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Physics Medical Physics: Radiation Oncology

  1. Feb 23, 2012 #1
    Hi all,

    I am a Physics PhD candidate, and I love to do medical physics very much. But unfortunately my Physics Department does not have a strong medical physics group.

    So I though of doing Nuclear Physics and switch later to Medical Physics. (In my post doc)

    I am not interested in academia. I would like to do something like Radiation Oncology.

    Do you think this is feasible....?

    I heard its very hard to go into this field these days.

  2. jcsd
  3. Feb 23, 2012 #2


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    Re: Medical Physics

    It is possible to enter the field of medical physics after finishing your PhD in another area. There are a couple of programs now that offer CAMPEP-accredited post-PhD graduate classes. These cover the "didactic coursework" that you need to enter the field.

    The other option is to find a post-doctoral project somewhere that leads into a residency. The issue with this option is that in order to write your ABR certification exams you'll need to have both done the accredited coursework and completed an accredited residency. Certification is not required everywhere yet, but this is the direction the field is moving into, so if you really want to work in the field, aiming for certification is your best move.

    Of course, the other option is just to apply to get into an accredited graduate program. This would likely be your most direct option for entering the field.

    As far as the difficulty of getting in, medical physics is a very competative field right now, but it is a field that is expected to grow considerably over the coming decade. What I'm seeing in my own program is that our PhD graduates are generally getting residencies and our residents are getting medical physics positions. MSc graduates are finding it tough to compete for residencies right now - some get in, others stay on to finish a PhD, or take other options such as commercial positions.
  4. Feb 23, 2012 #3
    Re: Medical Physics

    Thank you very much choppy. I looked in to the idea you said about accredited graduate program before. But what I thought was, then I have to do another qualifier exam and it will drag me behind several years.
    You might wonder I did not select a medical physics graduate program before. The reason is I am an International student and when we apply from our country and by that time we had very little idea how things going here.

    Thank for the reply. Expecting more ideas and advises....
  5. Feb 23, 2012 #4
    Is medical physics a pure "medical" services field, or is there instrument design in there?

    What about people who want to design NMRs, CAT, ultrasound, and other medical diagnostics/analytical instruments?
  6. Feb 24, 2012 #5


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    The clinical side of medical physics tends to involve the support of such devices - medical linear accelerators and CT units being the primary ones for the radiation oncology specialty. By support I mean commissioning, calibration, systems administration, running a quality control program, general problem solving and sometimes supervising the technicians and engineers that service the devices. This is in addition to other roles such as consulting on or supervising the treatment planning process, process and procedure design, and radiation protection responsibilities.

    The research aspects of medical physics can involve the design and creation of new medical devices or the algorithms and systems that support them. Not all medical physicists will do this, but I certainly have and if that's what you want to do, then the opportunities are there. Particularly where MRI is involved there is a lot of overlap with biomedical engineering in this area, which is the field I would pursue if I were most interested in designing and bulding new MRI units.
  7. Feb 24, 2012 #6
    IMO, you can basically break medical physics up into those that treat cancer patients and those that don't. The "don't" group are largely diagnostic imaging, Nuc. Med., general x-ray, CT, MRI, PET, etc. The "don't" group will often work or a large institution that does enough research or has enough of a diagnostic program they feel the need for in-house physic$. Most hospitals use contract coverage or their oncology physicist to cover diagnostic. Those in the "don't" group that aren't in a large program will end up in the service sector doing install commissioning, x-ray room shield design, annual tube inspections, etc., which is good money, but can be competitive. You will find diagnostic physicists in industry working for GE, Philips, etc., but I don’t expect that to be a large number.

    Diagnostic physicists can save a company some money, but they are more “overhead”, unless they are bringing in research dollars, etc. Oncology physicists generate revenue, so they pay us more.

    Lastly, there has been some movement of biomedical engineering into the medical physics realm. Invasion ;-) While there is some overlap, they aren’t the same. In biomed, you could be designing, fixing, or repairing a view box, O2 meter, etc. If you are interested in “making things”, I’d recommend Biomed. IMO, it would give you a broader appeal that would expand beyond things that make radiation.
  8. Feb 24, 2012 #7
    We have used medical physicists in the R&D of our Image Guided Radiation Therapy (IGRT) device, so yes.
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