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Should I pursue Medical Physics?

  1. Nov 23, 2012 #1
    I am at an ABET accredited school studying Radiological Health Engineering(Nuclear) and I was thinking of applying to grad school for a MS in Medical Physics. I have read that in 2014 to become certified you will have had to complete residency and getting into those CAMPEP programs is VERY competitive and the field is also saturated. So if I get into a graduate program and do not get into a residency program what are my options?

    Will I be better off to choose another career, if so are there any suggestions as what else I could do with my BS in the medical field? I was looking into Dosimetry I saw you can get certified after a one year program, anyone who works in this field please give me your opinion about your job (outlook, responsibilities, etc).

    I don't want to pursue MP if my chances of actually becoming a MP are as slim as I have read.
  2. jcsd
  3. Nov 23, 2012 #2


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    For what it's worth the residency bottleneck is widening in my opinion. The last time I saw the AAPM's blue book pages (medical physics jobs) there were around 25 openly advertised residency positions, which is massively up from the two to four per month that I was used to seeing. There has been a big push to accredit residency positions that previously weren't so as to avoid losing any good people from getting into the field.

    That's not to say it still won't be competative. It will be. But then again, so is just about every other field that pays well.

    What other options would you have if the residency doesn't work out? I've seen a number of young people go to work for commercial companies in the field. There are the big ones like Varian, Siemens, Electa, etc., but there are also a lot of smaller companies that write software, build phantoms or ion chambers or imobilization devices, etc. Fresh physics graduates can work in product development and research, technical sales, educational or technical support positions. Other graduates get work as physics assistants for a while. And some will go into radiation protection. Some will even take what they've learned and take advantage of various university initiatives to start their own businesses. Others stay on for a PhD if they can't get something with just an MSc. I don't know if that's a good thing or not.

    Apparently there are people training as dosimetrists now without (as has traditionally been the case) having been therapists first. I would think that they would have a hard time getting jobs over people with radiation therapy backgrounds, but that's just my opinion.

    I would like to tell you that on top of all of this you also have that fact that you've earned a graduate degree in physics, which is marketable in it's own right. But the amount of non-medically oriented physics that is covered can vary considerably from program to program.

    Of course no one wants to chase down a dead horse. I have heard rumour that CAMPEP is soon going to require that all accredited institutions openly publish statistics on where graduates are ending up. I don't know how soon - maybe within the year - it's just a rumour to my knowledge. But at least that will give prospective students such as yourself some actual data to go by rather than the posts of a few disgruntled students.
  4. Nov 23, 2012 #3
    Thanks for your post.

    Also do you know what are the chances of getting into a residency program with a MS compared to someone who has a PhD. I have read, don't know if it true, that more residency programs are accepting(or prefer) more PhD students than MS. Although I have seen that MS is better suited for clinical experience. Could you share your thoughts? Will it soon be necessary to have PhD to have a realistic chance of getting into a residency program?
  5. Nov 24, 2012 #4


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    PhD graduates tend to be a lot more competative for residency positions - at least in the more academically oriented centres. Often this is because these centres are looking for a tradeoff. In exchange for teaching clinical skills, they get to have research projects pushed forward. Further to that, you have a student with a few more years of experience. Usuall they've done a little more QA and taken part in a clinical project or two by the time they graduate. So when given the choice, most centres will go with a PhD over an MSc.

    I think this is changing though. CAMPEP apprears to be making an effort to accredit programs at smaller, clinically-oriented centres and some of these, I believe, may actually favour (or at least consider equally) MSc grads. One reason for this is because they're looking for people willing to carry a heavy clinical workload. At smaller centres research exerperience can sometimes be seen as a disadvantage, because they don't want a candidate who's going to do the minimum clinical work necessary to keep his or her job while spending most time writing grant proposals or running Monte Carlo simulations.

    Having the MSc doesn't necessarily mean that a candidate is more clinically oriented though. There are a lot of PhDs who go on to become primarily clinical physicists. Conversely, there are a lot of MScs who go on to do lots of research.

    From what I've observed over the last several year - and I don't have any data to back it up, and I am coming from a Canadian institution - is that MSc graduates who really want to just get out and work have been able to find it. They just haven't neessarily gone to their first choice of location.
  6. Nov 24, 2012 #5
    I live in Texas so it is necessary to be licensed, could you then find a job if you are licensed(if the state requires it) but not board certified? If so would you still need to do residency or just start working after obtaining degree?
  7. Nov 24, 2012 #6
    Also it says for here in Texas that board certification is not required, I'm guessing that is to obtain a license.
  8. Nov 25, 2012 #7
    Hi a15m,

    The experience/education requirements for obtaining a medical physics license in Texas are as follows:

    (1) A master's degree or doctoral degree from an accredited college or university with a major course of study in physics, medical physics, biophysics, radiological physics, or medical health physics
    (2) Completion of at least 2 years of full-time work experience in a specialty area
    (3) Successful completion of an examination approved by the Board
    (4) Three professional references: two medical physicists and on physician practicing in the specialty area.

    Of particular interest to you is point (3). In order to obtain a license you must be certified by an approved board. The list of approved boards can be found in Texas Administrative Code 22.26.601.8(d). It appears that board certification is required to obtain a full license according to Texas law, or at least from the wording you must complete the Part II exam in your specialty.

    Since you will not satisfy these requirements immediately, you can apply for a temporary license, which will allow you to work under the supervision of a licensed medical physicist. I would carefully review the requirements for obtaining and maintaining a temporary license.

    If you want to become a clinical medical physicist, board certification is essential. If you want to be certified by the American Board of Radiology then you will have to complete a CAMPEP-accredited clinical residency after the 2014 requirements become effective.

    Many employers require board certification before they will even review your application. Those that are willing to hire non-certified physicists do so with the understanding that you will become certified in a reasonable time-frame (2-3 years).

    If you want to become a clinical medical physicist in the United States then your path is essentially going to be: completion of a CAMPEP-accredited graduate program, completion of a CAMPEP-accredited medical physics residency, and pursuit of certification by the American Board of Radiology.

    The CAMPEP-accredited graduate program may be an M.S. program or a Ph.D. program, depending on your preference and career goals. As Choppy said, applicants holding a Ph.D. tend to fare better than their M.S. counterparts in academic programs. That is not to say that an M.S. applicant will be out of luck, as I personally know 6 former classmates who graduated with an M.S. and were offered residency positions at a variety of places (Ohio State University, University of Kentucky, M.D. Anderson Cancer Center, University of Louisville, Global Physics Solutions, and others I believe).

    Medical dosimetry is also a great field and can provide you with a satisfying career. The work is interesting, though more limited in scope than medical physics. Most dosimetrists are responsible only for radiotherapy treatment planning, but there are some who also have more robust careers performing and publishing research and serving on various committees (such as those affiliated with the American Association of Medical Dosimetrists). However, you should be aware that the field of medical dosimetry has its own certification pathways that you would have to familiarize yourself with, as certification will be very important for making yourself competitive in that job market as well.

    If you have any questions feel free to continue posting them here. Good luck!
  9. Nov 26, 2012 #8
    Thanks for the info. Your posts always enlightens me
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