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Programs Medical Physics

Hello fine friends,

I'm looking for some advice. I'm a second year physics student and my GPA is 3.66. I currently work full time in sleep medicine as a registered polysomnographic technologist (RPSGT) and really enjoy working with patients, treating their sleep disorders, and, essentially, enjoy the healthcare field as a whole. But sleep medicine is not where I want to be in ten years. I love physics and really want to find some intersection where physics and patient care meet.

I've obviously identified medical physics as a potential field and would like some advice, specifically, on how to conduct my last two years of undergrad that would put me in a good position to make me a competitive applicant to grad schools here in the US.

I'd like to know what electives I should aim to take, if more training in biology would be of some help (i.e., cell biology, genetics, etc.) or if I should really focus all of my energy on physics. I have no research experience but understand that it is vital and will find a project to get involved with at my university. Will my experience with sleep medicine be of any interest? I know it's not particularly relevant to medical physics, but I have had many hours of patient exposure, treating their sleep disorders, and training and leadership experience.

Also, if you could suggest some fields that I may consider in addition to medical physics, that'd be great!

Thanks.
 

Choppy

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If you haven't read it, this might be of interest:
https://www.physicsforums.com/insights/become-medical-physicist-3653-easy-steps/

With respsect to what to focus on, you're generally best to focus on the physics, with a slant toward any kind of applied physics courses. Certainly introductory level courses in biology and perhaps anatomy & physiology can be helpful, but most medical physics graduate programs are set up to teach physics students the biology that they need. Some of the more important courses to take (which may or may not be included in a standard undergraduate physics curriculum) would include:
- mathematical methods for physicists
- senior lab
- introductory electronics
- programming/computer science courses
- senior thesis
- anatomy
- biology
- chemistry
- cancer biology

It's hard how much help your sleep technologist experience is going to be. Where it can help is if you get involved in any clinical projects directly involving patients. As a general rule most medical physics don't have a lot of direct patient interaction, as least compared to the other professions we work with (radiation oncologists, radiation therapists, nurses, etc.). There is a soft skill set that's necessary for any kind of patient interaction that's difficult to teach. It can be an advantage to having that on the outset. Further, a general comfort and familiarity with a medical environment can be an advantage too. Medical physicist often serve as a hub of communication between a lot of different medical groups and the ability to navigate such systems early on can be an advantage.

I think something else to keep in mind is that medical physics isn't just restricted to radiation oncology. That tends to be the dominant specialty in the field, but it's certainly not the only one. There's diagnostic imaging, MRI, nuclear medicine, as well as radiation protection and health physics. And looking forward there's going to be a lot of interdisciplinary work between these fields.
 

gleem

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I was a clinical medical physicist in the US so I will direct my comments to that area and leave the research aspect to @Choppy. Choppy is correct a typical physics undergraduate curriculum is what you would need to get into a graduate program. You do not need advanced physics courses like general relativity or quantum field theory. Since clinical physics is applied physics and can take you in many directions I would recommend that you prepare more on the practical side. You might need some expertise in electronics, computer hardware/software, and statistics. A general clinical/ biomedical engineering course can be valuable if offered. But not everything you need to know is taught or discussed.

Check out my response to a similar inquiry at https://www.physicsforums.com/threads/how-is-medical-physics-compared-to-other-fields-of-physics.944454/page-2#post-5983664/
 
If you haven't read it, this might be of interest:
https://www.physicsforums.com/insights/become-medical-physicist-3653-easy-steps/

With respsect to what to focus on, you're generally best to focus on the physics, with a slant toward any kind of applied physics courses. Certainly introductory level courses in biology and perhaps anatomy & physiology can be helpful, but most medical physics graduate programs are set up to teach physics students the biology that they need. Some of the more important courses to take (which may or may not be included in a standard undergraduate physics curriculum) would include:
- mathematical methods for physicists
- senior lab
- introductory electronics
- programming/computer science courses
- senior thesis
- anatomy
- biology
- chemistry
- cancer biology

It's hard how much help your sleep technologist experience is going to be. Where it can help is if you get involved in any clinical projects directly involving patients. As a general rule most medical physics don't have a lot of direct patient interaction, as least compared to the other professions we work with (radiation oncologists, radiation therapists, nurses, etc.). There is a soft skill set that's necessary for any kind of patient interaction that's difficult to teach. It can be an advantage to having that on the outset. Further, a general comfort and familiarity with a medical environment can be an advantage too. Medical physicist often serve as a hub of communication between a lot of different medical groups and the ability to navigate such systems early on can be an advantage.

I think something else to keep in mind is that medical physics isn't just restricted to radiation oncology. That tends to be the dominant specialty in the field, but it's certainly not the only one. There's diagnostic imaging, MRI, nuclear medicine, as well as radiation protection and health physics. And looking forward there's going to be a lot of interdisciplinary work between these fields.

Thanks, Choppy. I appreciate your response. That link is very helpful (I had not read it, I am brand new to this forum). I go to the University of Utah and it seems that they have a lot of MRI, CT, and PET, but the bulk of their researchers do MR physics work with a splash of other things here and there.

At the University of Utah, they have four majors: Physics (ideal for students looking to go into graduate studies in physics), applied physics, biomedical physics (this essentially gets the student ready for medical school as there is a lot of chemistry), and Physics with an astronomy emphasis. I'm currently just the "Physics Major" but it sounds like I should go with the "Applied Physics" instead.

The "Physics Major" classes:
Classical Physics I
Classical Physics II
Intro to Quantum & Relativity
Intro to Quantum
Thermo & Stat Mech
Intro to Computing in Physics
2 Physics electives
1 Undergrad Lab

Vs

"The Applied Physics Major":
Classical & Quantum Mechanics
E&M and Stat Phys
Intro to Quantum & Relativity
Thermo & Stat Mech
Intro to Computing in Physics
2 Physics LAB electives
1 Physics elective
1 Undergrad Lab

So my current major is more theoretical, obviously. It wouldn't be painful to change majors at all, but if I do go one more semester as the "Physics Major," I'll have taken Classical Physics I instead of Classical & Quantum.

I know my GPA isn't drop dead gorgeous, but I think it's enough to keep me competitive. I do have two years left so I know that I need to bring it up as much as possible as there's not much room to let it drop. What are your thoughts on that?

Anyway.. Truly, thank you for your response. It's nice to have some guidance.
 
Last edited:
I was a clinical medical physicist in the US so I will direct my comments to that area and leave the research aspect to @Choppy. Choppy is correct a typical physics undergraduate curriculum is what you would need to get into a graduate program. You do not need advanced physics courses like general relativity or quantum field theory. Since clinical physics is applied physics and can take you in many directions I would recommend that you prepare more on the practical side. You might need some expertise in electronics, computer hardware/software, and statistics. A general clinical/ biomedical engineering course can be valuable if offered. But not everything you need to know is taught or discussed.

Check out my response to a similar inquiry at https://www.physicsforums.com/threads/how-is-medical-physics-compared-to-other-fields-of-physics.944454/page-2#post-5983664/
Thanks, gleem! I listed the differences between the "Physics Major" and the "Applied Physics Major" on Choppy's post. From both of your responses, it seems like that'd be the best route to take.

Question: Is there anything that you learned or a particular subfield that you found interesting during your time as a Medical Physicist and thought "Hey, that'd be interesting to be a part of!" or "I wish I'd known about that sooner!"?

I really appreciate your response.
 

Choppy

Science Advisor
Education Advisor
Insights Author
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I know my GPA isn't drop dead gorgeous, but I think it's enough to keep me competitive. I do have two years left so I know that I need to bring it up as much as possible as there's not much room to let it drop. What are your thoughts on that?
Definitely keep your GPA as high as you can, but don't sacrifice quality of courses for grade points.

Something else to consider it seeing if you can find out where grads of your current program, or the alternative programs that you're considering, have ended up. In general, I've found that grad students are pretty happy to correspond with undergrads from their program. They can tell you which courses were the most helpful and which to avoid.

Another, perhaps obvious, source of information on this is your academic advisor. That person should be able to tell you which path students who've gone into medical physics graduate programs have been most successful with.
 

gleem

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Is there anything that you learned or a particular subfield that you found interesting during your time as a Medical Physicist and thought "Hey, that'd be interesting to be a part of!" or "I wish I'd known about that sooner!"?
There is a lot more on the medical physicist's plate today than when I entered the field. So I basically grew up with the technology. More computer hardware and networking knowledge would have been useful. Learning on the job is part of the job which is squeezed in mostly on your own time. I found the preparation of a general physics undergraduate degree sufficient for the physics and math needs. My graduate work in experimental nuclear physics provided a great deal of practical knowledge. I had to learn anatomy and physiology and medical terminology on my own. You should be conversant in this to be able to better relate to the physicians. I would have appreciated a course in medical statistics though I got a handle on it on my own. But a lot you can only learn as your career develops e.g. learning your strengths and weakness, when to push back and when to retreat (know thyself), know when to seek help; it can save a lot of time and help you from embarrassing yourself. You should want to contribute to the advancement and well being of your institution but that can only happen if you are respected and your views sought after so establish report . Avoid alienating yourself if possible. Establish relationships with fellow medical physicists to "bounce off" issues you have so as to get an different perspective.

You have had two people who have provide you with slightly different prospective for a professional medical physicist. There is another and that is as a consulting medical physicist or as a member of a consultation group. Here you may have much less contact with clients. You deliver medical physics as a service as you would any business.

You notice that I am emphasizing people skills, it really is important and not often emphasized. They cannot teach these skills, they are learned by trial and error and you hope that the error part will not be a big mistake.

I have had many hours of patient exposure, treating their sleep disorders, and training and leadership experience.
Hone your leadership skills Sometimes you will be leading from behind.
 

berkeman

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really enjoy working with patients, treating their sleep disorders, and, essentially, enjoy the healthcare field as a whole.
Good for you. It's great that you have found that you really enjoy patient contacts, and are able to direct your career path to head more in that direction. :smile:
 
Definitely keep your GPA as high as you can, but don't sacrifice quality of courses for grade points.

Something else to consider it seeing if you can find out where grads of your current program, or the alternative programs that you're considering, have ended up. In general, I've found that grad students are pretty happy to correspond with undergrads from their program. They can tell you which courses were the most helpful and which to avoid.

Another, perhaps obvious, source of information on this is your academic advisor. That person should be able to tell you which path students who've gone into medical physics graduate programs have been most successful with.
Thanks, Choppy. Appreciate it.
 
There is a lot more on the medical physicist's plate today than when I entered the field. So I basically grew up with the technology. More computer hardware and networking knowledge would have been useful. Learning on the job is part of the job which is squeezed in mostly on your own time. I found the preparation of a general physics undergraduate degree sufficient for the physics and math needs. My graduate work in experimental nuclear physics provided a great deal of practical knowledge. I had to learn anatomy and physiology and medical terminology on my own. You should be conversant in this to be able to better relate to the physicians. I would have appreciated a course in medical statistics though I got a handle on it on my own. But a lot you can only learn as your career develops e.g. learning your strengths and weakness, when to push back and when to retreat (know thyself), know when to seek help; it can save a lot of time and help you from embarrassing yourself. You should want to contribute to the advancement and well being of your institution but that can only happen if you are respected and your views sought after so establish report . Avoid alienating yourself if possible. Establish relationships with fellow medical physicists to "bounce off" issues you have so as to get an different perspective.

You have had two people who have provide you with slightly different prospective for a professional medical physicist. There is another and that is as a consulting medical physicist or as a member of a consultation group. Here you may have much less contact with clients. You deliver medical physics as a service as you would any business.

You notice that I am emphasizing people skills, it really is important and not often emphasized. They cannot teach these skills, they are learned by trial and error and you hope that the error part will not be a big mistake.



Hone your leadership skills Sometimes you will be leading from behind.
Thank, Gleem. I appreciate your insight. I'll continually refer to my wee thread here. Have a great New Years.
 
I'm in Health Physics but my degree is Radiological Health Science. The program had classes in health physics and medical physics. I just geared more towards Health Physics to work in nuclear power whereas much of my classmates were geared towards medical physics.

I support Choppy's response. Medical physics requires an understanding of biology, chemistry and anatomy because you're looking at the radiological impact on living tissues. So if you dont yet have those classes then focusing some electives on biology, anatomy and chemistry type classes would be very helpful for you. But you should always focus your work on your current degree.
 
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My university offers a degree in Medical Physics - see here: https://ugradcalendar.uwaterloo.ca/page/SCI-Honours-Life-Physics-Medical-Physics. For various reasons I think I can provide you with some insight. Many med phys students get out-competed for internships by regular physics students because medical physics students often take the "easier" or non-major versions of some courses, and often miss many of the physics essentials (like quantum 2, electricity and magnetism 2, classical mechanics, and stat mech). You should put work into developing your skills with programming, mathematics, and electronics.

Here are the major requirements:

Math: Calculus 1 to 3, Differential Equations (I would also take linear algebra 1 at the very least, if not an extra course or two of math methods).

Physics: General physics 1 and 2, Modern Physics, Electricity and Magnetism (non-major version), Quantum Physics (non-major version), Optics, Thermodynamics, and a bunch of extra courses specifically geared towards biophysics (molecular and cellular biophysics, medical biophysics, imaging physics, radiotherapy physics, and special topics in life physics) + LABS. I would take the full E&M and Quantum course sequences though, because they are prereqs for grad school if you choose to do that later.

Chemistry: General chemistry 1 and 2, Biochemistry, Organic Chemistry 1 + LABS. Organic chem 2 is a prerequisite for med school if you're thinking about that

Biology: Cell biology, genetics, physiology 1 and 2

The school's recommended electives include computational physics 1 and 2, electronics, measurement and control, metabolism 1, and anatomy.

I would also personally recommend a molecular biology course and more math and physics in your electives (provided those aren't taken up by gen-eds). In this schedule you have room for 11 elective courses, which I would use to take quantum physics 2, electricity and magnetism 2, statistical mechanics, and classical mechanics (as these are all requirements for any physics graduate school). My school also offers two math methods courses which I would take as well (it's hard to be a good physics major without taking math past a 3rd semester level).
 
My university offers a degree in Medical Physics - see here: https://ugradcalendar.uwaterloo.ca/page/SCI-Honours-Life-Physics-Medical-Physics. For various reasons I think I can provide you with some insight. Many med phys students get out-competed for internships by regular physics students because medical physics students often take the "easier" or non-major versions of some courses, and often miss many of the physics essentials (like quantum 2, electricity and magnetism 2, classical mechanics, and stat mech). You should put work into developing your skills with programming, mathematics, and electronics.

Here are the major requirements:

Math: Calculus 1 to 3, Differential Equations (I would also take linear algebra 1 at the very least, if not an extra course or two of math methods).

Physics: General physics 1 and 2, Modern Physics, Electricity and Magnetism (non-major version), Quantum Physics (non-major version), Optics, Thermodynamics, and a bunch of extra courses specifically geared towards biophysics (molecular and cellular biophysics, medical biophysics, imaging physics, radiotherapy physics, and special topics in life physics) + LABS. I would take the full E&M and Quantum course sequences though, because they are prereqs for grad school if you choose to do that later.

Chemistry: General chemistry 1 and 2, Biochemistry, Organic Chemistry 1 + LABS. Organic chem 2 is a prerequisite for med school if you're thinking about that

Biology: Cell biology, genetics, physiology 1 and 2

The school's recommended electives include computational physics 1 and 2, electronics, measurement and control, metabolism 1, and anatomy.

I would also personally recommend a molecular biology course and more math and physics in your electives (provided those aren't taken up by gen-eds). In this schedule you have room for 11 elective courses, which I would use to take quantum physics 2, electricity and magnetism 2, statistical mechanics, and classical mechanics (as these are all requirements for any physics graduate school). My school also offers two math methods courses which I would take as well (it's hard to be a good physics major without taking math past a 3rd semester level).
I listed the Theoretical Physics Major vs the Applied Physics Major above in my response to Choppy's post. I do worry about missing out on the classical physics I & II (Mechanics and E&M) and the other courses required by the theoretical focus. I do need to speak with my advisor as to which route has placed those students who have gone on to medical physics in the best position, but I have a funny feeling it'll still be the theoretical focus. But perhaps not.

One area that I've noticed I'm lacking in (severely) is programming. I really need to put some time and effort into building a good foundation.

Thank you for your reply. Much to consider!
 

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