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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 modifications.

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

Pursley discovered her technique to physics by way of 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 a wide range 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 america

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 need 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 folks and assembly with folks.

My essential love continues to be analysis. I thought-about simply doing a certificates program and in search of a residency, nevertheless it wasn’t going to value me a lot time to make the swap [to a medical physics PhD]. 

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

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

Whether or not he misses astrophysics: Certain, nevertheless it’s a type 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 medical residency and change into board-certified. 

Recommendation for future medical physicists: Know your self nicely. In physics, it’s like every part and all people outdoors is lower than. In case you 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 folks suppose 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 america; post-doctoral certificates in medical physics from Wayne State College in america

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 College of Physics, the place chosen college students from underdeveloped nations, comparable to Madagascar, meet for a month of coaching. That’s how I found experimental particle physics and medical physics. 

Two years later, I bought a proposal for the Fermilab Worldwide Fellow Scholarship. I assumed that I may 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 lessons. Doing these concurrently made the transition comparatively straightforward. 

Most difficult a part of going into medical physics: As a world scholar, I had loads of questions and needed to second-guess every part. I labored actually exhausting to come back to the US, and now I need to share my expertise with my college students. Perhaps that saves them half a 12 months, 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 objective are totally different. It’s very rewarding as a result of I’m doing physics like I’ve accomplished all my life, however now somebody advantages instantly.

Future plans: Change into an ABR-certified tutorial medical physicist. The extra time you spend within the clinic, the extra you need to enhance issues, and enchancment requires analysis. I additionally need to work along with folks to deliver medical physics to my nation, like I did with high-energy physics.

Recommendation for future medical physicists: Be ready to humble your self. After 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 future, it’s a must to spend money on what you will have proper now.

Jennifer Pursley

Present place: Scientific and tutorial medical physicist at Massachusetts Common 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 america

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 isn’t as frequent because it was. Now that we have now medical physics graduate applications, extra folks shall be coming from that pathway. However my development since residency is fairly typical for a tutorial medical physicist in america.

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 top of my second 12 months of post-doc, I needed a job that was extra satisfying, within the sense of getting an instantaneous influence. 

Most difficult a part of the job: Balancing obligations. 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 how you can steadiness medical work and analysis. 

On the job: My medical obligations have shifted. As a resident, I realized how you can do remedy planning and machine QA. As a junior physicist, I did that stuff. Now, I’m transferring right into a management, mentoring, and educating 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 technique to go.

On the way forward for the sphere: Early on, analysis was primarily expertise growth. Extra just lately, it’s software program pushed. Now, I see analysis entering into two instructions. There’s massive knowledge, synthetic intelligence, and machine studying, which I feel will present some effectivity financial savings. There’s additionally radiation biology, which I’m most fascinated about. Specifically, how can we personalize therapies, relatively 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 you 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: Tutorial and part-time medical 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 Middle in america

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—turned very demotivating as a result of no matter got here out of my challenge, it might be many years earlier than anyone constructed the experiments. I utilized to a few medical physics positions by likelihood, and I began doing analysis after I labored at a hospital in Denmark for about three months. 

In Denmark, you practice 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 experiences, that are then accredited by a central board. 

In distinction, coaching within the UK is instantly related to the college with on-the-job coaching, modules, an MSc [master of science] challenge, and a last overview [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 remedy planning. From a analysis perspective, I’m fascinated about lowering and predicting unwanted side effects of remedy. I additionally work on optimizing once we ship a second course of radiotherapy.

Similarities between particle and medical physics: You’ve got massive quantities of messy knowledge that it’s worthwhile to 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 folks, which is superb but additionally tremendous irritating at occasions. Typically I’m wondering if I can do an MD half time!

Magdalena Bazalova-Carter

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

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

12 months she entered medical physics: 2005

How she got here to medical physics: I studied dosimetry relatively than medical physics in school in order that I may work at CERN. After 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 medical board examination, my MS from the Czech Republic was acknowledged! 

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

I’m an assistant professor and a Canada Analysis Chair, which provides me a decreased educating 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 vital 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 liable for a challenge, and it’s on us whether or not or not we end. 

Most stunning 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 folks at conferences. After I went to my first medical physics convention, the power was very totally different—there have been plenty of younger folks, plenty of girls, they usually have been presenting.

Most rewarding a part of the job: Supervising college students. I graduated my first two college students this 12 months. 

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

Future plans: The minimal objective 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.