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Physics Shadowing a Medical Physicist

  1. Jun 20, 2016 #1

    I've recently graduated with a BS degree in applied physics and I'm interested in pursing medical physics. I'm currently looking for medical physicists to shadow and I haven't been able to find any. I know that hospitals that have radiology oncology departments are likely to employ physicists. My problem is that I cannot find their contact information. The hospitals/clinics that I've looked into only post the radiologists' contact information, which makes sense because most people that look up hospitals/clinics are looking for a radiologist, not a medical physicist. My questions are: how do I get in contact with the medical physicists? Should I contact the doctors/radiologist and ask them if they can get me in touch with a physicist?

    Any kind of help is truly appreciated.

    Also, what's it like to shadow a medical physicist? What should I expect? I'm aware that no two shadowing experiences are the same, but I'm interested in what people have gone through. Thanks!
  2. jcsd
  3. Jun 20, 2016 #2


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    Hi Tenel,

    You could try a more academic route. Are there any graduate programs in medical physics near where you are? They might be a little more open to having a student come in and check out their program, and have contacts with clinical physicists in the area.

    Another option is to become a student member of the American Association of Physicists in Medicine, and you would have access to their directory. I'm not sure if it's searchable by location, although I suppose you could download the PDF and search the text for cities accessible to you.

    You could also just try calling the hospitals and ask if there's a medical physics department or a medical physicist. In smaller places, the medical physicists are often under the umbrella of radiation oncology. (Note that it's not radiology. While there are medical physicists in diagnostic imaging, they are fewer and further between and most radiology departments will not have one on staff.)

    If you shadow a clinical physicist in radiation oncology, it's difficult to say exactly what you would see. They would likely show you a linear accelerator, and the various devices that are used for the quality control measurements that are performed on it (ion chambers, diode arrays, imaging phantoms, etc.). If there's one currently being repaired you might get to see the insides. They would probably take you through the CT simulator as well. In a larger department you might also see a PET scanner or an MRI. You could see a treatment plan being developed or assessed. Some physicists take part in brachytherapy or inter-operative radiation therapy procedures. I think it would be unlikely that a student would be allowed to see a surgical procedure like that, but not completely out of the question. They might show you other devices for measuring dose like TLDs or OSLDs or diodes, which can be placed on a patient's skin. The might go through some of the software used by the department too. You would most likely get an earful of whatever clinical projects are currently being worked on. Note that in some places, non-employees are not allowed to see patients or patient information to protect privacy, so you might not get to see too much unless you arrange something after clinical hours.
  4. Jun 21, 2016 #3
    Hi Choppy,

    Thanks for your response. That's a really good idea, I'm surprised I never never thought about looking into academic institutions. I guess I got a tunnel visioned.

    At some point, I'm going to have to call a few places, which is outside of my comfort zone. I don't consider myself to be a shy person, but cold calling a place and asking to speak to a medical physicist is something that I don't do everyday. Do you have any advice for this? I wouldn't want the person the person answering the phone to flat out reject me.

    Thanks again Choppy!
  5. Jun 21, 2016 #4


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    Sure, cold calling is a difficult thing to do. And a lot of medical physicists will be pretty busy during the day, so don't take it as impolite if they don't have time to talk to you in the moment. But one thing I've noticed is that people enjoy talking about themselves.

    I think your best approach would be to just tell the person you're talking to who you are and what you're trying to accomplish. You might start out with the fact that you're a student or a recent grad and you're just trying to get in touch with a medical physicist. You can leave your name and email or phone number with a secretary so that he or she can get back to you when it's convenient.
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