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Medical Physics Career

  1. Mar 10, 2009 #1
    Hello! I am not a student but a senior medical physicist at a cancer center in California. I am offering my experiences as a medical physicist if any one is interested in pursuing that field as a career. If you would like to do some research on the field before contacting me, there is an overview on How to Become a Medical Physicist on eHow.com: http://www.ehow.com/how_4822061_become-medical-physicist.html. Hope to hear from you!

    Last edited by a moderator: Mar 10, 2009
  2. jcsd
  3. Mar 11, 2009 #2


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  4. Mar 14, 2009 #3
    Do you know of any summer internship opportunities in medical physics?
  5. Mar 14, 2009 #4


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    If you don't see a response here in the thread quickly, you could try sending a PM to MedPhysGuru. They may have only gotten an e-mail notification of my reply, and not of your question.
  6. Mar 15, 2009 #5


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    You may want to check out:
    I believe the deadline for 2009 has already passed, but if you qualify in 2010, it would be worth keeping in mind.

    Otherwise, you way want to contact the medical physics departments at local cancer hospitals and speak with some of the physicists there. Occasionally QA jobs are available for students (although they usually like you to at least have a bachelor-level degree), and they may have some smaller research projects that they could use an extra set of hands with.
  7. Mar 15, 2009 #6
    I was wondering, what does conducting medical physics research actually involve, and what sorts of things could I do as an undergraduate? I.E. what sorts of things does a researcher do day to day. Is there a lot of computer programming involved? I guess I'm more interested in the therapy side of things, but hearing about the other fields in medical physics would be great too. Thanks.
  8. Mar 16, 2009 #7


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    Medical physics research is a pretty vast area. On the therapy side of things, quite often the research concentrates on improving radiation therapy which can take many forms. Projects can involve motion tracking, image guidance, target identification and delineation, radiobiological modeling, dosimetry measurement and calculation, characterization and development of new equipment, development and analysis of clinical trials... off the top of my head.

    There can be a lot of computer programming involved in areas such as image processing and radiation transport (Monte Carlo).

    Undergraduate projects will often involve some kind of programming/computer analysis of data. Before you can get involved in the measurement side of things, you have to be trained to operate the relevant equipment (linear accelerators, Cobalt unit, brachytherapy afterloader, etc.) Some institutions may not allow undergraduates to do this at all. But there are often a lot of research projects that involve many repeated measurments, and having an extra set of hands willing to work late can be a huge advantage.
  9. Mar 16, 2009 #8

    Sorry I didn't get back to you earlier. I was reading through the posts and Choppy has given you the same resources that I would have suggested. Thanks for the interest.

  10. Mar 16, 2009 #9
    thanks for the help...much appreciated
  11. Mar 24, 2009 #10
    Thanks for posting this link. I had no idea that this non-physician specialty existed, apparently it is the only one of its kind, even requiring a residency.
  12. Aug 26, 2011 #11
    I have a question about a Masters versus a PhD in medical physics. I will be receiving my masters in biophysics very soon and plan to apply to medical physics graduate programs very soon.

    I don't think I want to spend too much time doing research so I am leaning towards an MS degree.

    Could anyone explain some of the differences between the responsibilities and day-to-day activities of PhD and MS degree holders? Do MS holders do the same thing every day? How much are PhDs involved in the clinic? What type of interaction do MS and PhDs have with doctors and patients?

    Thank you in advance for all of the help!
  13. Aug 26, 2011 #12


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    I think what you really want to know here is the difference between clinical medical physics positions and positions that include a heavy research component. While there tend to be more 'primarily clinical' MScs and PhDs tend to do more research, the degree does not necessarily exclude you from one or the other. I know some PhDs who do almost nothing but clinical work and MScs who publish research on a regular basis.

    Clinical work doesn't necessarily mean routine work. There is routine to it of course. Medical physics involves a lot of quality assurance testing - repeating measurements on a daily, weekly, monthly or annual basis, reading and signing off on measurements that others have taken, running through checklists while inspecting treatment plans, calibrating your treatment units and the devices you use for measurement. For me (a PhD medical physicist), I'd say this constitutes about 10-20% of my workload though. A larger portion of my clinical time involves problem solving, which includes:
    - figuring out the best approach to use on a problematic treatment plan
    - commissioning new devices and treatment techniques
    - investigating failed QA tests
    - estimating radation doses in situations where our treatment planning system can't give a correct answer
    - developing and defining procedures
    - investigating errors
    - designing equipment
    - network administation.

    Personally, I rarely consult with patients at my centre. Sometimes I may be called in if patients have specific questions that the radiation oncologists or RT's can't answer, or there may be some rare cases where I have to make a measurement that's not included in a scan.

    I interact with radiation oncologists on a daily basis - discussing treatment options or procedures that fall outside of the routine, sometimes I have to alert them to issues I find with plans.
  14. Aug 27, 2011 #13
    Thanks for the reply, Choppy. That was really helpful to hear. I guess I am also trying to figure out what really differs between someone that has PhD and an MS. Assuming you also work with MS medical physicists, what responsibilities do you have as a PhD that your MS holding colleagues do not have?

    I am really trying to figure out the differences now so I don't realize them after I start a program.

    Again, thank you in advance for your advice.
  15. Aug 27, 2011 #14


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    In general, a PhD tends to open more doors for you.

    The larger centres tend to favour PhDs in terms of hiring because they expect their medical physicists to establish and maintain a research program. Residency programs also tend to favour PhD candidates for a similar reason - people believe their department is more likely to get a publication or two out of a PhD resident or at least have more success in moving clinical projects forward. (Part of this is perception - as I indicated above, MSc level physicists are also capable of performing research.)

    It's also more difficult to get MScs appointed to faculty positions and so PhDs tend to do more teaching and mentoring of students.

    So, right now anyway, as graduating students compete for the limited number of medical physics residency spots, PhD graduates tend to be favoured.

    One advantage that MSc graduates may have (I haven't seen any data to back it up) is that smaller departments with high clinical workloads tend to prefer that their physicists avoid research because it can interfer with clinical time, thus, they prefer to hire people that are more clinically oriented. (I would note that I have a fundamental disagreement with this line of thinking though. Medical physicists need to do at least some research and that needs to be encouraged by any centre that hires them.)
  16. Aug 27, 2011 #15
    Thanks again, Choppy. I guess I have a lot to think about.
  17. Aug 27, 2011 #16
    Medical physics is a career that will ground you in research no matter what degree you hold. Even if you have only an M.S. (as I do) and do not actively publish research in peer-reviewed journals, you will find that much of your responsibiltiies involve departmental improvement and developmental work. Those things require research on a departmental level because you cannot always simply adopt what works for other clinics into your own clinic and expect things to work smoothly.

    And you will get asked questions by your therapists, physicians, and dosimetrists quite often about implementing new treatment techniques or why certain problems were encountered and what can be done to remedy them or avoid them in the future. Some of those things will require significant thought and effort on your part to answer or implement with confidence.

    Depending on your career path you may not be on the cutting edge of peer-reviewed research, but you will be an active clinical investigator just by virtue of your job requirements.
  18. Aug 27, 2011 #17
    I very much appreciate all of the help I have been getting. I do have another research question, though.

    In other science fields (I am currently in the department of biochemistry and biophysics), it seems that the PI of the lab tends to function in a more supervisory role when it comes to research. Is this true in medical physics research as well? I would assume that in a department with only one medical physicist, they would be doing all of the research. In a larger department with several MS and PhD holders, is everyone equally involved in the actual research or do the PhDs tend to have a more supervisory role?
  19. Aug 27, 2011 #18
    If a clinic has only one medical physicist then that is almost certainly going to be a small freestanding facility or maybe a community hospital. In that case the amount of formal research being done with the intent to publish will probably be close to zero.

    Physicists in a larger academic center can have a range of roles from almost purely administrative (program directors), mostly teaching and research (most likely these will be Ph.D. holders), mostly clinical (either M.S. or Ph.D.) or a mix of any of those responsibilities.

    Those with a Ph.D. certainly don't supervise the research of those with an M.S. A person with an M.S. can do independent self-directed research just as a person with a Ph.D. can (though they might find it more difficult getting funded). People with either degree will likely be working alongside the other on projects routinely if they are in a clinic that encourages published research.

    Medical physics is not rigorously structured around what degree you have. You will find people with both M.S. and Ph.D. degrees handling the full gamut of clinical, teaching, research and administrative responsibilities depending on the clinic you are in.
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