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About Medical Physics grad schools, some advice please

  1. Dec 19, 2014 #1
    Hello forum,

    I'm a current undergrad student in radiation health physics planning to apply for medical physics grad schools in the US.

    There are a few things that make me worry: my GPA (3.24 cumulative) isn't superb because my first two year of undergrad was troublesome (my recent performances have been much better as I gained motivations to study). Secondly, I don't have any good internship or research experiences, particularly in the field of MP. And yet I wish to apply for PhD programs. Ultimately I would like to be able to perform both (or either) clinical practice and research in the medical physics field.

    I realize that I might have a slim chance to be accepted this year, but I decided to give it a shot anyway. Here are the schools I am interested in:

    • Oregon State University (phd)
    • Perdue University (phd)
    • Wayne State (phd)
    • UMass Lowell (phd)
    • Vanderbilt University (dmp)
    I think I will end up applying for 2~3 schools. Any recommendations?

    In case grad school doesn't work out this year, which is likely, I am also looking for internship opportunities in the field of MP. I've contacted various schools and organizations such as AAPM, but it seems they rarely have an opening for international post-bacc students (I am graduating this spring). Do you happen to know where I can search for paid or unpaid internship in the field of MP?

    Thanks and have a great day.
  2. jcsd
  3. Dec 19, 2014 #2


    Staff: Mentor

    Are you following the strategy of applying to schools based on the following criteria?
    - three really good schools that you'd like to go to but think they won't accept you
    - three safe schools that you think you'll get
    - three backup schools that you know for sure you'll get into

    Its not clear from your list how you decided on these schools.
    Last edited: Dec 19, 2014
  4. Dec 19, 2014 #3
    Those are the schools I am merely interested in. However since those are all phd programs, I think I have not very high chance of being accepted this year (I haven't taken MP related undergrad courses yet, and I don't have internship experiences either).
    Do you think it might be more beneficial for me if I aimed for the masters first?
  5. Dec 19, 2014 #4


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    I don't have a lot of experience with those particular schools. In medical physics once you are looking at CAMPEP-accredited schools, you're really looking at advantages and disaadvantages as applied to your particular cicumstances rather that which school is objectively better than any other. CAMPEP accreditation requires that schools publish certain data on their intake and graduates, so it's a good idea to check those out at minimum. I would even go so far as to visit the campus of at least one or two schools that your interested in, talk with current graduate students and professors and see if it's likely to be a good fit for you.

    I would stay away from the DMP programs, but that's personal preference. For one, I think they have too little focus on research compared to a more traditional PhD program and secondly I have issues with a model where residents pay to participate instead of being paid for their work. On the other hand, I can see how someone might want that guarantee of clinical experience.

    As far as an internship goes, you could try contacting any radiation therapy clinics in your area and ask if you can job shadow a medical physicist, or ask if they would be willing to take on a volunteer. Also, you might be able to arrange a senior thesis project with a clinic that's affiliated with your university (perhaps even one that's not - sometimes the students have to take the initiative on these things). Another option is to look for a position as a physics assistant doing QA work.

    If you're an international student, have you thought about applying to any of the accredited schools in Canada? The Canadian model is acceptance into an MSc program first, then progressing into the PhD either once the MSc is complete or after a year or so of successful graduate study. I think a number of the Americal medical physics programs follow this model as well.
  6. Dec 19, 2014 #5
    Thank you for the reply. I have a couple more questions regarding this. Since I am equally interested in the clinical practices of the MP, I'm rather interested in the DMP programs as well. Do you think DMP is a valid way to go if I decide to concentrate on the clinical experiences of the MP?

    Also, do you think it might be more beneficial for me if I went to the masters program beforehand going to phd or dmp, in terms of experience and education? Or is it preferable for an undergrad student to go straight to phd program? I've heard arguments of both sides and I'm a bit confused.

    As for the internship opportunities, I will search around local clinics and schools to see if they have an opening for me.

    p.s. I'm browsing more CAMPEP accredited schools to see which ones I can apply to this year. Thanks for the advice!
    Last edited: Dec 19, 2014
  7. Dec 19, 2014 #6


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    In order to become a qualified clinical medical physicist for all practical purposes you need board certification which, in the US comes through the ABR. In order to get that, you need a graduate degree (MSc, PhD or DMP) and residency/clinical experience that is accredited by CAMPEP. The doctor of medical physics (DMP) degree programs are basically an MSc degree combined with the clinical experience one would obtain in a residency, with the major difference being that instead of being paid to work as a resident, the student pays the school to move through a series of clinical rotations.

    My major complaint about this approach is that residents do a LOT of work in a cancer centre. Throughout this period the resident should perform regular QA, plan radiation treatments and/or check plans, commission new equipment, develop new procedures, push a major clinical project and/or research project forward, etc. Obviously they don't start on their first day being able to do these things, but by the end of a residency, the medical physics resident should be functioning as a medical physicist and providing value-added services to the clinic. If I might stand on a soap box for a moment, residents need to be reimbursed for their contributions to the department. Medical physics resident salaries these days are about $50k in the US. I don't agree with inverting this process, classifying the work as training, and charging the student (or would-be resident) for it.

    I do however see the benefit for a student who faces an uncertain and competative field. You don't need a PhD for most routine clinical medical physics work. (In fact, some would argue that the medical physics community is "over-educating" itself by essentially forcing students to get PhDs to be competative in today's market.) You need an MSc-level education though, and you need clinical experience. What many MSc graduates face right now is a scenario where they are not competative for the available residencies where they will get that clinical experience. PhD graduates are often picked instead because in a lot of cases because "residency" is code for "the clinical experience that you get in exchange for pushing our department's research project forward for a couple of years." So students get the advantage of a guaranteed residency in a process where this appears to be the major current bottleneck to jobs in the field. The market gets what it "wants" - qualified medical physicists who are oriented towards clinical work (for reference there are a lot more clinical positions than research positions), and fewer PhDs to pay for. From those points of view it's win-win. And guys like me on my soop box don't really matter.

    Maybe that's more information than you needed. In direct response, as I said, I believe a lot of US medical physics (non-DMP) programs follow the MSc to PhD progression model and so I'm not sure you'd have any more success by aiming for the MSc instead of the PhD. But this is likely school-specific. Contact the schools you're interested in and see what they suggest.
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