Switch after PhD from Nuclear to Medical Physics?

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  • Thread starter nikkilou
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I think after completing my PhD I want to make a switch to medical physics. With my background (described below) this shouldn't be too great of a switch. (I wish I had realized this sooner, as in undergrad I was thinking biomedical engineering, but found myself far more interested in the technology than the cells.)

I have recently completed my masters in Nuclear Engineering and have concurrently been working on my PhD in Engineering Physics with a minor in electronic materials (one of those programs where you "get your masters along the way"). I am ~2.5 years in, so roughly half way (yay!). My undergraduate education is applied physics with a minor in chemistry, and while no minor, a number of biology classes. After finishing school, and possibly a post-doc or other position for a few years, I plan (hope) to teach at a university. I've considered a number of interests that I have, but this seems to be the best (it's probably my second choice field, but with one of the better outlooks and more job availability in the midwest where I want to end up).

Having made this decision, I now have 2 thoughts:
  1. How can I make myself more appealing for a career in medical physics? (I am under the impression that to do clinical work you must do a ~2 year residency and from a technology/research end you can go without this. Also, I've focused on diagnostics, which will (hopefully) make me more appealing.)
  2. Should I complete my PhD in my program or switch now? (I like that things are a bit more open with my current degree, meaning I could go a handful of routes given job outlooks when I'm done. I also feel like I've invested a lot of time and hate to pointlessly throw it away if I can help it, unless of course it would add up to even more time by sticking with it.)

Please let me know your thoughts or if you or someone you know has done something similar. I know there's never certainties in life, but if I could have some confidence in this working out I think graduate school would be a little less stressful.


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  • #2
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Hi Nikkilou,

The name of the game in medical physics these days is certification. If you seriously want to work in the field that should be what you're aiming for - either through the ABR (US) or CCPM (Canada) - I'm not sure about the governing bodies elsewhere. In order to get there you need to go through a residency for at least 2 years.

There are lots of little details in getting there too. For example the ABR by 2014 will require that you go through both a CAMPEP accredited gradaute program and a CAMPEP accredited residency.

If you're aiming for medical physics here's how things look:
1. Get into an accredited med phys PhD program. This avenue has the highest probability for getting into the field right now, but also requires the biggest shift for you.

2. Finish your current program and do a 1 year post-PhD CAMPEP program. There are a couple programs of this nature that allow you to complete the necessary course work and have that CAMPEP designation that will qualify you for the certification exams. The disadvantage is that these programs don't support you in any way that I'm aware of.

3. Finish your current program and try to get a position as a junior physicist that doesn't require certification. There are still medical physics positions that don't 'require' certification, but these are highly competative (and all medical physics positions are competative these days), and often the employers will end up going with certified candidates (or those on track to be certified) over those who aren't. It would also be difficult to move into another position once you got one.

If I were in your shoes, I would seriously look at transferring into a medical physics PhD program. Depending on the program and your project, there may be a small possibility of continuing on with your current project so that all your time in so far won't be lost. Also, if you've already passed your qualifying exam, that could potentially be waived for the PhD program as well (I wouldn't count on this, but it's worth looking into).

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