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Physics Medicial Physics

  1. Sep 13, 2009 #1
    Hey guys, I'm new here. I have pondering about doing a major in Applied Physics with a concentration on medical physics. But, I need an explanation for what medical physics is exactly. What is a common job for medical physicists to do? How do they use physics in their careers to solve problems? If you guys can help me answer these questions, that would be great! Thanks.
  2. jcsd
  3. Sep 13, 2009 #2


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    In it's broadest sense, medical physics is the direct application of physics to solve problems in medicine. In a more practical sense medical physicists generally work in the fields of radiation oncology, diagnostic imaging, nuclear medicine and radiation protection.

    Radiation oncology is generally the largest sub-field of medical physics. Here, on a clinical level, the physicist is responsible for the accurate, precise delivery of radiation to a patient in accordance with the prescription of a radiation oncologist. This can mean:
    - supervision of treatment planning,
    - commissioning treatment planning systems,
    - commissioning, calibrating, and supervising quality assurance programs for linear accelerators,
    - developing and monitoring planning procedures and protocols
    - ensuring facility and worker adherence with radiation safety laws and regulations
    - answering radiobiology questions to assist physicians with prescription decisions
    - general clinical problem solving that deals with issues like:
    - a patient with a pacemaker is going to receive a high dose of radiation within the next hour, what shielding is necessary to keep the pacemaker functioning?
    - your new treatment planning system seems to be predicting higher radiation doses to lung cancer patients than you were seeing before - what has changed?
    - the output on your linear accelerator is high, do you continue to treat patients?
    - your hospital is intalling a new radiation treatment unit, how much concrete is required in the walls to keep the public and worker exposures to safe levels?

    On top of this, many clinical physicists also have academic appointments. This means we do research and have teaching responsibilities. The kinds of problems we might look at for research include:
    - how do you accurately account for breathing or other motion when delivering radiation?
    - how do you incorporate data from multiple imaging modalities such as CT and PET into a treatment planning platform?
    - what are the biological consequences of new treatment approaches?
    - how can we improve our planning algorithms?
    - is there a cheaper, easier way to generate a proton beam?
    - how can you image and treat at the same time?

    If you want to know more, you may want to check out:
  4. Sep 23, 2009 #3
    Choppy pretty muched summed it up. I just wanted to through out there that there are 2 similar terms that some people do get mixed up.
    Medical Physics vs Health Physics

    Medical as Choppy said, you'd be working in and around hospitals.

    Health physics is more a general field where you deal with protection of health from radiation. So you might work for the EPA, a power company, any industrial company that uses/emits radiation. It is more of a 'regulatory' type job. But it is an interesting field.

    Just wanted to through that out there.
  5. Sep 24, 2009 #4
    The two previous posters summed it up pretty well. You should be aware that medical physics is a complete change of venue from ordinary physics. Read through Choppy's list of duties and you will find a medical physicist deals mostly with the technical aspects of linac commissioning or related engineering type problems.

    I encourage you to read through the posts on a previous medical physics thread on this site and also this one: http://www.physicsgre.com/viewtopic.php?f=3&t=2466
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