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Physics What do most do with a M.S. in Medical Physics?

  1. Jun 15, 2012 #1
    What do most people do with a M.S. in Medical Physics? Thanks

    From the AAPM, this is a very general definition:
    But, specifically, what do most medical physicists do? Thanks

    UPDATE: I found a pretty good description on the AAPM website:
    Last edited: Jun 15, 2012
  2. jcsd
  3. Jun 15, 2012 #2
    Most of us do radiation oncology and a bit of diagnostic radiology physics on the side, if they have the ABR certification for it. The money is in the radiology oncology physics, as far as staff positions go. The AAPM description is pretty good, but I'd suggest checking into ghosting a medical physicist for a day. Sometimes the written descriptions can be a bit more grandiose than the day-to-day work actually encompasses. It is good work, and satisfying to help people, even the ones you are only relieving pain while they are on the way out. Stress can be significant, as we are often in solo positions, and what we do is absolutely critical in determining whether the patient is helped or hurt from treatment.
  4. Jun 15, 2012 #3


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    I agree with Think Today in that one of the best ways to find out what a medical physicist does is to get into a clinic and talk to a few of them.

    It might be worth menioning that MSc-level physicists "tend" to be more clinicaly oriented and less research oriented. That's not to say they don't do research - many MSc level physicists have made huge contributions to the field.

    Clinical work in the radiation oncology branch involves a lot of plan checking, consulting on difficult plans, making quality assurance measurements and oversight of a large-scale quality assurance program, commissioning new equipment, developing new treatment or imaging approaches, writing procedures, radiation safety work, medical device network administration and investigating problems that come up. The medical physicist is usually the "go to" person when a problem comes up. These problems can be anything from a treatment plan not loading properly into your treatment system, to figuring out whether a patient's pacemaker is going to exceed its dose tolerance, to planning the thickness of concrete walls needed in new bunker, to developing your own in-house algorithm for deformable image registration.
  5. Jun 16, 2012 #4
    Would a Medical Physicist who only wanted to do diagnostic work and little or no "radiation therapy" type work be able to find a job? When I was researching Med Phys master's programs, I saw some schools that offered specializations in "diagnostic", "oncology" and "nuclear medicine" and I'm just wondering if choosing one specialization or another really has that much influence on what kind of work you will do. Personally, I am most interested in the diagnostics and would not want to specialize in diagnostics just to only be able to find oncology jobs.
  6. Jun 16, 2012 #5


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    Therapy physicists account for roughly 80% of medical physicists - going by AAPM numbers. So that's why you will generally find more information relevant to therapy. An likely if you're looking for an imaging position, you'll see than at a rate of about one for every four therapy positions.

    A good medical physics program will give you enough background to be able to go into either branch at your time of graduation. Obviously some programs are very therapy oriented, but even these need to cover some imaging. Therapy physicists do a lot of imaging work these days.

    No one can say definatively whether you'll be able to get a job when you graduate, but diagnostic imaging jobs are out there and anecdotally, people that could do either seem to shy away from them.
  7. Jun 16, 2012 #6
    Thank you very much for the information, this helps clear things up a lot. But I do wonder, anecdotally, why people would shy way from the imaging jobs, especially considering that they are much less common. If I had to guess, lower paying or more stressful/difficult or unstable job security, compared to the guaranteed influx of cancer patients.
  8. Jun 16, 2012 #7


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    I suspect it has more to do with the jobs being very heavy on the imaging QA. I could be wrong though.
  9. Jun 17, 2012 #8
    Several reasons. Positions aren't as many because a diagnostic medical physicist is "overhead". Unlike therapy, where most of what we do generates money, that's just not the case in diagnostic. Yes, we provide better imaging support, save them money by not having to contract out annual services/reviews, shielding for new rooms, dose assessments on pregnant patients, etc. We also satisfy some quality standards that may have been committed to for an accreditation and provide useful services which may prevent a legal action, but it's hard to put a dollar value on what "doesn't go wrong" with us there doing what we do. Generally, major institutions, especially with multiple imaging sites, will hire a diagnostic physicist. Most facilities do what mine does, contract a physicist, on as needed basis from a larger company that specializes in diagnostic radiology physics. You get the quality work when needed without the "overhead" of a staff position.

    Pay and stress are lower for diagnostics. Additionally, the radiation doses therapy physicists deal with get respect, attention and the Rad Onc types give us some slack we say "no" or "I need more time to look at the case". In my experience, diagnostic radiologists, cardiologists, orthopedics, etc. (especially the older ones) see diagnostic x-rays like a plumber with a flashlight. e.g. turn it on as long as I need. Some view "medical radiation" exposure as "different"; like it doesn't count. Monitoring badges on docs, especially when they're in surgery without a badge and can't legal turn on the x-ray unit without one..... that's always a fun "discussion". I once shutdown a busy mammography practice that had only one film processor working, and it was way out of spec and needed major service. Their solution, use it anyway because the schedule was too full. They imaged the entire day violating operating procedures, MQSA certifications, etc., but, hey, they got the schedule done…. Idiots. When I did their State inspection I wrote them up for it too. That was good for making friends. That was years ago, and hopefully, things are better with the ACR and AAPM Image Gently, etc. initiatives.

    An additional option, if you’re interested in diagnostic imaging is to work for a company like GE Medical, Philips Medical, Siemens Medical, etc. in areas of development, client installation and training, etc. IMO, the best bet would be to join a diagnostic physics group for and see how you like it. Consulting means a lot of running around though.
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