clinical medical physics

Non-Clinical Career Blog Series #2/7: Non-Clinical Careers in Industry

Industry careers combine the knowledge of modern health-care delivery with scientific research, product development, and experimental design. Jobs are often in one of three primary areas: research and development, sales, or customer support. Research and development physicists create new and innovative products and may work at a managerial or individual product level. Sales people assist customers in acquiring the best products to address their needs and communicate unmet customer needs to their employer. Customer support physicists are involved in installation, training, and troubleshooting clinical devices.

The skill set needed within the medical industry, although sharing many similarities to medical physics education, requires a greater focus on specific areas to make a candidate more desirable to an industrial corporation. Physicists pursuing careers in medical industry need to understand physics, software development, and clinical implementation, which are essential to producing a safe, quality, and reliable product. More specifically, the ability to work fluently with open-source computer programming languages (Python, Ruby, Javascript) and relate it to clinical applications is a skill highly sought after by industrial employers. Analytical skills, along with a working knowledge of statistically related concepts such as Failure Mode Effects Analysis (FMEA) and Statistical Process Control (SPC), are also valuable. For employment directly related to research and development, a working knowledge of the regulatory standards governing medical equipment is important; specifically, knowledge of guidance documentation produced by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC). The most desirable soft skills are the ability to present and communicate effectively, the capacity to work well as a member of a functioning team, and a knowledge of basic finance to aid in product decision making [1].

To gain employment within an industrial setting, it is important to have completed at least one large, comprehensive scientific project. Ideally, the project will be related to the clinical health care environment, employ the use of quantitative data to determine a result, and answer a clearly defined objective at the completion of the project. The use of computer programming within a research project is desirable. In many instances, research projects completed to satisfy the requirements of a master’s or doctoral degree will meet these criteria, although it may be advantageous to demonstrate a repertoire of completed projects.

Opportunities to sample a career in industry can be found in the form of internships as several large radiation oncology and medical imaging companies offer paid internships for students. While many industry careers do not require a doctoral degree, it is regarded highly by many industrial employers. Board certification is often not required, but demonstrable clinical experience can be an advantage. Participating in a clinical internship often provided by medical physics graduate programs is a great way to satisfy this requirement. Research scientists in industry also often need to be conversant with methods involved in conducting clinical trials.

An alternative pathway from graduate studies to industry is the I-Corps program offered by both the National Institutes of Health (NIH) [2] and the National Science Foundation (NSF) [3]. This program seeks to commercialize promising academic research and give academic researchers valuable entrepreneurial experience. Additionally, the NIH offers seed funding mechanisms such as the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) that allow graduate students to perform collaborative research with industry during graduate school [4].

The salaries of industrial career physicists approach that of clinical physicists. The average self-reported salary of physicists working in industry range from $132,700 for uncertified physicists with a master’s degree (median 17 years of experience) to $222,400 for board-certified physicists with a doctoral degree (median 15 years of experience) based on the 2017 AAPM Professional Survey Report [5].

References:

[1] Unpublished WGNCMP interviews conducted with professionals having experience with non-clinical careers.
[2] https://sbir.cancer.gov/programseducation/icorps
[3] https://www.nsf.gov/news/special_reports/i-corps/
[4] https://sbir.cancer.gov/funding/opportunities/SBIR-STTR-omnibus-solicitation
[5] AAPM (2018). Professional Survey Report Calendar Year 2017. https://www.aapm.org/AAPMUtilities/download.asp?file=surveys/AAPM-Salary17.pdf

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