1. Limited time only! Sign up for a free 30min personal tutor trial with Chegg Tutors
    Dismiss Notice
Dismiss Notice
Join Physics Forums Today!
The friendliest, high quality science and math community on the planet! Everyone who loves science is here!

Other Second thoughts on Medical Physics PhD

  1. Jun 22, 2017 #1
    Hello all,

    So I am experiencing a major amount of doubt about going to my phd program. I am a recent MS physics graduate with a BS in physics as well. I recently accepted admissions to a very good medical physics program in the midwest and was granted a university fellowship for a year (or two). Although it is a great program, my first choice was a Phd program at UCLA. Mainly because I have lived in California my entire life and love being a few hours from family and friends.

    The seconds thoughts started to arise recently when I began to question if i would even like a med physics career. I find the field really interesting and important, but I don't know how satisfying a clinical med physicist job would be. I question if I will be spending 5 years in a foreign area on a phd for a career I do not like.

    Being 26 at the moment and I am considering brushing up on some programming and searching for an engineering job. However I am not sure if I will be selling myself short by giving up this opportunity. I do not want to make decisions out of fear, but I also fear that I may go and pursue a career that I am having second thoughts on.

    Is this sort of emotion normal to go through?
    Should i consider this doubt a sign that it is not for me?
    Would a route in engineering be limited by not having an engineering degree
  2. jcsd
  3. Jun 22, 2017 #2


    User Avatar
    Science Advisor
    Education Advisor

    I think it's fairly normal to experience some doubt before taking a major step like this. A PhD is a massive commitment and comes with tremendous opportunity cost. And as with any career field, it's difficult to really know whether you like it until you jump in and start doing it.

    What is it about clinical medical physics that you think you won't like?
  4. Jun 23, 2017 #3
    As Choppy said making a big career decision or commitment may involve some anxiety. But go back to the original reason(s) that you thought medical physics would be a good career choice before making a final decision. Your disappointment in not getting your first choice and being for the first time(?) away from your family/friends may be the driving force for your questioning your suitability for medical physics or vice versa . There are great places outside California and there will be new/good friends too.

    I once made an "emotional" decision to change graduate schools to be closer to my family. Let's say it may not have been my best decision although it did lead me to a fulfilling career in medical physics. I never returned to live near my family again even with opportunities.
  5. Jun 23, 2017 #4


    Staff: Mentor

    Here's some discussion on the job once you have a PhD:


    It looks like you have the opportunity to work with doctors and patients, design new medical equipment or teach others the field. That seems sufficiently broad covering a lot of experimental physics. Its not cosmology, but it does cover practical use of quantum mechanics, EM theory, electronics, programming and other interesting topics.
  6. Jun 23, 2017 #5
    To address Choppy:
    I have spend some time with a medical physicist at our local cancer center to help with the QA and monthly calibrations of some of the systems like the True beam and such. I found the task to be extremely mundane, and sort of mindless. I guess I am unaware of what tasks a medical physicist does during the day... or I should say I haven't actually witnessed it first hand.

    I'm considerably worried I may not feel fulfilled in a clinical setting after that volunteer work, but Im not sure if its just the nerves talking. I know if I go, I will be more than proficient in my classes and even if I don't like it, I will finish it.
    My alternative would be to apply for engineering jobs in the bay area.
  7. Jun 23, 2017 #6
    Since you were working with a medical physicist at a local cancer center, why didn't you find out more about the day-to-day life of a medical physicist before signing up for a PhD program in medical physics?
  8. Jun 23, 2017 #7
    The opportunity hadn't been available till after I had applied and been interviewed.
  9. Jun 23, 2017 #8
    OK. But since you now have a personal contact currently working in the field, why don't you ask him to show you what a complete regimen is like? Every job has its share of monotonous tasks. It's a question of what fraction of your work averaged over, say, a month is taken up by such tasks.
  10. Jun 24, 2017 #9


    User Avatar
    Science Advisor
    Education Advisor

    That's understandable. Medical Physics isn't for everyone. It's good that you're looking into it this much.

    Though for what it's worth, I rarely hear medical physicists complaining about how mundane the work is. (I realize that the sample of medical physicists would likely be biased in favour of the work they do.) But just like with any other job, you start out with the routine and mundane tasks. As a student and later as resident, routine quality control measurements will be your bread and butter. By the time you get through all the professional hoop jumping and are working as a full medical physicist though, you will likely have a lot more responsibility and complex problems to deal with. At minimum (assuming you get into radiation therapy physics) this includes figuring out what to do when a quality control measurement is out of tolerance or worse, what to do when a linac (or one of its systems) stops working altogether. The job also involves establishing the procedures for the quality control program and the tolerances in the first place. On top of that you'll do everything from commissioning new equipment (everything from an ion chamber up to a new linac), developing procedures for new treatment techniques, figuring out how to get data from one system into another system, you'll be the go-to person for questions about treatment planning or radiation safety, making sure that the treatment planning system is set up properly and dealing with all the one-off situations where it can't quite do the job you need it to do. And even if you do somehow manage to get bored with your clinical duties, there are some very simple solutions.
    1. Research Projects. Even as a lone physicist or part of a small, non-academic group there are a lot of opportunities to get involved in and even lead research projects. These can be entirely self-driven too. The only real limitation (which is admittedly a big one) is your time.
    2. Entrepreneurial Ventures. Not everyone who goes through a Medical Physics PhD ends up as a clinical Medical Physicist. A lot of PhD projects can involve development of some technology that can be commercialised and some schools will even have programs set up to help you do that.
    3. Professional Service. Organizations like the AAPM or COMP run by the sweat of volunteers. They organize conferences. seminars, summers schools. They set up task groups that review specific problems and establish guidelines for clinical operations.
    4. Check out: Medical Physics for World Benefit.
    The real roadblocks or signs that you might not be cut out for Medical Physics, in my experience, include:
    - A dislike for working with people. Medical Physicists have to work with a number of other professions as well as coordinate with other Medical Physicists. If you're the type of person that would prefer to be locked in a closet working on a specific problem without interruption, this might not be the field for you.
    - An inability to integrate information into a bigger operational picture. Some people are very good at doing what they do, but don't like bothering to learn about what others are doing and how everything synthesizes into a larger operations. A Medical Physicist needs to be a jack of many trades.
    - An inability to prioritize tasks. Every day in this profession comes with work on long term projects interrupted with immediate short-term taskings or emergencies that demand attention - sometimes many at once. Some people have a hard time establishing priorities.
    - A dislike for a hospital environment. While Medical Physicist rarely consult directly with patients, we do interact with them and we're surrounded by them. Some people just don't like this.
    - Trouble dealing with stress. Medical Physics is an extremely stressful profession in my experience.
Share this great discussion with others via Reddit, Google+, Twitter, or Facebook

Have something to add?
Draft saved Draft deleted