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Do I have to love physics to go into RadOnc?

Discussion in 'Radiation Oncology' started by beepbloop, May 14, 2008.

  1. beepbloop

    beepbloop ASA Member 10+ Year Member

    Jun 15, 2007
    Hello Guys and Gals,

    First off, allow me to apologize in advance for what probably amounts to a "dumb" question. And I'm quite certain that the proper response to my question is something along the lines of "Wait till you actually start med school, shadow a Radiation Oncologist, and see if you like it." However, I'll be attending a school that gives us an entire research year and I'm trying to begin thinking about what I want to do with it. After reading a few specialty selection books and poking around on this forum, I'm under the impression that meaningful RadOnc research would be very helpful in the match. As such, I'd like to start figuring out if this is a good field for me and get involved as soon as possible.

    RadOnc seems like a very satisfying and interesting field to me for a few reasons: Lots of patient contact, the opportunity to really make a difference to patients that are going through very difficult times, interesting technology, interesting pathology, cool procedures, amazing opportunities for research, the opportunity to really ameliorate (I know "cure" can be a touchy term when talking about cancer with certain folks) cancer, the list goes on. What I'm worried about, however, is the physics concepts behind the work. I've never been head over heels in love with physics (despite finding it pretty interesting, especially the radiation stuff) and in fact, my undergraduate major was psychology. I did well in my introductory physics, but I'm wondering if I need to really love physics as a whole or if learning and appreciating the theory/background of the procedures I learn is enough? From what I've seen, there are a large proportion of MudPhuds (which I'm still toying with the idea of doing as an internal transfer) and engineering undergrads, and I'm wondering if the concepts would be over my head or best left for those who get jazzed up about physics and engineering.

    I appreciate all of your opinions--thanks in advance.
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  3. Gfunk6

    Gfunk6 And to think . . . I hesitated Physician PhD Faculty Moderator Emeritus Lifetime Donor Classifieds Approved 10+ Year Member

    Apr 15, 2004
    SF Bay Area
    One of the great myths of RadOnc (perpetrated by those outside the field) is that you have to "love" physics. The physics that we learn as Radiation Oncologists is quite basic. Mathematically it does not exceed what one would learn by 11th grade or so. There is a lot of geometery, basic algebra, and a smidgen of trigonometry. Unless you are a PhD level physicist you will not be seeing calculus or more advanced concepts.

    With that said, after only a few months of dedicated physics training in residency your knoweldge base will increase tremendously. Also, when you talk "shop" in front of other medical specialties they will have absolutely no idea what you are talking about. You will toss around impressive terms like "photons," "charged particles," "soft tissue attenuation," "waveguides," etc. etc. They will be easily impressed.
  4. Pewl

    Pewl The Dude Abides 10+ Year Member

    Aug 7, 2005
    Hollywood Star Lanes
    Personally, I'm a fan of "charged particle equilibrium" and "continuous slowing-down approximation."

    To the OP,
    The physics used in rad onc can easily be picked up during residency. I have an M.S. in medical physics from grad school, so I might appreciate both the physics and medicine aspect of rad onc from a different perspective than many. Nonetheless, you don't need to "love" physics to do rad onc. You only really need the basics, and I don't think you'll have any problem picking it up during residency.

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