Gracile

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I ask this because it seems most people who go into radiation oncology are from a technical background -- majored in Engineering, Physics etc. I want a career I will excel in and I've been developing a lot of interest in oncology lately. However, I'm not very technically-oriented. Do you think radiation oncology is feasible?
 

medgator

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I ask this because it seems most people who go into radiation oncology are from a technical background -- majored in Engineering, Physics etc. I want a career I will excel in and I've been developing a lot of interest in oncology lately. However, I'm not very technically-oriented. Do you think radiation oncology is feasible?
Absolutely. While it may be a "technical" field in many respects, on a day-to-day basis, it depends on interpersonal skills and good interaction not only with (primarily) oncology patients, but with referring physicians as well
 
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CNphair

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I was a Shakespeare major who will take my Physical Sciences MCAT score to my grave. No one would have pegged me for Rad Onc at the start of med school. But I have managed :) As long as you are motivated and eager to learn, the technical components of the field are very doable.
 

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Just going to agree with the above posters, but since I'm a frequent poster I figured I'd chime in.

You have to learn the medical physics, but it is far easier than the organic chemistry you went through earlier.

The challenging parts about the field in this era are: 1) knowing the literature 2) managing relations with referring physicians 3) CT/PET/MR anatomy 4) fundamentals of physics/dosimetry. You get those things down, you'll do pretty well. Let the engineers run the machines and the IT guys fix the computer problems. Focus on being a good doctor.

-S
 
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As an engineer the technical side of rad onc is one of the aspects of the field that attract me to it. So it is disappointing to hear the physics are actually very basic. Are there any avenues for a rad onc to get involved in more complex physics and technical issues while staying a good clinician?
 

nod

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absolutely. there is nothing stopping a clinician from working with physicists to do research. most of us do not work on complex physics research because we do not know physics and technology as well as our physicists and other colleagues. one of our residents has a ph.d. in engineering and most of his research projects have been in collaborating with medical physics while the rest of us tend to focus on clinical chart reviews and lab work.

our field has a broad range of expertise and you can choose your focus.
 

clintpark

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As an engineer the technical side of rad onc is one of the aspects of the field that attract me to it. So it is disappointing to hear the physics are actually very basic. Are there any avenues for a rad onc to get involved in more complex physics and technical issues while staying a good clinician?
I was an applied physics major and my research was on mathematical modeling (SBRT survival curve and EUD). So, there is absolutely an avenue where you can let your left brain flourish.
 
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Gracile

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Thanks for the response everyone! It's great to hear there's a place for me in the field....
 

OTN

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As an engineer the technical side of rad onc is one of the aspects of the field that attract me to it. So it is disappointing to hear the physics are actually very basic. Are there any avenues for a rad onc to get involved in more complex physics and technical issues while staying a good clinician?
ABSOLUTELY. Bob Timmerman used his engineering background extensively as one of the early pioneers of stereotactic body radiation therapy, first at Indiana University and now at UTSW.

The possibilities of using your engineering background are endless. I wouldn't say the physics are basic, I'd say the required physics are basic- you can go up and away from there.
 

Werg

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I wouldn't say the physics are basic, I'd say the required physics are basic- you can go up and away from there.
That's very true. No one in therapy needs to know string theory, but the physics you see in the rad onc physics textbooks (Khan, etc) is very basic.

From the physicist point of view, the biology of rad onc is very simple: cancer is a bunch of cells inside the PTV. High dose inside the PTV good, outside bad! :D Of course things are a little more complicated than that, but we let the biology people (i.e. physicians) take care of that.
 

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Sorry to bump up a thread that hasn't seen action in over a month, but I have a quick question. If a med student wanted to get more involved in physics research, how "easy" (in general) would it be? And is there a prerequisite knowledge base that's expected or that would make you more attractive to physics labs?

I'll be starting med school in the fall and I'm planning on getting involved in both clinical radonc research as well as getting more into the clinical physics side of things, so I'm curious as to what knowledge base, in general, is expected for the physics labs. I'm planning on emailing PIs at the school I will be attending since that would give me a better view of what they expect; however, I'm still waiting to hear back from a few other schools I've interviewed at and didn't want to contact the radonc department of one school prematurely (if that makes sense).

Werg and clint can feel free to chime in with their views (along with anyone else, of course :))!

Edit: Wanted to add that, if it helps, my math background is through Calc 3 (triple integrals, matrices, etc) with some introductory DiffEq. In all likelihood, I can refresh my memory of this stuff if needed. Nowhere near as extensive as math/physics/engineering majors though.
 
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Charles_Carmichael

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Sorry to bump up a thread that hasn't seen action in over a month, but I have a quick question. If a med student wanted to get more involved in physics research, how "easy" (in general) would it be? And is there a prerequisite knowledge base that's expected or that would make you more attractive to physics labs?

I'll be starting med school in the fall and I'm planning on getting involved in both clinical radonc research as well as getting more into the clinical physics side of things, so I'm curious as to what knowledge base, in general, is expected for the physics labs. I'm planning on emailing PIs at the school I will be attending since that would give me a better view of what they expect; however, I'm still waiting to hear back from a few other schools I've interviewed at and didn't want to contact the radonc department of one school prematurely (if that makes sense).

Werg and clint can feel free to chime in with their views (along with anyone else, of course :))!

Edit: Wanted to add that, if it helps, my math background is through Calc 3 (triple integrals, matrices, etc) with some introductory DiffEq. In all likelihood, I can refresh my memory of this stuff if needed. Nowhere near as extensive as math/physics/engineering majors though.
Bump if anyone has any advice. :)
 

Werg

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Kaushik,

I think that getting involved in therapy physics research should not be too difficult. As a med student you will not likely be doing the same thing as a physics grad student, but you can make yourself useful. I think that in our group we would probably treat a med student similar to an undergrad, i.e. give them the quick tutorials and put them to work on something that doesn't require an in-depth radiation/therapy physics background.

Basically, I would just ask around. A strong physics/math background is helpful, but not an absolute necessity.
 

Charles_Carmichael

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Kaushik,

I think that getting involved in therapy physics research should not be too difficult. As a med student you will not likely be doing the same thing as a physics grad student, but you can make yourself useful. I think that in our group we would probably treat a med student similar to an undergrad, i.e. give them the quick tutorials and put them to work on something that doesn't require an in-depth radiation/therapy physics background.

Basically, I would just ask around. A strong physics/math background is helpful, but not an absolute necessity.
Thanks Werg! Appreciate the insight, as always. :)

I've been going through the Khan book over the past few weeks, but it's probably better that I hold off for the moment. I feel that my radiation physics is very weak, so I was essentially trying to probe whether or not I should be teaching myself the subject over the next few months. I think I'll still end up doing so, but in a more relaxed manner; at least until I contact some labs at my future med school and get a better sense of what to focus on. Thanks again!
 
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Gfunk6

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As a caveat, medical physics is utterly irrelevant in medical school and during your internship. If you are involved in any physics research in the five years prior to your Rad Onc PGY-2, you should not waste it trying to learn much about medical physics. Use handbooks instead for superficial understanding, that's all you'll need.
 

Charles_Carmichael

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As a caveat, medical physics is utterly irrelevant in medical school and during your internship. If you are involved in any physics research in the five years prior to your Rad Onc PGY-2, you should not waste it trying to learn much about medical physics. Use handbooks instead for superficial understanding, that's all you'll need.
Really? Hmmm...maybe I should stop spending time with the Khan book for now...I read a review article regarding radiation physics a while back (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16580555) but it seemed too basic, so I've been trying to get a better understanding. I guess I need to find a short overview book rather than the dense one I'm reading.

So, a strong background in radbio/cancer bio + a superficial understanding of radiation physics would be good enough for clinical radonc research and physics research? At least at the med student level? The reason I'm a little unsure about this stuff is because I've only been involved in basic/translational radbio research so far and don't know what to expect from clinical research-oriented labs. Thanks for the advice Gfunk and Werg.
 

Gfunk6

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At the medical student level (especially MS-1 and MS-2) your knowledge of the field will be so weak that it only makes senses to understand clinical background that is relevant to your research. It is not high-yield nor useful to study general rad onc at your level of training.
 

Charles_Carmichael

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At the medical student level (especially MS-1 and MS-2) your knowledge of the field will be so weak that it only makes senses to understand clinical background that is relevant to your research. It is not high-yield nor useful to study general rad onc at your level of training.
Oh yea, I definitely agree with you there. I didn't mean to imply that I was teaching myself general radonc. I conduct radonc research regarding GBMs, so my clinical radonc knowledge is limited to that particular tumor type. I definitely haven't been wasting my time improving my clinical knowledge of other cancer sites. I'll wait for residency to teach me that stuff! :p