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Other Medical Physics: Masters or Ph.D?

Hello everyone,

I am a current undergrad physics major looking to pursue a career in clinical medical physics. I currently have an internship in radiation therapy physics and absolutely love it. I have recently become aware of the issue there is with medical physics residencies favoring Ph. D candidates over MSc candidates. With this being said, I would really like to work as a clinical medical physicist some day, but am struggling with which degree path I should choose. Does anyone have any suggestions?
 

Choppy

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You're not alone. I think a lot of people considering medical physics struggle with this.

One option you might want to consider is looking for a graduate program that has both. In Canadian programs, the model tends to be one of initial enrollment in an MSc program. Then you can either complete the MSc and go out into the world (i.e. see if you can get into a residency), complete the MSc and re-enroll in a PhD, or in some cases, transition directly into a PhD after about a year or so. I believe some US programs follow a similar model.
 

ZapperZ

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Hello everyone,

I am a current undergrad physics major looking to pursue a career in clinical medical physics. I currently have an internship in radiation therapy physics and absolutely love it. I have recently become aware of the issue there is with medical physics residencies favoring Ph. D candidates over MSc candidates. With this being said, I would really like to work as a clinical medical physicist some day, but am struggling with which degree path I should choose. Does anyone have any suggestions?
As an undergrad major, don't you have an advisor or a faculty member that you can ask about this? Do you have a medical physics program, or a medical physics dept. at your school? If you do, can't you find someone from that program to ask such a question.

And if you're doing an internship already, can't you consult those that you are working for for similar advice? I would think that someone who is already a "clinical medical physicist" might be able to give you the best advice on what to do here.

Zz.
 
As an undergrad major, don't you have an advisor or a faculty member that you can ask about this? Do you have a medical physics program, or a medical physics dept. at your school? If you do, can't you find someone from that program to ask such a question.

And if you're doing an internship already, can't you consult those that you are working for for similar advice? I would think that someone who is already a "clinical medical physicist" might be able to give you the best advice on what to do here.

Zz.
I go to a small liberal arts college, and none of my physics faculty are very familiar with the field of medical physics. There is no medical physics program at my school. I have consulted the physicists I currently work with, and they all got in to the field before there was the requirement of having completed a residency before qualifying to take boards. I am getting the feeling that a PhD would open up more resident opportunities and still allow me to obtain a clinical job in the future, however a masters would not take as long.
 

ZapperZ

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I go to a small liberal arts college, and none of my physics faculty are very familiar with the field of medical physics. There is no medical physics program at my school. I have consulted the physicists I currently work with, and they all got in to the field before there was the requirement of having completed a residency before qualifying to take boards. I am getting the feeling that a PhD would open up more resident opportunities and still allow me to obtain a clinical job in the future, however a masters would not take as long.
Do you care more about your job opportunity and growth, or do you care more about the length of completion?

Zz.
 
Do you care more about your job opportunity and growth, or do you care more about the length of completion?

Zz.
Honestly, I do not really care how long it takes me because I thoroughly enjoy school. The more I talk about it the more I think a PhD would be better suited to me.
 

Choppy

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One of the reasons why the PhD tends to be helpful with residencies is that it tends to open up the residencies that are hybrid residency-post-doc programs. One of the advantages to having residents around is that they can often push forward a research project or help develop some new technology in the clinic. The PhDs tend to be more desirable for this. They have more general experience, more publications, and often more of a desire to be involved with the academics.

The PhD also tends to open more doors if you want to teach at some point in your career. That's not to say that MScs can't teach, but there tends to be more red tape in getting them academic appointments.

The MSc advantage, beyond the shorter time, is that they do tend to be favoured for the purely clinical positions in smaller centres. As a PhD you tend to get pigeon-holed into a spot where people believe you really just want to do research. For a centre that earns money by the patient, they generally don't want someone who will spend every spare minute doing some research project that doesn't help patient throughput and so MSc grads are scene as more desirable.

You may also want to check out the DMP programs as well (basically an MSc combined with a residency). I've never been a big fan of that model, but I can understand why students would consider them.
 
The MSc advantage, beyond the shorter time, is that they do tend to be favoured for the purely clinical positions in smaller centres. As a PhD you tend to get pigeon-holed into a spot where people believe you really just want to do research. For a centre that earns money by the patient, they generally don't want someone who will spend every spare minute doing some research project that doesn't help patient throughput and so MSc grads are scene as more desirable.
Is it naïve to think that it is rare for a PhD physicist to obtain a clinical position? I understand that a smaller centers it's more likely for MSc physicists to get hired, but what about at larger centers?
 

Choppy

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Is it naïve to think that it is rare for a PhD physicist to obtain a clinical position? I understand that a smaller centers it's more likely for MSc physicists to get hired, but what about at larger centers?
Lots of PhD physicists end up in fully clinical positions, do a great job and are quite happy there. When I say some clinical positions will favour MSc candidates, that's a generalization. By no means does it exclude PhDs from consideration. It just means there's a bit of a hurdle in convincing some potential employers that you're the right fit for their position. Often this is solved with a sentence like:
"During my residency I commissioned a [machine that the potential employer is about to install]."

Similarly, MSc grads can end up in larger academic centres. Sometimes the centres are quite happy to have someone around who is happier to lead the clinical end of things because it frees up more time for the others to work on academics.
 

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