An evaluation of the supply and demand of radiation oncology medical physicists in the United States.
Date on Master's Thesis/Doctoral Dissertation
Health Management and Systems Sciences
Public Health Sciences with a specialization in Health Management, PhD
Committee Co-Chair (if applicable)
medical physics; workforce; supply and demand
Background: This dissertation is a mixed methods evaluation of the radiation oncology medical physics workforce in the United States. Radiation oncology medical physicists serve a vital role in the safe treatment of patients with radiation therapy. While cancer incidence continues to rise, the pathways to board certification in radiation oncology medical physics continue to narrow causing a potential shortage of radiation oncology physicists in the United States. While there is no lack of data about the medical physics community it has scarcely been used to evaluate the current state of the workforce. In order to ensure patient safety, appropriate physics to patient staffing ratios are important and cannot be sustained without an adequate supply of qualified physicists entering the profession annually. Purpose: The purpose of this dissertation is to determine the current supply of medical physicists, develop a model to predict the future supply and demand, and evaluate the current job market based on the perceptions of recent graduates. The primary question to be addressed is that based on current data and development of a new supply and demand model, will there be enough Radiation Oncology Physicists to keep up with the supply and demand through 2030? Secondary questions include: Do the perceptions of recent Masters and PhD graduates of medical physics support the new model findings of the residency shortage? Are graduates of residency programs in high demand because of the now single pathway into the field? Methods: Quantitative methods include standard distributive methods; minimum, maximum, quartiles, mean and medians of data ranges. Qualitative methods include a five-point Likert psychometric scale and open-ended question surveys with radiation oncology medical physics graduate students, residents, and recent retirees. Mixed methods procedures include the use of Stella modeling software used for supply and demand analysis. The anonymized list of potential survey respondents was supplied and coded by the American Association of Physicists in Medicine. Subjects with personal emails for follow up responses obtained institutional Review Board approval due to potential self-identifying information. Results: Based on modeling results approximately 250 residency positions for radiation oncology medical physicists are needed. This is a growth by almost 100 positions needed urgently to meet the rising demand. Perceptions of recent graduates and residents support the modeling results that limited residency positions are leading to a surplus of graduates with no pathway to board eligibility and thus creating a limitation on the workforce making it difficult to meet the rising demand. Conclusions: While the medical physics profession is a rewarding career, there are immediate and urgent risks to the future of the medical physics workforce. The lack of residencies will lead to a deficit of almost fifteen percent by 2030 if nothing changes. There is an urgent need for a widespread evaluation of the medical physics education pathways to ensure a proper workforce moving forward while meeting the ethical obligation to students to have a pathway to certification in the profession.
Swanson, Christine Marie, "An evaluation of the supply and demand of radiation oncology medical physicists in the United States." (2019). Electronic Theses and Dissertations. Paper 3224.