Masters or PhD in Medical Physics??

kbk5033
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Masters or PhD in Medical Physics??

Postby kbk5033 » Mon Oct 01, 2012 4:01 pm

I am currently a Nuclear Engineering Masters student planning to graduate in May 2013. I am now applying to both Masters and PhD Medical Physics programs, however I am not exactly sure which route to take. Is it worth going for the PhD if I plan to do clinical work in hospitals? Prestigious schools, such as Columbia and UPenn, only have Masters programs which makes me question the necessity of a PhD if you do not plan on doing research all your life. Also, could someone in the field also explain the demand for/responsibilities of the different specialties (i.e. nuclear medicine, diagnostic imaging, radiation oncology, medical health physics)?

Thanks a bunch!

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twistor
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Re: Masters or PhD in Medical Physics??

Postby twistor » Tue Oct 02, 2012 8:56 am

A Ph.D. is still useful for clinical work if you are willing to put in the time commitment it takes to attain it. That's because clinical physicists with Ph.D.'s have more upward mobility and will tend to get better salaries than their peers with masters degrees only. You can check out the AAPM website for some stats on medical physics jobs.

That being said, a Ph.D. certainly isn't necessary to get involved in clinical physics. However, keep in mind that while a Ph.D. is almost always funded by the department a masters degree will require you to take out some significant loans unless you happen to be independently wealthy.

There is little demand for physicists in nuclear medicine and diagnostic imaging. I don't know about health physics but it's probably a bit better. Radiation oncology has the most demand..

As far as responsibilities diagnostic imaging physicists typically work to keep machines up to standards by performing QA (quality assessment), contacting vendors when there's an issue and basically doing a whole lot of mundane maintenance tasks like calibrating the non-linearity corrections tables on a gamma camera. In nuclear medicine those responsibilities my be extended to calculating doses for nuclear medicine treatments such as I-131 ablation or the FDG dosages for PET scans. Because there isn't much to do in these areas there are very few positions that are 100% clinical in these areas. In universities you will typically find that diagnostic physicists are 40% clinical and 60% research and there is only one of them.

Medical health physicists jobs vary a bit more if I remember correctly. They can range from calculating the thickness of the walls necessary to block out a certain amount of radiation when facilities like radation therapy wings of hospitals are designed to measuring radiation levels around nuclear power plants to overseeing radiation workers and monitoring their doses by issuing personal dosimeters.

Medical physicists working in radiation therapy (clinical medical physicists) oversee treatment planning (which is typically done by dosimetrists), calibrate and commission LINACs, perform QA, possibly calibrate, monitor and issue dosimeters.

kbk5033
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Joined: Mon Oct 01, 2012 3:50 pm

Re: Masters or PhD in Medical Physics??

Postby kbk5033 » Tue Oct 02, 2012 10:37 am

Wow, I truly appreciate your response. Are you currently a medical physicist in the field? If you are, would you recommend med physics as a good career to pursue?

From what you said and from the research I have done, it seems like radiation therapy is the way to go. I noticed that there are about 6 times more accredited residency programs available for therapy compared to diagnostics...Now I know why. I have applied to both PhD and Masters programs, so I guess it will come down to which schools I can get in to.

Also, I have looked at job openings and noticed that they require a minimum of a Masters degree with at least 3 years experience. Not sure if those requirements will be changing in a few years, but I figured it may be wiser to get my schooling and clinicals done asap so I can start gaining experience in the field. Thoughts?

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twistor
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Re: Masters or PhD in Medical Physics??

Postby twistor » Tue Oct 02, 2012 11:43 am

I am currently a graduate student in the field. As for my recommendation, please read the following thread: viewtopic.php?f=3&t=2466

I'm not really involved in therapy. If you are interested in therapy make sure that no matter what school you go to it has a strong therapy related track. Talk to current graduate students. Find out how many of them got actual clinical experience. If the program advertises that you can do research in radiation oncology but all the funding is being used by current graduate students then it really does you no good. One thing I learned is that programs are not always honest in what they advertise.




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