Medical Physics: is it worth it?

  • #1
qntm
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Hi all,

I've been working in healthcare in some capacity for 10+ years now and started school a little later than your average undergraduate (started at 26). I caught the math bug and did well in my lower-division mathematics and physics courses and I am currently finishing up Classical Mechanics, E&M, Modern Physics, and an upper-division probability/statistics course (I anticipate good grades this semester and I'm currently sitting at a 3.74 GPA). It's about that time that I start thinking about graduate school seriously and I've had my eye on medical physics for a couple years. I have read Choppy's excellent post among a few others. My ultimate goal is to work as a clinical medical physicist in a position where I support Radiation Oncology treatments or support the quality control of diagnostic equipment in Radiology.

Of course, I have a few questions/concerns (primarily to do with residencies):
  • What's the residency situation like nowadays? According to Choppy's 2015 post, it was a "major issue in the system." Has this situation improved much? I think this will really impact whether I pursue this path or not. My main fear is, of course, not getting a position.
  • As I'm currently doing research, I think I'd like to pursue a PhD. Do folks who take the PhD road fare better than those who take that of the master's as far as landing a residency position?
  • More of an open-ended question(s): If you are indeed a medical physicist, your vantage point gives a much better view of the "landscape" of the field. Is there anything you frequently see with students, like myself, in regards to things they are not considering? What should I heavily weigh before committing to such an endeavor? Of course, answers to these questions apply broadly to anybody pursuing a PhD in any field, but I'm looking for pretty targeted responses in regards to medical physics.
Thanks in advance.

Happy holidays to all.

P.S. I am in the USA at a smaller regional university.
 

Answers and Replies

  • #2
Choppy
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What's the residency situation like nowadays? According to Choppy's 2015 post, it was a "major issue in the system." Has this situation improved much? I think this will really impact whether I pursue this path or not. My main fear is, of course, not getting a position.

Things have improved for graduates since I wrote that post. Over the past year or so in particular the job market has shifted and the demand for qualified medical physicists has gone up. We're seeing open positions for awesome jobs go unfilled. According to CAMPEP the number of residency programs has increased by over 40% from 2016 to 2021. Further, the CAMPEP Graduate Report shows that 78% of the MSc graduates who applied to residencies were accepted. That number was 96% for PhD graduates. (I think that addresses your second question.)

There are obviously no guarantees in life. But right now is a good time to be a medical physics graduate.

More of an open-ended question(s): If you are indeed a medical physicist, your vantage point gives a much better view of the "landscape" of the field. Is there anything you frequently see with students, like myself, in regards to things they are not considering? What should I heavily weigh before committing to such an endeavor? Of course, answers to these questions apply broadly to anybody pursuing a PhD in any field, but I'm looking for pretty targeted responses in regards to medical physics.

Yeah - that's pretty broad. One tip of the top of my head is to consider the full package of a program to the best extent you can. Sometimes I see students talking about applying to more than a dozen graduate programs. And I get it, you want the stats in your favour. But when people are applying to that many places, they are often not putting too much effort into researching what the place will actually be like... what research is currently being done? What kinds of practical/clinical skills are they going to learn? What are the professors like? Will they enjoy living in that city? As a student you don't necessarily want to enter the "best program." Rather you want to find the program where you are most likely to do your best.
 
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  • #3
gleem
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I've been working in healthcare in some capacity for 10+ years now

May I ask in what capacity have you been working in healthcare? The reason I ask is that you will very possibly be working with a wide range of people with which you will have different professional relationships some of which may be challenging.
 
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  • #4
qntm
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Things have improved for graduates since I wrote that post. Over the past year or so in particular the job market has shifted and the demand for qualified medical physicists has gone up. We're seeing open positions for awesome jobs go unfilled. According to CAMPEP the number of residency programs has increased by over 40% from 2016 to 2021. Further, the CAMPEP Graduate Report shows that 78% of the MSc graduates who applied to residencies were accepted. That number was 96% for PhD graduates. (I think that addresses your second question.)

There are obviously no guarantees in life. But right now is a good time to be a medical physics graduate.



Yeah - that's pretty broad. One tip of the top of my head is to consider the full package of a program to the best extent you can. Sometimes I see students talking about applying to more than a dozen graduate programs. And I get it, you want the stats in your favour. But when people are applying to that many places, they are often not putting too much effort into researching what the place will actually be like... what research is currently being done? What kinds of practical/clinical skills are they going to learn? What are the professors like? Will they enjoy living in that city? As a student you don't necessarily want to enter the "best program." Rather you want to find the program where you are most likely to do your best.
Wow, thanks for your response, Choppy! I appreciate it.
 
  • #5
qntm
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May I ask in what capacity have you been working in healthcare? The reason I ask is that you will very possibly be working with a wide range of people with which you will have different professional relationships some of which may be challenging.
Hi gleem,

For the last 7 years, I've worked as a Registered Polysomnographic Technologist (RPSGT). I work primarily with patients who have sleep disorders ranging from sleep apnea, REM behavioral disorders, periodic leg movement disorders, etc. etc. I've worked directly with physicians, physician assistants, nurse practitioners, some "higher ups" like the sleep services director, and some vendors who want us to run some studies on patients with their technology (like Inspire).
 
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  • #6
gleem
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That is an excellent background for a clinical medical physicist. I am sure you know the importance of people skills. You will at some point in your career have a supervisory position having certain responsibilities, oversights, and/or obligations that are sometimes conflicting. Your first job will most probably be in a subordinate role so you will be insulated from many issues but keep your eyes and ear open and learn You may be tempted to remain in the background waiting for the therapists or oncologist to come to you with problems. My advice is to make yourself quite visible. Ask questions, show an interest in the day-to-day routine, be helpful and be an active part of the treatment team.

Medical physics is a wonderful career. Good luck.
 
  • #7
qntm
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That is an excellent background for a clinical medical physicist. I am sure you know the importance of people skills. You will at some point in your career have a supervisory position having certain responsibilities, oversights, and/or obligations that are sometimes conflicting. Your first job will most probably be in a subordinate role so you will be insulated from many issues but keep your eyes and ear open and learn You may be tempted to remain in the background waiting for the therapists or oncologist to come to you with problems. My advice is to make yourself quite visible. Ask questions, show an interest in the day-to-day routine, be helpful and be an active part of the treatment team.

Medical physics is a wonderful career. Good luck.
Thank you for the encouraging words. I've been lucky in my position as an RPSGT as there's a lot of autonomy and direct treatment with patients and educating them as far as sleep medicine is concerned. I've also been lucky to be able to work with many folks who work in sleep medicine.

I appreciate the advice and will indeed take it to heart.
 
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