In the field of medical physics, it might seem that a clinical position is the only option. However, medical physicists play significant roles outside of the hospital. Along with an excellent understanding of radiation physics, medical physics training provides one with the ability to analyze systems and provide effective troubleshooting, which is why a medical physicist can be successful in many fields.
On that note, we’ve briefly interviewed three medical physicists who have achieved success and satisfaction in entrepreneurship, in a state regulatory body, and in academia.
Question: Who is your current employer and what is your position?
Mobius Medical Systems, LP, Founder.
Agreement State Radioactive Materials Program Manager
I am a faculty member at an academic medical center. My primary responsibilities are research and teaching; I have a little bit of clinical responsibilities. I supervise graduate students and postdocs.
Question: What attracted you to your current position? What advantages have kept you in that role?
The ability to design products used at thousands of clinics, rather than a handful of clinics. I couldn’t get out now if I tried =).
At first, it was a matter of job availability. When I finished my masters in medical physics I was faced with a limited choice of accredited residencies.
Another thing that attracted me was the challenges involved. As an inspector you need to work with a wide variety of individuals ranging from construction personnel, to engineers, to doctors, and conventionally careered medical physicists. Working alongside this dynamic group to promote radiation safety and compliance is never the same and is always gratifying.
Regulators need to stay on top of the latest technologies to know what is being licensed and how it should be utilized. No two days have been the same for me since I started nearly a year ago now and I’ve learned a great deal beyond my medical physics and nuclear engineering backgrounds.
A major tradeoff though is that a clinical medical physicist will make more money; however, the lifestyle of being a state or federal employee will likely keep me in my role for some time to come.
There are many attractions – I get to work with incredibly bright and incredibly talented colleagues, postdocs and graduate students. We have a tremendous amount of autonomy in terms of the research that we perform and the specific topics that we investigate. The background that a medical physicist can provide in these research questions can be critical to successful research; the blend of basic understanding of the physical phenomena and the ability to interface with MDs is vital.
Question: Which other disciplines did you compete with for this position? What about your medical physics training gave you an advantage?
I only had to compete with my wife letting me start a business.
Most of the people that apply for state level radiation regulatory positions have a bachelor’s degree in a science or engineering field. Rarely these individuals have a background specific to radiation. During my last hiring I interviewed for three positions and had about forty applicants. Of those, only two had some radiation training. Having a medical physics degree will put you at the top of the list under categories such as education and experience.
Though my program licenses all uses of radioactive material (industrial, academic, medical, etc), the vast majority of our licensees are medicals. A background in medical physics prepares you for understanding of the theory for most procedures in the field as well as the biological and safety effects that they may induce. This gives a vast advantage over someone else who has no prior knowledge of radiation use and effects. On average it takes about two years for an inspector to become trained and qualified, but I would suspect most people with a medical physics background would have dramatically reduced qualification times.
Sometimes we compete with biomedical engineers for these positions, but the advantage that medical physicists often have is their fundamental understanding of the underlying physics of the problem at hand – such as the physics of image formation processes (x-ray interactions with tissue, MR signal formation, etc.). Engineers sometimes have to treat the imaging device as a black box and just accept what comes out of it; while physicists can often times open the black box and try to manipulate or control what comes out of it.
Question: How can current medical physics students prepare for a position like yours?
I don’t recommend founding a new company, but in general those interested in product design should become familiar with programming (whether or not they will be a programmer) and really pay attention to how users interact with products (what confuses them, what they inherently understand, what their needs are, etc.).
My weakest knowledge area when starting with the state was the regulations, plain and simple. I was given a brief overview of some regulatory references during my education, but not near enough. I’m still learning some of the finer details to this day. I would recommend someone become very familiar with title 10 of the Code of Federal Regulations (10 CFR) which maintains all of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s rules.The rest of your training will set you up more than well enough for success.
Getting a PhD in medical physics is essentially required if you want to do research, but the biggest requirement is to keep asking questions. Be persistent (and sometimes stubborn) and don’t always accept the standard answers. It is ok to ask why we do things a certain way – and why not another way.
Next Post: DMP? Master’s? Ph.D? Which path should I take?
Although each path is dependent on one’s individual goals, many students worry about which degree will provide them with a competitive advantage. In our next post, we will present information and discuss the pros and cons of the Professional Doctorate in Medical Physics, Masters and Ph.D degrees.