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talljasperman's avatar

What physics do medical doctors use?

Asked by talljasperman (18818 points ) December 27th, 2011

My old 1995 University of Alberta university calendar’s section for pre-medical students states that an additional 3 credits of university physics are required just to continue past pre-medical studies to medical school. Is this to weed out students, or do doctors actually use university level physics? If so, then what university level physics are used in Psychiatry?

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19 Answers

PhiNotPi's avatar

I wouldn’t want a surgeon operating on me if I knew he didn’t know anything about physics.

PhiNotPi's avatar

I conveys a sense of “he knows what he’s doing”, at least. That may be part of the reason.

zenvelo's avatar

Don’t confuse a requirement for medical school with something necessary for a specialty.

I have no idea what specific physics are required for medical school, but most doctors learn about x-rays, CAT scans and other imaging, not to mention nuclear medicine. A Psychiatrist would need to know what physical and chemical interactions might occur from various drug interactions, or even what to expect with electroshock therapy.

Rarebear's avatar

Nope. We use no physics. But I feel it’s important to know for a general science education.

Sunny2's avatar

As a student, I watched surgery in which the doctors bolted the humerus to the scapula, It was all about physics. They used basic tools (drill, hammer, chisel). I realized how physics played a part in their practice: using heat and cold to heal; understanding how the human bones balance and work together; using the basics of hydrolics involved in the cardiac system. That’s just what is off the top of my head. I think it’s obvious why pre-med students have physics in their curriculum. Psychiatrists are physicians first, hence, the requirement.

jerv's avatar

Physics also covers radiation, including (but not limited to) those used in medical equipment like X-rays, MRIs, CAT scans, and chemotherapy.

Physics covers heat transfer, which comes in handy for frostbite, hypothermia, and fevers.

Physics covers mechanics, like how joints move.

Physics covers fluid dynamics; important for understanding our circulatory system.

In short, there are many things in medicine that rely on principles based in physics.

@Rarebear You may not think you use physics, but you do. You merely use applied physics.

halabihazem's avatar

I’m a med student and I approve of @jerv ‘s answer

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prioritymail's avatar

I have a lot of friends that have gone / are going through med school, and I have to say, they know nearly nothing about physics. It scares me. People in pre-med should be required to take the same physics that engineers take, and people in engineering should be required to take the same biology and chemistry. Everyone would benefit from these people being more well rounded.

Lightlyseared's avatar

So that when you order your patient a PET scan you know that you are asking for antimatter to be injected into their body and that what the scan is actually of is matter/anitmater annihilations (which as @judochop points out is the release of an awful of energy).
OK so knowing this probably doesn’t change the outcome but still it’d be nice if you knew.

halabihazem's avatar

Physics is essential for understanding of vascular disease and things like that, and you will need this knowledge even in clinics. Other knowledge (of how PET works) might not help you in clinic but it’s definitely worth learning if you’re willing to contribute to medicine. You can’t come up with new innovative things if you don’t know the basics.

gorillapaws's avatar

My father just took the boards for the American College of Phlebology. He said there was a lot of physics related to blood flow and doppler ultrasound on the exam. As @jerv mentioned, it’s more applied physics than theoretical physics.

Rarebear's avatar

Jerv, I agree completely. I use physics as much as I use chemistry nd biochemistry. I don’t use it as such but understanding the principles is key.

Lightlyseared's avatar

So having thought about this a bit more the reason is this – There are basically two ways you could learn to be a doctor (or anything else for that matter). One learn a whole load of facts by rote and hope the person who taught you has thought of every set of circumstances you’ll find yourself in (not that this is a bad method as such – it is basically how you learn to respond to cardiac arrests – you repeat the same steps over and over in training so that when it comes to the real thing it’s second nature which is just as well because most of the higher centres of your brain are busy going “oh fuck, oh fuck, oh fuck” which is not overly useful. The second way is to give you the tools to work out what is going on for yourself from basic principles. Now obviously, in real life a combination of the two is the best way. Going back to the cardiac arrest thing, if you know how the body works, have an understanding of physics etc then you could work out that pumping the chest 100 times a minute will keep the blood flowing to the vital organs while you try and work out why the heart stopped in the first place but lets face it would be too late. Alternatively it would be possible to diagnose a patient who presents with abdominal pain (or whatever) by simply following a protocol that someoneelse has devised, blindly running tests till you have an answer. Unfortunatley when you get to the answer the patient will start asking questions that you wont be able to answer.

jerv's avatar

@Lightlyseared Let me see if I got this right;

What makes a person smart is not just memorizing facts by rote, but also understanding key principles which can be adapted to whatever you need to do. It takes both.

Rote learning is good for rapid response as it is easy to turn an otherwise complex action into a reflexive one, which is essential in a fairly narrow set of circumstances, especially those that are time-critical like cardiac arrest. However, if a situation isn’t in the book, rote learning is useless at best and possibly worse than knowing nothing at all.

Theory learning is far more adaptable, but sometimes cumbersome. It takes time and effort to run through all the possibilities and rule enough out to solve the problem (or get a proper diagnosis). If you face the sort of weirdness that House does then theory learning is far better, but for something more common like a car accident, you would rather an EMT that just reflexively does what they have to do quickly than some brainiac thinking for a few minutes.

Having either without the other will make you crap at whatever you are trying to do/be; you need both. And while your more specialized medical classes will teach you rote, broader classes like physics will give you the theory, make you more well-rounded, and prevent you from being half-assed.

That about right?

Lightlyseared's avatar

@jerv yes sorry drunk

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