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Programs Medical physics or Physics?

  1. Apr 5, 2017 #1
    I have a wide set of interests in science, especially in physics, mathematics and biology. I want a program that puts a very heavy emphasis on mathematics and physics, less so in biology (I want to study physics that has a practical application in the field of biology because both are interesting), which program should be able to fit this description?

    Medical physics?
    Engineering in chemical biology?

    My problem with medical physics is that I do not want to work with patients, I would rather parcipitate in research or anything else outside of a hospital if possible. Would this cause problems, trying to exclude one very important field?

    If it is a problem, I am probably going for a regular undergraduate program in physics and then decide on what to specialize in (medical physics then wouldn't be possible unless I want to study for 6 years instead of 5).

    Another contender is aerospace engineering, problem is that it's literally on the opposite side of the country (3 hours by flight), not sure it would be a wise choice considering how much self doubt I have.
  2. jcsd
  3. Apr 5, 2017 #2


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    I can offer a perspective on medical physics.

    Medical Physicists rarely have direct interactions with patients, although most of what we do on a clinical level involves patients in one way or another. Typical clinical work for medical physicists in radiation therapy involves:
    • Quality control measurements on linear accelerators and other radiotherapy equipment to make sure it is all operating within tolerances, and then fixing problems when they arise.
    • Checking treatment plans to make sure they can be delivered safely and that the treatment planning system's calculations are correct. This can include taking a leadership role in the planning process when necessary - particularly with difficult or challenging plans. (This is largely done using data such as CT scans of the patients that someone else has performed).
    • Commissioning new equipment that comes into the equipment - everything from new linear accelerators to new ion chambers.
    • Developing or refining treatment procedures, processes, and guidelines.
    • Administration of treatment planning systems and databases.
    • Radiation safety work (ensuring that everyone working in and around the facilities are safe).
    • A lot of consulting work - facility design and maintenance, IT, tumour group QC rounds, professional committees, purchasing and procurement committees etc. Medical Physicists tend to speak a lot of different languages (physics, engineering, medicine, IT, administration, etc.) and so are invited to the table often.
    Rarely do we interact directly with patients, but it does happen from time to time. Sometimes we need to make specific measurements such as the radiation dose a pacemaker is receiving and have to place a dosimeter on the patient. For brachytherapy treatments, a physicist may be present in the operating theatre to assist with radioactive seed or device preparation. Sometimes we come in to talk with patients if specific questions come up that the radiation oncologists are not comfortable answering. Or, sometimes a physicist will be more involved with patients that are on some kind of clinical trial.

    With respect to choosing an undergraduate major - a general honours physics program is usually the best option. I would tend to avoid some undergraduate medical physics programs, because they can close more doors than they open. Some are really good, of course, but in some cases the coursework is not rigorous enough to get you accepted into some of the more intense graduate programs.
  4. Apr 5, 2017 #3
    The medical physics program in my country is literally the best, getting a job is guaranteed if competent enough in the field. Are you sure it's better to go for a general physics program in that case?

    I could also go to the best physics program in my country but many are saying that the market in the field of physics is rather competitive. It is also about 2.5 hours away by train and I don't know if I want to leave my pets behind just for this program, there is a physics program in my home city and I have a reserved slot for it but it's not the best.

    What should I do? I want to work with anything relating to physics (preferably: astrophysics, particle physics, mechanics, quantum physics, electromagnetism, basically the heavy areas) but I also wanna "make a difference" and get a job easily. With medical physics I'm more interested in research as opposed to scanning and treating patients. Advice? Thanks for the reply.

    I'm probably more inclined towards physics. For some reason I just go this sudden interest in medical physics but only because I like physics AND biology.
  5. Apr 5, 2017 #4


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    What country are you in? My advice is specific to North America.

    Regardless of what country you're in, it's good to be at least somewhat skeptical of this kind of notion. Even if this is true now, if you're just about to enter undergrad, you have however many years it takes to complete that degree, then you have to go to graduate school for at least another two years if you got the MSc route, or at least four if you're aiming for a PhD, and then you'll probably even need to do a residency - another two years. The process isn't always as rigid in other places, as it is here, but realistically the better part of a decade will have passed before you're seriously setting foot in the job market. Both it and you will change over that time.

    One thing you can do is try to look up some statistics on where graduates of the program you're considering are ending up. If everyone from this undergraduate medical physics program you're looking at are getting into accredited graduate programs in medical physics, it's a safe bet. In my experience candidates from general physics undergraduate programs tend to be more competitive for medical physics graduate programs though. That might not be the same where you are. The important thing to remember is that your career (or careers) are not precisely determined by your choice of educational path once you leave high school. Your education puts limits on that path, sure. But there is often a lot more flexibility than people think.

    Of course. It's pretty common to want to make a difference in the world, and of course you want a good job. In Medical Physics it's the clinical work that puts food on the table. Radiotherapy centres need Medical Physicists to do all the work I mentioned earlier, and so there's generally a strong demand for Qualified Medical Physicists - at least compared to researchers in other branches of physics. Medical Physicists can still do research too (the amount depends on your specific position, desires, and obligations). It's also important to note that other physicists still end up getting good jobs. But academia is much more competitive, because the demand just isn't the same.
  6. Apr 5, 2017 #5
    Ok. The first two years of physics and medical physics are completely identical. I think I'm gonna make the decision then, study medical physics then see if I want to go for physics instead.

    What physics fields are growing? Astrophysics? Particle physics? Just curious. Also which branch is easiest to get a job in?
  7. Apr 5, 2017 #6

    Dr Transport

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    Without a PhD, staying in pure physics is difficult. With a degree in medical physics you'll be more employable.
  8. Apr 6, 2017 #7
    I guess I will just study medical physics, and then decide on whether I wanna continue or change to physics.
  9. Apr 6, 2017 #8
    I think I will study medical physics and then decide on whether I wanna continue or switch over to physics.

    Problem with general physics is that the majority get a job in a field outside of it, I don't want that, no matter how much I like physics. Medical physics is close enough.
  10. Apr 6, 2017 #9


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    In another thread he posted in, Mulz stated that he is from Sweden.

    I also recall from a conversation I had with a Swedish PhD student that students there do not earn a Bachelor's degree -- all university graduates earn essentially the equivalent of a Masters degree in North America.
  11. Apr 6, 2017 #10
    That is correct, medical physicists here earn a masters immediately after the 5 years.

    The market is pretty much only in the hospitals so I will just go for physics, seems like the better choice. Or engineering. Really hard to tell which one as school never gave us any proper introduction to them.

    I could go to the best physics program, an average engineering program in physics or I could move about 20 hours away (north Sweden) and study Aerospace engineering. I'm divided between aerospace and physics. Advice? Leaving my family for physics is only 2 hours away but aerospace 20, really big difference.
  12. Apr 6, 2017 #11


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    As I recall, a number of Swedish universities (Lund Institute of Technology, KTH Royal Institute of Technology, Chalmers Institute of Technology) offers a program in engineering physics. Are any of these options you could consider?
  13. Apr 6, 2017 #12
    No, my grades are too low. I can however get accepted to Lund for regular physics. I guess this is the best choice? Could then go from physics into engineering I think.
  14. Apr 6, 2017 #13
    Going to a university very far from home can be a good thing. Of course, personal circumstances may make a huge difference, but generally I see being away on your own when you are 18 or 20 years old as an important part of becoming yourself. Just food for thought.
  15. Apr 6, 2017 #14
    I want to do that but I have pets that would die during my time away, 5 years is a lot of time. Honestly only my pets are an obstacle.
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