Transitions into medical physics

Medical scientists shown working through an MRI

Scientists who moved from particle physics or astrophysics to medical physics sit down with Symmetry to speak about life, science and profession adjustments.

“I wasn’t a kind of individuals who grew up realizing that they needed to be a scientist,” says Jennifer Pursley. 

Pursley discovered her strategy to physics by enthusiastic and supportive instructors. She performed analysis in experimental atomic, nuclear and particle physics earlier than lastly discovering medical physics.

Medical physicists use their data of physics to develop and enhance medical diagnoses and coverings. Some medical physicists create higher and safer radiation therapies for most cancers sufferers, others extra correct imaging applied sciences. Some work solely in radiation safety as well being physicists, a occupation typically (however not all the time) distinguished from medical physics.

Many particle physicists and astrophysicists like Pursley have transitioned into medical physics, taking quite a lot of paths to get there. To be taught extra, Symmetry author Catherine Steffel spoke with 5 people, starting from these nonetheless in coaching to established professionals, who entered medical physics at totally different levels of their careers.

Hunter Stephens 

Present place: Medical physics PhD scholar at Duke College, Durham, North Carolina, United States

Training: BS in arithmetic from Tennessee Technological College; MS in theoretical particle astrophysics from North Carolina State College, each in the USA

12 months he entered medical physics: 2018

How he got here to medical physics: I completed my coursework and written PhD qualifying exams and was solely doing analysis once I thought, is analysis one thing I wish to do long-term? I began wanting into different choices. I had heard of medical physics, however I didn’t know what it was. I began speaking to individuals and assembly with individuals.

My predominant love continues to be analysis. I thought-about simply doing a certificates program and on the lookout for a residency, nevertheless it wasn’t going to price me a lot time to make the swap [to a medical physics PhD]. 

Present space of analysis: Optimization and quick photon dose calculations. 

Most shocking a part of the job: Seeing the broad attain of a subject that’s nearly unrecognized. I’m shocked that I didn’t hear about it earlier than. 

Whether or not he misses astrophysics: Positive, nevertheless it’s a kind of issues the place I do know I’m going to like both one, and I’d miss the opposite. 

Future plans: I plan to do a scientific residency and develop into board-certified. 

Recommendation for future medical physicists: Know your self effectively. In physics, it’s like the whole lot and everyone exterior is lower than. If you happen to actually take pleasure in one thing and also you see your self becoming in higher some place else, don’t let that stigma or what individuals assume change that.

Laza Rakotondravohitra

Present place: Radiation remedy resident at Duke College, Durham, North Carolina, United States

Training: MS in nuclear physics from College of Antananarivo in Madagascar; PhD in experimental particle physics at Fermi Nationwide Accelerator Laboratory in the USA; post-doctoral certificates in medical physics from Wayne State College in the USA

12 months he entered medical physics: 2016

How he got here to medical physics: Each two years, scientists from the US, Europe and Africa maintain the African Faculty of Physics, the place chosen college students from underdeveloped nations, akin to Madagascar, meet for a month of coaching. That’s how I found experimental particle physics and medical physics. 

Two years later, I obtained a suggestion for the Fermilab Worldwide Fellow Scholarship. I believed that I might swap to medical physics whereas doing experimental particle physics analysis, nevertheless it didn’t occur that manner. After I used to be accepted to the medical physics certificates program at Wayne State College, I did analysis at Henry Ford Well being System on the MRLinac whereas taking courses. Doing these concurrently made the transition comparatively straightforward. 

Most difficult a part of going into medical physics: As a world scholar, I had a number of questions and needed to second-guess the whole lot. I labored actually laborious to return to the US, and now I wish to share my expertise with my college students. Perhaps that saves them half a yr, you understand? 

Most rewarding a part of the job: I do the identical quantity of coding as I did in experimental physics, besides the enter knowledge and output purpose are totally different. It’s very rewarding as a result of I’m doing physics like I’ve completed all my life, however now somebody advantages instantly.

Future plans: Grow to be an ABR-certified tutorial scientific physicist. The extra time you spend within the clinic, the extra you wish to enhance issues, and enchancment requires analysis. I additionally wish to work along with individuals to carry medical physics to my nation, like I did with high-energy physics.

Recommendation for future medical physicists: Be ready to humble your self. Once I completed my PhD with my associates, they went into post-doc whereas I went again to class. Additionally, be affected person. If you wish to have a great future, it’s a must to put money into what you have got proper now.

Jennifer Pursley

Present place: Scientific and tutorial medical physicist at Massachusetts Basic Hospital, Boston, Massachusetts, United States

Training: BS in physics from Gonzaga College; MA and PhD in physics from Johns Hopkins College; postdoctoral analysis place on the College of Wisconsin-Madison; post-graduate certificates in medical physics and residency within the Harvard Medical Physics Residency Program, all in the USA

Different careers thought-about: Science and expertise coverage

12 months she entered medical physics: 2010

How she got here to medical physics: Going from particle physics to medical physics will not be as widespread because it was once. Now that we now have medical physics graduate applications, extra individuals shall be coming from that pathway. However my development since residency is fairly typical for an educational scientific physicist in the USA.

I did two summer season Analysis Experiences for Undergraduates applications, one in atomic and the opposite in nuclear physics. Job prospects pushed me to the factor that appeared most just like nuclear physics, which was particle physics. By the tip of my second yr of post-doc, I needed a job that was extra satisfying, within the sense of getting a direct affect. 

Most difficult a part of the job: Balancing tasks. It’s straightforward to let clinic take all your time as a result of it’s satisfying and there’s all the time one thing to do. I actually had to determine what I needed and the right way to steadiness scientific work and analysis. 

On the job: My scientific tasks have shifted. As a resident, I discovered the right way to do therapy planning and machine QA. As a junior physicist, I did that stuff. Now, I’m transferring right into a management, mentoring, and instructing function and spending extra time on analysis.

What she misses about particle physics: I miss having a giant, collaborative group. Medical physics analysis typically occurs in a vacuum, since each establishment has totally different software program environments and industrial merchandise. The sphere is beginning to notice this is a matter, however there’s an extended strategy to go.

On the way forward for the sector: Early on, analysis was primarily expertise improvement. Extra just lately, it’s software program pushed. Now, I see analysis moving into two instructions. There’s large knowledge, synthetic intelligence, and machine studying, which I feel will present some effectivity financial savings. There’s additionally radiation biology, which I’m most all for. Particularly, how will we personalize therapies, slightly than simply saying, “As a result of this works for most individuals, that’s what everybody will get”? Physicists can tease out data from knowledge we have already got. 

Recommendation for future medical physicists: Be sure to will take pleasure in no matter subject you go into. Discuss to people who find themselves within the subject, and in the event that they’re individuals who have come out of your present subject, even higher.

Ane Appelt

Present place: Educational and part-time scientific medical physicist at Leeds College, Leeds, England

Training & coaching: BS in physics from College of Southern Denmark; MS in elementary particle physics from College of Durham in England; PhD in medical physics and radiation oncology from College of Southern Denmark; postdoctoral analysis place at Rigshospitalet in Denmark and MD Anderson Most cancers Heart in the USA

Different careers thought-about: Science communication 

12 months she entered medical physics: 2009

How she got here to medical physics: My theoretical [particle physics] analysis—for long-baseline neutrino experiments—grew to become very demotivating as a result of no matter got here out of my undertaking, it might be a long time earlier than anyone constructed the experiments. I utilized to a few medical physics positions by probability, and I began doing analysis after I labored at a hospital in Denmark for about three months. 

In Denmark, you prepare for 3 years and full modules that mix self-study, on-the-job coaching, and official programs. A coaching supervisor indicators off in your progress reviews, that are then authorized by a central board. 

In distinction, coaching within the UK is straight related to the college with on-the-job coaching, modules, an MSc [master of science] undertaking, and a remaining evaluate [exam]. In each Denmark and the UK, we’re registered, not board-certified like within the US.

On the job: Clinically, I’m in radiotherapy therapy planning. From a analysis perspective, I’m all for decreasing and predicting unwanted effects of therapy. I additionally work on optimizing after we ship a second course of radiotherapy.

Similarities between particle and medical physics: You may have giant quantities of messy knowledge that you must clear and analyze. 

Most rewarding a part of the job: You get to make use of your high-level abilities, all of your mental capability, on one thing that issues. 

Most difficult a part of the job: As a result of I’m not a clinician, I’m all the time counting on different individuals, which is wonderful but in addition tremendous irritating at occasions. Generally I’m wondering if I can do an MD half time!

Magdalena Bazalova-Carter

Present place: Educational medical physicist at College of Victoria, BC, Canada

Training: MS (or BS, relying on who you speak to) in physics from the Czech Technical College; PhD from McGill College in Canada; postdoctoral analysis place at Stanford College in the USA

12 months she entered medical physics: 2005

How she got here to medical physics: I studied dosimetry slightly than medical physics in faculty in order that I might work at CERN. Once I moved to Canada, they might not acknowledge my MS diploma from the Czech Republic, so I took medical physics programs at McGill College. Then I went to the US, the place, once I was making use of for the scientific board examination, my MS from the Czech Republic was acknowledged! 

On the job: My best job can be a mixture of scientific and analysis, which is why I pursued board certification, however once I moved to Canada, I might solely do tutorial work and analysis due to my visa. After I obtained everlasting residency, I had my daughter and needed to spend time along with her. So, proper now, I don’t do scientific work or use my board certification.

I’m an assistant professor and a Canada Analysis Chair, which provides me a decreased instructing load. I supervise 4 graduate and two undergraduate college students in my lab, the X-ray Most cancers Imaging and Remedy Experimental (XCITE) lab, and I’m on too many committees. Saying “no” is more and more essential to me. 

Variations between particle and medical physics: I needed to depend on too many individuals to make progress on ATLAS, to the purpose the place I wasn’t certain I’d end my PhD. In medical physics, we’re the one ones answerable for a undertaking, and it’s on us whether or not or not we end. 

Most shocking a part of the job: The composition of convention attendees. I used to be used to being the one lady and one of many few younger individuals at conferences. Once I went to my first medical physics convention, the power was very totally different—there have been a number of younger individuals, a number of girls, and so they have been presenting.

Most rewarding a part of the job: Supervising college students. I graduated my first two college students this yr. 

One other rewarding a part of the job: Each new thought we now have is useful. It could be nice if extra individuals have been coming to medical physics from high-energy physics and fields like engineering. In Czech, we now have a saying that “the bread is not going to be cheaper.” A discovery or new therapy modality received’t make the bread cheaper, however you’ll be saving sufferers’ lives or bettering their high quality of life. 

Future plans: The minimal purpose I’ve is to get my college students good positions. I’ve a proposal on FLASH radiotherapy with TRIUMF. We don’t know whether or not our work shall be clinically translatable, however we’ll see if we are able to make a distinction.

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