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Medical Physics Without Certification

  1. Oct 23, 2013 #1
    I was really hoping to get a degree in medical physics but due to the bottleneck in the residency programs I am worried that I wont get into a residency and thus not get certified. Not being certified would really limit my job opportunities. I am wondering what my options are if I don't end up getting certified? Are there even any medical physics jobs that hire non-certified medical physicists? Would I be qualified to be a dosimetrist or does that require a whole different set of classes? I would guess it would require some sort of certification, but with a medical physics degree would I be ready to take whatever test a dosimetrist needs to take to be certified?
  2. jcsd
  3. Oct 23, 2013 #2
    Why not health physics if you want to deal with dosage? Not only that it's much easier to find a goof health physics program.
  4. Oct 23, 2013 #3
    I would much rather do Medical Physics, I was just wondering what else I can do with it if I cant get certified. I will be in a lot of debt after I get my degree so I want to make sure that I at least have some other options. Health physics is a good suggestion though, thanks. What is the job market like in health physics?
  5. Oct 23, 2013 #4


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    In post #11, Andy Resnick writes "We limit our enrollment in Medical Physics to the number of available slots for the practicum portion, and that number is set by our partner hospital. And yes, it is a small number (4 per year)."

    So perhaps you could find out which programmes have such arrangements when you are applying.
  6. Oct 23, 2013 #5


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    Hi Grapes,

    This is of course a very serious concern. Pursuing a career in medical physics takes a lot of time and effort and there's always that questions - what if you can't get into a residency. You should of course be aiming for one, but it's always a good idea to have a backup plan.

    Depending on your local laws, a certification in medical physics may or may not be required to work in medical physics. There are places that do hire without the certification and who will train on the job. But the current market is such that these positions do tend to get flooded with applicants. So you may not be able to count on a job as a medical physicist if you can't get through a certified residency.

    As I've mentioned in other posts, I believe the AAPM is exploring initiatives to correct this, so I do expect the number of residencies to grow in the coming years. I'm not sure that we'll get to a spot where every graduate is guaranteed a job though... at least not unless the economy picks up and healthcare follows.

    The good news is that your options aren't limited. There are many corporate organizations that hire medical physics graduates for R&D, technical support, technical investigations, technical sales, and even teaching. This is not just the "big" companies either. There are dozens of medical physics-related start-ups every year.

    In fact, something to keep in the back of your head is to chose a PhD project that may have the potential to turn into a startup company.

    There are also companies that do 'consulting' work - mostly commissioning of new centres or new linacs or simply providing locum coverage where places with only a handful of physicists have one off on vacation or sick-leave, or whatever.

    I have heard of medical physicists (or people trained in medical physics) acting as dosimetrists. Again, depending on the local laws a particular certification may be needed. The most popular avenue for getting a physics degree is going through as a radiation therapist and getting on the job training, although dosimetry-specific courses are popping up.

    As mentioned above, another option is health physics. I've seen a few medical physics graduates go this route.

    Finally, with all of that said, you also have just abo every option that any other person with a graduate degree in physics has. I realize there are lots of complaints about how limited these are, but your program should give you a broad set of skills in areas like signal processing, computer networking and programming (although perhaps not formally).

    So you do have some options if a residency doesn't work out.
  7. Oct 24, 2013 #6
    Health Physics offers better career options from what I seen and you don't have to be certified to be a health physicist. You can work at a variety of places like nuclear power plants, the FDA, NRC,etc. Anywhere where radiation is involved is a job for a health physicist. I wouldn't do medical physics personally especially just to be a dosimetrist, which is obtainable with a health physics degree
  8. Oct 27, 2013 #7


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    Just out of curiosity, what exactly is the difference between health physics and medical physics? The two terminologies sound very similar to me.
  9. Oct 27, 2013 #8


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    Health physics is generally in reference to "occupational health" in the context of radiation. So health physicists are usually concerned with aspects of radiation safety such as: monitoring doses to nuclear energy workers and general public, designing workspaces to minimize radiation doses, establishing workplace policy and procedures so as to be compliant with laws, monitoring the transport and storage of radioactive materials, investigation of incidents where individuals receive high doses, or inspections of nuclear facilities. You're basically dealing with people who are healthy and trying to keep them that way.

    Medical physics in its broadest context is physics applied to medicine. About 80% of the clinical component of this field lies in radiation oncology where medical physicists are responsible for monitoring the proper operation of medical linear accelerators through quality assurance programs, calibrating the linear accelerators, supervising the planning of treatments, administrating the computer networks the treatment and simulation units are on, commissioning new equipment and treatment techniques, developing clinical procedures, clinical problem solving and research. The other 20% or so falls into the support of diagnostic imaging, MRI, and nuclear medicine. You're basically dealing with people who are sick and trying to make them better.

    There is a lot of cross-over. Many medical physicists, for example, will function as radiation safety officers for the facilities they work in. Most medical physics graduate programs will train you to function as a health physicist.
  10. Oct 27, 2013 #9
    Usually health physicist deal with radiation protection. Like with the japan incident there were health physicist to access the environmental and biological effects of the accident. Health physicist also study radiation or radioactive material to decide what is a safe dosage. Medical physicist deal more with using radiation for medical purposes like cancer treatment. You can still work in the medical field with a health physics degree in careers like dosimetry. The fields are pretty similar, in fact at university of Wisconsin they are the same except the health physics curriculum doesn't include as many clinicals
  11. Oct 27, 2013 #10


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    Hi Choppy, caldweab, thanks for the clarification and explanation!
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