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Physics Working in nanotech/biotech and interacting with patients?

  • Thread starter Dishsoap
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So, here's my incredibly naive question. I am entering graduate school in physics (not applied) and I have found a professor at my grad institution who does really fascinating work with nanotech, but is technically constrained under "experimental condensed matter".

My question is this... I really enjoy the concept of being able to help medical patients in some way using nanotech; the thought of meeting with a cancer patient to describe how something that I've developed will help him/her is what keeps me awake at night. However, I'm concerned that the work I'm heading into might be too far removed from "direct applications" that I may never have this opportunity. At the same time, I really don't want to attend medical school and become a doctor - I thrive on the physics much more than the biology of it all.

Is the field really such that I need to choose between research AND patient interaction, or can I have both?


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It's difficult to say that you would "never" get a chance to work with patients, but in my experience in medical physics (and I have been involved with some nanoparticle work), it's very rare for fundamental scientists to work directly with patients.

One of the main issues is that medical work is tightly regulated. So if you're part of a clinical trial, for example, a physician needs to be a primary investigator, and you would be involved in training nurses how to use whatever technology you're developing and then they will be the ones interacting with the patients because that's what their profession is all about. In fact as a physicist it would likely be rare that you would even have a lot of contact with animal models for pre-clinical studies - because there are usually technicians or bio-types who very specialized in that kind of work.

There are "clinician-scientists" who have more contact with patients. These would include medical physicists, clinical chemists, geneticists, etc. But often a lot of the work that this group does is behind the scenes - generating treatment plans, or conducting tests on patient samples.

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