionally useful.
Maybe take a course or two (statistics or engineering depending) that could be useful to your future.
In my opinion you are in a very good position: the transition you envision is much easier than the reverse one. If possible plan to get get a job where you can expand your practical knowledge (you will have had enough formal education). Practice saying both "yes I can do that" and "I don't understand, can you help me?"...!
 
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Lyra said:
Then I'll apply for a master program in medical physics. The other option would be applying for a CAMPEP accredited certificate program prepared for individuals with a doctorate degree. Does anyone know how hard it is to get into these programs?
The certificate programs have grown in recent years, and they certainly are an option, but the are very competitive to get into. I don't have specific average admission numbers to give you, (you should be able to look them up for each program). In our program, we typically only admit a single certificate student each year, if we admit one at all. On top of that, you're competing against a pool of applicants who've gone through another systematic bottleneck or two with having completed a PhD (compared to the typical pool of MSc applicants).

Lyra said:
The thing is I don't think my current research has anything to do with medical physics. So I'm quite worried whether I can be accepted by those programs mentioned above.
The details of your past research experience are not a major factor in admissions decisions, in my experience. They do look for someone who has been successful in whatever research that they have done though. In fact, sometimes coming in with experience in a different field can be seen as an asset. If everyone in medical physics has only ever done medical physics, there won't be as many new ideas in the field as there could be.

Lyra said:
So to increase the odds of getting into these accredited programs, I'm thinking doing a online part-time master first, like the one in UCL. I think I can also get to know this area more through this sort of program. But I don't know whether it's worthwhile and would really like to hear you guys input.
Concurrently with your PhD? I wouldn't bother. If you want to finish your current PhD program, focus on that. Do as well as you can in it. Publish. Show you can do independent research. And then switch fields. Or switch fields right away. Trying to do well in two programs at once is likely to end up with a mediocre performance in each at best and at worst, sounds like a recipe for burnout.

Lyra said:
The other path I'm thinking about is doing anothr PhD in medical physics after I've graduated from this PhD in physics. But I just wonder whether having a PhD degree in medical physics can increase the possibility of getting residency, comparing with only having a PhD degree in physics + master/accredited program in medical physics? Also, I'm actually interested in a career mixing research, clinic and teaching rather than clinic alone. I also wonder for such a job, is the latter enough?
As far as competing for residency positions goes, a PhD in another field of physics + an MSc in medical physics (or a post PhD certificate) is taken on par with a PhD in medical physics. You don't need to do a second PhD in medical physics. And if you want an academic medical physics position, the same is true. There they look for a PhD generally, but it doesn't need to be medical physics-specific.

It also bears mentioning that some MSc programs in medical physics come with financial support (certificate programs tend not to).

Lyra said:
Another question would be is there anything I can start to do now? I mean before finishing my Phd in physics. Is there any specific aspect of physics that may help in a career of medical physics?
A few things you could consider...
- Become a student member of AAPM.
- Attend medical physics talks, colloquia, etc. if that's an option at all for you.
- If you live near a radiation therapy centre, you could inquire as to medical physics assistant positions and try to get a part-time job doing quality control work. This is assuming you can commit the time without impact on your PhD work.
- Similarly you could ask about getting involved in any local research projects, but with the same caveat.

Also if you're really sure medical physics is the direction you want to go into, you can always apply to get into a medical physics MSc program right away and drop your current PhD program (assuming you're not too deep in). Then once you're in you can transfer into a medical physics PhD or complete the MSc and then apply to a medical physics PhD.
 
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  • #6
hutchphd said:
My advice
Finish your existing PhD as quickly as possible. Hopefully you can discuss your plans with your advisor ASAP so that he (she) is aware of the direction you wish to go and can help. I assume there are post-doc positions that might be transitionally useful.
Maybe take a course or two (statistics or engineering depending) that could be useful to your future.
In my opinion you are in a very good position: the transition you envision is much easier than the reverse one. If possible plan to get get a job where you can expand your practical knowledge (you will have had enough formal education). Practice saying both "yes I can do that" and "I don't understand, can you help me?"...!
Really appreciate your advice. Yes I think I should discuss my plan with my advisor and probably taking some relevant courses. Getting some practical experience also sounds appealing. Thanks again!
 
  • #7
Choppy said:
The certificate programs have grown in recent years, and they certainly are an option, but the are very competitive to get into. I don't have specific average admission numbers to give you, (you should be able to look them up for each program). In our program, we typically only admit a single certificate student each year, if we admit one at all. On top of that, you're competing against a pool of applicants who've gone through another systematic bottleneck or two with having completed a PhD (compared to the typical pool of MSc applicants).
I see. Certificate program sounds really competitive. Maybe I'll consider applying for both certificate program and master program to increase the odds of getting admitted.

Choppy said:
The details of your past research experience are not a major factor in admissions decisions, in my experience. They do look for someone who has been successful in whatever research that they have done though. In fact, sometimes coming in with experience in a different field can be seen as an asset. If everyone in medical physics has only ever done medical physics, there won't be as many new ideas in the field as there could be.
This information is really helpful!

Choppy said:
Cocurrently with your PhD? I wouldn't bother. If you want to finish your current PhD program, focus on that. Do as well as you can in it. Publish. Show you can do independent research. And then switch fields. Or switch fields right away. Trying to do well in two programs at once is likely to end up with a mediocre performance in each at best and at worst, sounds like a recipe for burnout.
You are probably right. Maybe I'll focus on my current research and publish my previous results.

Choppy said:
As far as competing for residency positions goes, a PhD in another field of physics + an MSc in medical physics (or a post PhD certificate) is taken on par with a PhD in medical physics. You don't need to do a second PhD in medical physics. And if you want an academic medical physics position, the same is true. There they look for a PhD generally, but it doesn't need to be medical physics-specific.

It also bears mentioning that some MSc programs in medical physics come with financial support (certificate programs tend not to).
This is good to know! Sounds like applying a MSc program is better idea comparing with applying for another PhD. Yes I think I should include financial support is as a factor that needs to be considered.

Choppy said:
A few things you could consider...
- Become a student member of AAPM.
- Attend medical physics talks, colloquia, etc. if that's an option at all for you.
- If you live near a radiation therapy centre, you could inquire as to medical physics assistant positions and try to get a part-time job doing quality control work. This is assuming you can commit the time without impact on your PhD work.
- Similarly you could ask about getting involved in any local research projects, but with the same caveat.

Thanks for the advice! I'll register for AAPM. Fortunately, I do live near a radiation therapy centre. My personal experience during the past few years (especially during the Covid-19 pandemic) is actually a key reason I want to switch to a more practical field, namely medical physics, to actually help people. I'll consider attending their colloquium on medical physics and may try to get involved during summer vacations.

Choppy said:
Also if you're really sure medical physics is the direction you want to go into, you can always apply to get into a medical physics MSc program right away and drop your current PhD program (assuming you're not too deep in). Then once you're in you can transfer into a medical physics PhD or complete the MSc and then apply to a medical physics PhD.
I still have several ongoing projects in hand (some of them are close to finish). I sort of want to complete them.

I really appreciate all your advice. They are really help. Thanks a lot!
 
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Related to Exploring a Career in Medical Physics: Advice from PhD Physicists

1. What is medical physics?

Medical physics is a branch of physics that applies principles and techniques of physics to the diagnosis and treatment of diseases. It involves the use of radiation, imaging technologies, and other physical methods to improve healthcare and patient outcomes.

2. What are the educational requirements to become a medical physicist?

To become a medical physicist, you typically need to have a PhD in medical physics or a related field, such as physics, engineering, or radiological sciences. Some positions may also require additional certification or licensure.

3. What types of job opportunities are available for medical physicists?

Medical physicists can work in a variety of settings, including hospitals, research labs, government agencies, and private companies. They may be involved in research, clinical practice, teaching, or a combination of these roles.

4. What skills and qualities are important for a career in medical physics?

Strong analytical and problem-solving skills, attention to detail, and a solid understanding of physics principles are essential for a career in medical physics. Additionally, good communication skills, teamwork, and the ability to work well under pressure are also important qualities for success in this field.

5. What advice do PhD physicists have for aspiring medical physicists?

Some common advice from PhD physicists in the field of medical physics includes gaining a strong foundation in physics and mathematics, seeking out research opportunities and internships, networking with professionals in the field, and staying up-to-date on advancements in technology and techniques. It is also important to have a passion for helping others and a strong commitment to ethical and safe practices in healthcare.

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