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Medical Dosimetrist vs. Medical Physicist?

  1. Jan 24, 2010 #1
    Hi all,

    I am a senior undergrad who is interested in going into either dosimetry or medical physics, but cannot decide which. I would like to get some input from both dosimetrists and medical physicists to help me out! What do you like and don't like about your job? If you were to "do it all over again," would you still want to be a dosimetrist/medical physicist? (In other words, if you were a medical physcist, would you rather be a dosimetrist, and vice versa.)

    Thanks for your input!
  2. jcsd
  3. Jan 25, 2010 #2


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    I'm a medical physicist and I like where I am.

    To get into dosimetry, the most common (only?) route is to first become a radiation therapist, which typically requires about two years, although it can vary depending on the program. The programs are reasonably competative to get in, but coming from a physics undergraduate degree you would generally speaking be a desirable candidate. After that there is another year of training and/or on the job training specific to dosimetry.

    Dosimetrists spend most of their time in treatment planning. A radiation oncologist will prescribe a given course of radiation therapy with specific doses to target volumes and dose limits to critical stuctures and it will be your job to achieve the desired plan. You'll spend a LOT of time behind a computer playing with beam angles, energies, relative beam weights, weights in optimization algorithms, etc. Research opportunities exist, but you would generally be providing support a medical physics- or radiation oncology-directed project.

    From a financial point of view you will start getting a substantial paycheque much sooner than a medical physicist. The medical physicist salary will be higher (eventuallly), but if you look at career-integrated pay, they work out about the same.

    As a medical physicist you will have to go through graduate school (a PhD is ideal - depending on what you want to do and where you would like to end up), and likely a residency. These programs are very competative to get into.

    The medical physicist's job will require you to be a jack of many trades, which is a double-edged sword. You're always facing new problems, so there can be a lot of variety in your day, which I personally enjoy. And there are a lot of research and development opportunities. The day rarely ends at five o'clock though.
  4. Jan 26, 2010 #3
  5. Jan 28, 2010 #4
    If I could do it all again I would go the pure physics route instead of medical physics. Medical "physics" is largely a misnomer as the field involves little application of physics as is typically more concerned with either image processing, integrating different medical technologies together, or finding better algorithms to calculate dose in patients. That's the research end of the field. Clinical jobs are usually in radiation therapy (more) or nuclear medicine (fewer). While I have not entered the medical physics job market yet and so cannot offer advice on that end, I can tell you about my experience in graduate school. For a full explanation you should fully read the thread links posted by AtomicPile or search other forums on other websites. Suffice it to say that the field is not all it's advertised to be, especially to prospective graduate students. It has been my experience that schools intentionally misrepresent their programs in order to recruit students. This has been the experience of a number of other posters on this site, as well. Choppy is the only poster who seems to think otherwise and he is currently working in the field so he has a vested interest in maintaining the status quo.

    As for being a dosimetrist, I have seen a number of them working in the clinical department. Choppy's description of the day-to-day drudgery of being a dosimetrist is accurate, although I disagree with him on the salary. You will not make as much as a dosimetrist as you will a medical physicist, and salary is still one of the largest appeals to people entering medical physics.

    I'd also like to point out that your career would not be secure. Your job as a dosimetrist is largely contingent on the ability of some software company to NOT come up with a better algorithm for dose calculations. As computer technology becomes more and more sophisticated radiation therapy departments will doubtless be phasing out the human factors in dose planning in favor of more robust and reliable technology based approaches.
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