The Persistent Shortage of Physicists: Current Trends and Future Prospects

Is there still a shortage of medical physicists?

Yes!  2023 saw record shortages for physicists. More than 90% of radiation oncologists reported that their practices were facing clinical staff shortages and 80% said it was worse than the year before (ASTRO Survey 2023).  In the fall, we saw a bit of a reprieve in posted positions for both locum and permanent openings for medical physicists in radiation oncology.  We thought that perhaps the desperate shortage of physicists was beginning to wane after the new batch of students graduated and things were normalizing after COVID.  But as 2024 has gotten underway, we see that demand for board-certified medical physicists for both permanent and temporary positions is rebounding.  It’s possible the slow-down in the fall was just a matter of hospitals and clinics reacting to the increase in rates and salaries by holding off on filling open spots. If you’re at one of the facilities looking for a short- or long-term solutions, contact Atom Physics for customized solutions!

How did we end up in this predicament?

Many facilities have been unable to fill open positions for years.  How could demand keep outweighing supply so much?  There are several reasons we ended up here.  The first reason is that when the residency requirement went into effect for ABR certification, it created a bottle neck of board-certified graduates because there weren’t enough residency spots to accommodate the number of graduates from CAMPEP approved programs.  And while this has gotten better over the years, there are still not enough spots for the yearly graduates. Some folks have decided to stay in their graduate programs longer to get a doctorate in order to have a better chance at landing a residency further adding to the squeeze of graduates.

Another factor is the baby boomer generation.  Not only are there more baby boomer physicists entering retirement than younger physicists entering the field, the influx of baby boomer patients as a population has increased the demand for radiation therapy – a double whammy.  On top of all that, Covid has affected the field in a myriad of ways just like many other professions.  It prompted folks to retire early, start only accepting remote work, or cut back their hours.  It affected how physicists viewed their careers.

What happens now?

Quality of life is becoming a large factor as physicists and dosimetrists now have more power in selecting where they work.  Just like medical and retirement benefits became the norm for companies to offer to attract talent 100 years ago, remote work may become much more common in medical physics as we step into the future.  Covid taught us that many of the physics and dosimetry duties can be done remotely without a loss in patient care.  This shift is already happening in dosimetry, and physics is following suit. We certainly have no shortage of physicists asking us for remote work.

Another way to exercise choice in work is to choose a locum lifestyle. Work for a few months at a time, then take a break for a while. Take a long vacation, spend time with family, or just enjoy some downtime.  Physicists with licenses in multiple states, such as Texas, Florida, and California are very much in demand in the locum market. We are always looking to add to our database of physicists looking for locum, part-time, or remote work.  Contact Atom Physics today about locum opportunities!