Advice for a radiation therapist moving towards medical physics

  • #1
jbaumgartner12
12
6
Hello everyone,

As my the description suggests, I am a registered radiation therapist with 6 years of experience. I graduated with a BS in Radiologic Sciences and Therapy. Over the last year and a half or so, I have been working on some undergrad classes to get a minor in physics in the hopes of applying to medical physics graduate programs. I hope this question does not come across as offensive but is it possible to be accepted into a CAMPEP program with my degree but not a full minor in Physics?

For some background info, when I was working on my BS several years ago, I took tons of relevant classes. Some of the most relevant would be: Dose calculation, radiobiology, radiation physics, radiation therapy physics 1 and 2, a class that covered QA (daily-annual), Equipment and Instrumentation (this essentially just taught me about linear accelerators and devices used in medical physics).

As I have also mentioned, I have been working on some undergrad classes since then. I have taken Calculus 1-3 and Intro Physics 1 and 2 (with calculus). My GPA is somewhere between 3.4-3.5

On the surface I understand that my education is incomplete. I had just got to wondering about whether or not there would be any program out there who would even consider taking me in given the classes that I HAVE taken and how relevant my career is, despite not taking Modern Physics, E&M, Quantum, etc... When I speak with the physicists at work, they mention that I would have some degree of a leg up on my classmates simply because I have been in the field for some time and I already have a decent understanding of how radiation oncology works. Truthfully I am just eager to start advancing my career and want to jump in somewhere as soon as I can. But if I need to commit to the minor then of course I will do it. What are all your thoughts?
 
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  • #2
Welcome to PF. :smile:

Can you say what country you are in, and where you want to apply for medical physics graduate programs? What have you found in their entrance requirements pages on their websites?
 
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  • #3
Thank you! I’m applying for schools in the US.

Some of the options I’m most interested in are Georgia Tech, Vanderbilt, Tennessee Knoxville, Kentucky, UMass, and MD Anderson in Texas.

Pretty much all of them say the same thing: a BS degree in physics or a BS in a related field with courses that would equate to a minor in physics. Usually that would mean Calc-Diff Eq, general physics plus 3 upper division courses. So I’m 4 classes short of that.

And letters of recommendation of course. I don’t want to come across to everyone as believing that I’m so special that I should be an exception to the precedent. As I said already, I’m just eager and curious if the option to fast track myself exists!

Thanks!
 
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  • #4
jbaumgartner12 said:
And letters of recommendation of course.
Others will have better advice than I can offer on this (we have several Medical Physicists here at PF), but it seems like your work experience could be a plus, especially if a couple of your LoRs can highlight your good work and understanding of the Physics involved in your current work.

@gleem @Dale @Choppy
 
  • #5
I only really know one CAMPEP program, and that one only peripherally. I understand that they do consider and accept students with some deficiencies. Such students must take the missing coursework in order to graduate and those classes are in addition to the program coursework. Because of that it is not a fast track, you will still need to take all the missing classes whether before starting the program or after.

I would encourage you to apply, even with the deficiencies. If you get accepted, then great, you take the classes as part of the program. If you do not get accepted, then that is ok, you take the classes and then reapply without the deficiencies the next year.

I think that the reapplication would be particularly strong as the coursework taken would really demonstrate commitment.
 
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  • #6
jbaumgartner12 said:
. So I’m 4 classes short of that.
How do you get four? I see 8 or 10.

Picking Kentucky at random, you are short 10-12 courses, depending on whether you already took chemistry or not. Maybe they'll overlook 1 or 2. but not 12.

Should you complete these classes, I believe you would be a strong candidate, but it looks like you have a ways to go.
 
  • #7
I cannot give you up-to-date info on the policies of CAMPED, that said while I was practicing I did hire a medical physicist with a BS in radiologic technology, experience as a Diagnostic radiologist and an MS in physics but that was before the CAMPED program. She was a competent medical physicist.
jbaumgartner12 said:
They mention that I would have some degree of a leg up on my classmates simply because I have been in the field for some time and I already have a decent understanding of how radiation oncology works.
While this experience is significant I am not sure if they will ignore your deficiencies in advanced physics courses. It will not harm to apply now as @Dale suggested. If not accepted you should enquire about the decision to prepare for your next application. @Choppy will have up-to-date advice for your situation.
 
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  • #8
Vanadium 50 said:
How do you get four? I see 8 or 10.

Picking Kentucky at random, you are short 10-12 courses, depending on whether you already took chemistry or not. Maybe they'll overlook 1 or 2. but not 12.

Should you complete these classes, I believe you would be a strong candidate, but it looks like you have a ways to go.
Hi Vanadium - I didn’t include every class I’ve taken (I.e. chemistry, physiology, anatomy, etc). MOST of the undergrad classes required were included in my already finished undergrad degree. So the 4 classes I alluded to are what would be leftover to take in order to just obtain a minor in physics to compliment my current degree.

Sorry if you got two notifications about this response - still learning how the forum works!
 
  • #9
For what it's worth, I've seen people with similar credentials get in, but at least anecdotally, admissions seem to be getting more and more competitive. These days if you have a GPA south of 3.5 and coursework that only meets the minimum requirements, the probability of getting accepted gets pretty low pretty quick.

The problem is that you're competing against a pool of applicants with very high averages, degrees in physics, research experience, scholarships, glowing letters of reference, publications, abstracts and other markers of academic output, etc. for a very limited number of spots.

Having a background in RT will certainly convey some advantages, although I suspect that will be mostly a "once you're in" kind of deal, because you won't have as steep a learning curve to climb with navigating a radiation oncology department, operation of the equipment, etc. and you'll have a solid and relevant skill set to draw on. But on the other hand if you're applying to some of the more challenging programs, you're likely to struggle if you haven't taken an upper year mathematical methods course, numerical methods/programming, or a senior lab course.
 
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  • #10
Choppy said:
competitive
This is the most important word in @Choppy 's excellent post. More and more people want to enter these programs, so it gets harder and harder to get in if you don't meet the requirements.

The programs are surely aware of the slippery slope of requirements.
"We will accept physics majors"
"What about her - she minored, and is one course shy of a major?"
"I guess she'd be OK."
"What abut him? He minored." ... "She almost miniored...." and so on.

At some point you either have to draw a line or accept anyone who finished 3rd grade. :smile: With increasing numbers of applications, that line is likely moving up, not down.

My prediction is if you get in, you will likely need to take the core courses for a major and odds are this will be on your own dime.
 
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  • #11
Thank you all for the insight!

Are any of you familiar with Georgia Tech’s online program? They state that students would need to come to Atlanta for the lab portions of courses on “select weekends”. It would be a hectic season I’m sure since I would need to fly there, but it just fits my life better and it sounds like they have rolling admissions so I could apply a couple of times a year instead of just once a year. I think in light of all of this it seems there’s no harm in at least throwing an application out there this fall and working with whatever feedback they provide if it doesn’t work out. Do programs automatically give their applicants feedback after a rejection or do the applicants need to take the initiative to seek it out?

In the meantime I’ll just continue to stay the course and work towards the minor. I’m taking Modern Physics this summer so that’s at least one more step in the right direction. I’ll likely be taking E&M after that in the fall and then Quantum after that. I can really only go at a pace of one course per semester since I still work full time as an RT.
 
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  • #12
Also I’ve asked some of the physicists that work in my oncology department if they could start teaching me weekly, monthly, and patient qa to try and help me stand out some more. Are there any other skills you all would suggest I try to learn from them that would help?
 
  • #13
jbaumgartner12 said:
Do programs automatically give their applicants feedback after a rejection or do the applicants need to take the initiative to seek it out?
Usually they just give you the decision. Some will not provide anything beyond "we had a number of excellent candidates, unfortunately more than we were able to admit." Because Lawyers.

Applying too often may get people to think of you as a "perennial applicant" which may not be helpful.
 
  • #14
You did not mention if research was a priority. Most medical physics positions are clinical and as such do need skills other than what is needed for a research position so called soft skills. I would be hopeful that if the applicant is interested in a clinical position the admission committee will look beyond the GPA. Sure a good grasp of the physical principles is essential but the job mostly involves executing/overseeing standard operating procedures and instituting effective and workable new ones. As an RTT you may have an idea of how a physicist should effectively interact with the department personnel. Perhaps your physicists are good models and should be emulated or perhaps you can see improvements.

Anecdote; When applying to my last position I was requested to submit letters of recommendation from a radiology administrator, an oncology nurse, and the chief therapy tech as well as the radiation oncologists with whom I worked which I was pleased to comply. They did not ask for a letter from another physicist my certification seemed enough confirmation of my expertise. The last physicist in this department had left a bad impression and they were trying to cover their bases so as not to repeat that experience.
 
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  • #15
Vanadium 50 said:
Applying too often may get people to think of you as a "perennial applicant" which may not be helpful.
While that is true in some cases, if there is a substantial difference in qualifications between applications then I think that will be seen positively rather than as a perennial.
 
  • #16
Dale said:
if there is a substantial difference in qualifications between applications then I think that will be seen positively rather than as a perennial.
It all depends on the content and context. If someone sent in a weak application and then a strong one 2-3 years later, I see no risk. If they send a weak one, then a slightly less weak one, then a slightly less weak one...when they finally cross the threshold, the damage may have been done.

gleem said:
I would be hopeful that if the applicant is interested in a clinical position the admission committee will look beyond the GPA.
A truism in research-based PhDs is "If they can't pass their coursework, it doesn't matter how good their research is." I imagine there is a similar dynamic here - it won't matter what their potential for being a clinician is if they can't make it through the coursework.

The OP has two hurdles here - missing typical core courses, and a GPA which is at or above threshold, but not by much. It also does not include the more difficult core classes. The admissions committee will be looking for evidence that the classwork won't be a problem, and they will be looking - hard - at other applicants that don't make them worry so much.
 
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  • #17
Vanadium 50 said:
The OP has two hurdles here - missing typical core courses, and a GPA which is at or above threshold, but not by much. It also does not include the more difficult core classes. The admissions committee will be looking for evidence that the classwork won't be a problem, and they will be looking - hard - at other applicants that don't make them worry so much.
I agree and the OP is planning to remedy that, especially with E/M. If research is not a prime factor an MS is a viable path and much shorter.
 
  • #18
I think original post could he been clearer. I was just trying to gauge how realistic it would be to be admitted somewhere right now with the amount of deficiencies I have, with the expectation that I would still take them alongside the graduate curriculum. At the end of the road I will have taken up through Quantum Mechanics and Diff Eq so that I will have all the classes necessary to obtain a minor in Physics

I’ve heard quite a wide range of opinions about the need to do research from physicists and also that many programs place varying degrees of importance on it as well. I would absolutely pursue it if I wanted to get a PhD, but my plan is only for an MS. I’m not opposed to looking into helping with research though.
 
  • #19
Thank you to all who have weighed in! This has been helpful to me
 
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  • #20
jbaumgartner12 said:
Also I’ve asked some of the physicists that work in my oncology department if they could start teaching me weekly, monthly, and patient qa to try and help me stand out some more. Are there any other skills you all would suggest I try to learn from them that would help?
With respect to building up a relevant skill set, that's a great start. Coupled with a background in RT, if you develop skills with basic QA measurements this will be a very strong dimension of your application. Other things you can do include volunteering to help out with annual scans, gain experience in radiation safety, learn electronics, learn as much IT as you can, develop skills in programming, getting involved in a research project... the list is long and no one can do it all.

With respect to an online program, normally that would be a flag with respect to residency hiring for two reasons: (i) limited practical experience, and (ii) limited range of research experience. In your specific case if you have the RT background and can document experience with QA, (i) would be well mitigated. That leaves (ii). Even at the MSc level, or for people who have a primary interest in clinical work, admissions committees will look for evidence that you can drive something novel forward. There certainly are research projects that you can do in a remote context, but just be aware that this does limit you, and some people are much more adept when it comes to practical, hardware, or technical projects.
 
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  • #21
jbaumgartner12 said:
I would still take them alongside the graduate curriculum
Depending on the program, this might not be realistic. They may expect you to know these things on Day One, and even if they don't most graduate programs do not leave their students with a lot of free time. By design.

I think the more likely scenario is that the admitting program gives you a year to catch up. (And I said "more likely", not "likely")
 
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  • #22
Choppy said:
Coupled with a background in RT, if you develop skills with basic QA measurements this will be a very strong dimension of your application.
Is the resume portion of an application where these sorts of things would normally go? Or would these be things I bring up in a personal statement/ interview?
 
  • #23
Choppy said:
With respect to an online program, normally that would be a flag with respect to residency hiring
I am very lucky to have a great working relationship with our physicists at my facility and they’re wonderful people. They have made a commitment to bring me into their own residency program once I finish my masters and we’re on the same page about the expectations 🙂
 
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  • #24
jbaumgartner12 said:
I am very lucky to have a great working relationship with our physicists at my facility and they’re wonderful people. They have made a commitment to bring me into their own residency program once I finish my masters and we’re on the same page about the expectations 🙂
That's great. Do you know if they may be in a position to help pay for your master's studies? Some large companies will offer tuition assistance programs for some employees to pursue their Master's degree, with the expectation that they will keep working at the company once they earn that advanced degree. When I worked at HP many years ago, they had such a program. It can also help with admissions, since some schools work with these companies to help facilitate the programs.
 
  • #25
berkeman said:
Do you know if they may be in a position to help pay for your master's studies?
That’s a good question that I never thought to ask. I will definitely run it by them. That would be a huge blessing
 
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  • #26
jbaumgartner12 said:
Is the resume portion of an application where these sorts of things would normally go? Or would these be things I bring up in a personal statement/ interview?
It depends on the school/program, but generally yes, there is usually some opportunity to formally highlight your work or volunteer experience, relevant training, etc.

And the fact that you have a residency program that would be committed to accepting you following the completion of an MSc is a major plus. I would make sure that gets highlighted in your letters of reference. Graduate programs want to see that their graduates get into residencies.
 
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  • #27
Do any of you know what this means?

“A student not having taken these prerequisites may be admitted; however he or she will have to complete these courses during their course of study, but without getting credit toward the master's degree requirement”

This is off of Georgia Tech’s admissions criteria website. The context is saying that students can be accepted with deficiencies but would still be required to take the missing coursework during their time in the program - already knew that.

What I’m confused by is what they could mean when they say that the classes would not be counted as credit towards the degree. Is this typical for grad programs? If this is true then how do students who are accepted with defficiencies ever meet the requirements for the degree and become eligible for the ABR?

I emailed them to ask for a clarification but I’m not positive that I will get an answer. I’ve asked them questions before and they don’t always respond to my emails.
 
  • #28
There are courses that you would have been expected to have taken if you were a physics major but didn't (not counted) e.g., intermediate E/M and there are graduate courses that the program requires to be taken for the degree (counted) e.g., Electrodynamics. Evidently, they are prepared to accept non-physics majors into their program.
 
  • #29
jbaumgartner12 said:
but without getting credit toward the master's degree requirement”
If the MS requires N courses, the remedial courses do not count towards the N.
 
  • #30
Okay I understand. That makes perfect sense. I don’t know why the wording had me so confused. Thanks!
 

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