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Medical physics: job stress?

  1. Mar 30, 2015 #1

    I'm currently in the middle of my graduate studies in medical physics (first year of Master's degree). The program has a reputation among past M.Sc. students of having a very demanding first year in terms of course content.

    While I'm having success in terms of GPA (3.8 last semester), I feel this about the class average. To get these grades, I have to work extremely hard, to extreme stress. My social life has come to a grinding halt. Discounting the holiday break, I've gone out with friends maybe 3 or 4 times since September (7 months!).

    My thinking has always been that this is temporary. However, after chatting briefly with a new resident, it seemed that a residency is no picnic either, assuming you can get one. While the field is great so far, I'm having doubts about whether I'm willing to commit this much time. I'm wondering if the idea of "smooth sailing" upon completion of the residency needs some correcting.

    I would like to ask the medical physics community - how does your experience with grad school stress compare to work related stress in your daily life? how did grad school stress compare with a residency? About how much time did you dedicate to the field on a weekly basis for residency and now as a physicist?

    Thank you
  2. jcsd
  3. Mar 30, 2015 #2


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    If you're looking for a low stress career or a job where you can leave the office at 5:00, medical physics may not be the perfect fit for you, unfortunately.

    For me graduate studies were up and down. The course work was very demanding in terms of time commitment - particularly the labs where we were learning to operate all the equipment. I did a PhD and the time commitment ramped up in preparation for my candidacy examination, as I was putting together papers or conference abstracts, and thesis writing. On average I would say it equated to a full-time job. But then I also did QA work part-time so it wasn't like I left the clinic/lab as soon as 5:00 rolled around.

    The first major stress in terms of a residency is getting one. In another thread we are discussing the issues of the fact that CAMPEP programs are graduating just less than 300 students annually, but there are only abut 120 residency positions. Once you have one, you will have regular rotations and examinations, and (depending on the residency structure) be expected to push a research or clinical project forward. Expect late nights. The residency concludes with preparation for board examinations. I studied pretty hard for these - equivalent in terms of time commitment to my PhD candidacy examination, maybe a little more.

    Once you're working as a qualified medical physicist the time demands can vary considerably depending on your location and the rules around your employment. Generally speaking, in radiation oncology physics, you need to do at least some work after clinical hours. This is because they are treating patients when the clinic is open, so the machines aren't available for QA or commission of new procedures or research or whatever else in on you to-do list. I probably put in 9 hour days currently, but I do get to go home. Some medical physicists have it a little easier. For example, I'm expected to maintain a research program, but those with an entirely clinical appointment don't have this extra demand. (That said, for me the research is the most fun part of the job, so I would probably do it whether I was expected to or not.)

    All of this said, I manage to lead a fairly balanced life. I have an amazing family (two kids came after the residency) and get to spend lots of quality time with them. I work out on a regular basis, get out on the judo mat once a week, and have even won National Novel Writing Month every November since 2002.

    Your mileage may vary.
  4. Mar 31, 2015 #3
    Let me add one thing that is often left out in a medical physics career. I'm a retirer medical physicist having more that 30 years experience in a large and small hospital situation both as a department head and as a solo physicist. My work had been entirely clinical. Most positions are of this nature although even in a community hospital environment one can do some form of research if they have the desire. The thing that is not talked about too much is the relationship with the your medical colleagues including the radiation oncologist , the therapist, dosimetrists, nurses, administrators, and possibly depending on the program and any additional duties other medical specialist as urologist, diagnostic radiologists, cardiologists, and even pathologists. I have been fortunate to have survived relatively unscathed and have had a rewarding career. You must remember that the physician is ultimately in charge and determines the direction of the program but you are the major adviser. Your recommendations may not be heeded for various reasons some of which you may not agree. Some of your recommendations may be taken as "gilding the lily". others may be judged too expensive so there may be times of frustration. There may be times when you may have to do the right thing and risk your future. Creating an atmosphere or cooperation and developing credibility is important from the beginning. will help immensely. Working with people to get things done, showing respect for those whose work you supervise, involving yourself in non clinical activities of the department.. You want to recognized as one who can help, one that is needed, one that is recognized as part of the team. Don't scare your coworker away encourage them to seek you out. This will pay dividends in the end and you will know everything that you can about what is happening in the clinic that impacts patient care. One other point be proactive ,show interest in and participate in simulations, treatment setups but don't force yourself into these situations unless the safety of the patient is jeopardized.
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