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Medical physics vs. Industry

  1. Feb 9, 2013 #1

    PBD

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    Hi and thanks in advance for any responses.

    I'm a Junior getting a degree in engineering physics, now trying to decide between a Masters in Nuclear Engineering and pursuing an MS/PhD in Medical Physics.

    I can finish the engineering MS in just two more years as I've already started on some of the courses as an undergrad (my school has a 5 yr program). However, I have done some job shadowing with a Medical Physicist on a couple of occasions and really enjoyed it. Am kind of discouraged by the competition, though, and the length of training. I did get along really well with the Dr. and he has written my rec's for this summer's internships.

    I've applied for several internships, including the one offered by the AAPM. Most of the others are with the national labs and a couple in industry. Other than that, haven't done any research- partly because of my course load and partly because there aren't a lot of opportunities at my school which is pretty focused on getting us into industry. We even had a mandatory summer field session last summer which ruled out any internships then. I will be doing a senior design/research project next year, however.

    Anyway, what are my chances getting into a Medical Physics PhD program? I have a 3.93 GPA with mostly math, physics and engineering courses. Haven't taken the GREs yet but I usually test pretty well- had an 800 in math on the SAT and a 2320 total, and a several math/science scholarships coming in. I just think I'm really behind in research qualifications.

    Could I get an MS in nuclear and then complete a Med Physics Phd later?

    Thanks!
     
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  3. Feb 9, 2013 #2

    Choppy

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    Well, it is competative to get into an accredited medical physics program, but it's not impossible. I know that students admitted to our program typically have GPAs above 3.5, so a 3.9, by the numbers, suggests you'd be competative. Of course that also assumes that you'd be applying with that average. It's one thing to have a high average in your first and second year courses, another to sustain such an average into the more senior classes.

    As for the research aspect of things a senior research project counts. There's nothing that says you have to do an internship. I wouldn't ignore the opportunity if it came up, mind you, but it's certainly not something that's manditory.

    Yes.
     
  4. Feb 10, 2013 #3

    PBD

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    Thank you for your answer, Choppy.
    I'm really looking forward to an internship or REU this summer precisely because I haven't had the chance to experience a research environment in much depth before, and it's such an important part of a med physics degree that I really feel like I need it to make the right choice.

    One other factor is that I'd like to take an anatomy or biology course next year, but that won't fit into the rather tightly scheduled 5 yr MS program, so I should make my choice by the start of my senior year (this fall). Very glad to know that I can go with the MS now, and med physics later. Would having that MS make the PhD program shorter?

    It's tough being surrounded by petroleum engineers and geophysicists- companies are literally lining up to hire these guys. It seems like the outlook for nuclear engineering and medical physics is not as good, so I'm trying to be as deliberate about it as I can be regarding which way to go.

    Oh- one other thing- in another thread you had good things to say about the Canadian programs. Do they take Americans, and if so, would there be any problem with me returning? Some of the Canadian programs are actually closer to home than most of the American ones. I'd prefer to stay out west, but there seems to be a shortage of programs in my area, or anywhere even remotely close to it.
     
    Last edited: Feb 10, 2013
  5. Feb 10, 2013 #4

    Choppy

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    Ah yes. Getting involved in something like this, getting exposure to the field will give you a good idea about what medical physicists do and this will be important in so far as making any long term decisions.

    For what it's worth, while it would be good to take either or both of those courses, they generally aren't manditory for medical physics. You can pick up the anatomy & physiology and the biology that you need to know in graduate school. All things equal though, if it does work out I would aim to take at least on of them.

    Probably not. The first thing that a medical physics program covers is a unique set of coursework that's necessary for practice in a clinical setting. While I would expect there to be a fair amount of overlap between nuclear engineering courses and some of the medical physics ones, there's a good chance you'll still have to complete all the coursework. After that most of the work is project specific. If you have a PhD project that relates in some way to what you did during your MSc, it's likely to help you by allowing you to have already climbed the learning curver on the related stuff. There may also be an academic maturity factor that plays in as well. So there may be small factors that work in your favour, but I wouldn't count on finishing anything early just because you come in with an MSc from a different field.


    That's the way in was in medical physics about 10 years ago. IMRT came in, the medical physicist's workload jumped and there was a lot of hiring going on. In general, radiation oncology is expected to grow by about 40% over the coming decade, largely due to an aging population. But due to the sluggish economy over the last several years facilities haven't really been expanding at the rate they may have been and this had created a kind of inverse bubble - lots of medical physics graduates fighting for jobs. That's also coupled with new regulations the ABR has introduced with respect to certification requirements - basically requiring an accredited residency.

    So unfortunately the current position (as I see it) it that we have lots of graduates looking for jobs and lots of overworked medical physicists who need help.

    Generally yes, they accept American students. And so long as the program is CAMPEP-accredited, you will be qualified to write the ABR exams. The programs do orient more towards membership with the CCPM though, which is generally accepted as an equivalent qualification in most, though not all, US states. I think the biggest difference would be that in a Canadian program you would learn specifically Canadian regulations with respect to radiation protection - not that this is that huge of a component of the program or that it would be particularly challenging to learn the relevant US regulations (or that they're all that different for that matter).
     
  6. Feb 14, 2013 #5
    Are you considering getting the MS in NE just to strengthen your changes at a MP program?

    If that is the only reason why you are doing so I would just forgo the MS in NE and go straight into a MP program. I think you would already make for a strong candidate especially if you already meet the new physics requirements. You should also plan on taking the Physics GRE as some schools in MP require it and some strongly recommend it. Other than that, I can't remember there being much of a roadblock to get into the MP community. Do be aware of the different type of degrees offered by many programs. Getting accepted into an MS, MS/PhD, or PhD tracks are quite different (There is also a "professional doctorate"). Not all programs offer PhDs in medical physics and some offer both but getting into the MS program does not guarantee a transition into the PhD program later on. Funding opportunities is also something you should consider, while most PhD programs will fully fund you this is not always the case for MS programs or maybe even for the first couple years of a MS/PhD program.

    I would continue to take a look at the MS in NE though. At the end of the day, two extra years for a MS in NE is nothing. Heck, you might even like it more than MP. In my opinion, NE is still the best preparation for a career path in MP. A few years ago, NE used to make up the largest portion of degrees getting accepted into MP and for good reason. The fundamentals and basic classes of a NE degree overlap with the fundamentals in a MP curriculum (i.e. Interactions, Radiation Biology, Detection, Particle Accelerators, Imaging). Unfortunately though, the new physics requirements to get into CAMPEP accredited programs does not bode well with many top notch nuclear engineering programs. Many NE programs are already rigorous enough as it is to allow for their students to squeeze in the physics requirements.

    As far as research goes, I would highly recommend an internship at one of the national labs. I know many labs such as PNNL, ORNL, INL, and LLNL offer great opportunities for research. Another great benefit to landing one of these internships is that you will be surrounded by NEs, you could pick their brains all day long about their experiences and career choices. National labs aside, take a look at Westinghouse, Areva, GE, and Bechtel (I believe for Bechtel it would Bettis and/or KAPL).

    Next, I would shadow MPs. Not necessarily to pad up your CV but rather to help you make up your mind about what career path to follow. Shadow them at private stand alone cancer centers, teaching hospitals, MPs associated with a Medical Physics Graduate program, and MPs associated with a Medical Physics Residency program. Ask questions about what their clinical, teaching, and research duties are. I think you would be surprised to learn that most MPs are purely clinical even with a PhD.
     
  7. Feb 20, 2013 #6

    PBD

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    I think I can work it in if I make my decision by the end of the summer, otherwise I might need remedial courses in the bio end of things!


    Do you see the new medical Act having an impact? One of my parents is a Dr. and believes hospitals, etc. will really cut back on tech, and there's also something about a 2% tax on medical devices.


    I feel really on top of things after reading this! What I'm doing now is exactly what you said- I'm right now in a program that gets me an MS in NE in just one more year (as opposed to two). Since my major is Engineering Physics I have already gotten all the physics prereqs for an MP program out of the way as well. I have apps in at all the National Labs right now through a couple of different programs, and have talked to a guy from PNNL when he came for a Career Day.

    I also have shadowed an MP at a local hospital, he actually has written my rec's for some of these internships. I'll look into the industry ones that you mention, too.

    So it sounds like I'm in good shape, I'm just really having trouble deciding because if I go MP I want to just get right in there after I get my BSE, because it takes a long time. But I don't want to spend a long time becoming an MP just to find out there isn't going to be work, it's a pretty specialized field... arrrgh!

    Thanks a lot for all of your replies.
     
  8. Feb 20, 2013 #7

    Choppy

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    I don't know too much about the health care reforms going on in the US. I'm Canadian. What is expected is that there is likely to be substantial increases in the number of people developing cancer over the next decade - on the order of 40%. That's substantial growth in the field. Linear accelerators are, pound for pound, rather cheap. I suspect as belts are tightened, there may be less interest in the more fancy facilities that offer proton therapy, for example, and more centres installing conventional linacs to meet the demand. That's just a guess though.


    I understand completely. For the reasons above, I expect that there will be a steady and increasing demand for medical physicists in the future and because of the professional aspects to the career, it is likely to be a lot more than other options for people with a background in physics (such as academia, engineering, finance, programming, etc.). But there are no guarantees. Someone could develope a miracle cure for cancer tomorrow and we'd all be out of work!
     
  9. Mar 2, 2013 #8

    PBD

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    I got one of the AAPM student Fellowships! I don't know who/where my mentor will be and I'm still waiting to hear from the national labs but I'm really excited about this. 99% sure I'll accept this offer no matter what, I can't see a down side to it.
     
  10. Mar 2, 2013 #9

    Choppy

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    Congratulations!
     
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