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Chances of getting into medical physics programs

  1. Feb 11, 2013 #1
    I will be graduated soon from Marshall University with a B.S. in physics with an area of emphasis on medical physics (This program drops some of the upper level physics classes that aren't necessary for medical physics and replaces them with upper level chemistry and biology). I am planning on attending graduate school to obtain my master's in the fall of 2014. So far I have:

    -3.51 overall GPA
    -Currently working on my capstone research project, which is motion management in radiation oncology
    -Registered Radiologic Technologist (Associate's Degree)
    -Volunteered/Shadowed a 3-4 times in the local cancer center with the medical physicist and dosimetrist
    -Upon graduation I will have 2 semesters of chem, 2 semesters of organic chem, 1 semester of cell biology, 2 semesters of gen biology, biomedical physics, calc through DE, and I am trying to convince the department to find someone to offer radiation sciences in health fields again.
    -I'm not sure how much extracurricular activities matter in the selection, but I was in Marshall's marching band for a year and pep band for 2 years.

    I have not taken the GRE yet and I do not have any programming experience. I was considering taking a few classes to make my transcript more impressive, such as computer programming or electronics. I am also considering getting a minor in mathematics

    I would really like to get into any of the programs near Ohio and West Virginia that have residencies and the program, such as Duke, Vanderbilt, Kentucky, Penn. If anyone could help me out on what my chances would be getting into one of these schools, I'd greatly appreciate it! I was told by the medical physicist that I am working with that my degree in x-ray will help me since I already have a strong background of how the clinical setting and radiation works. I am just curious as to how much this will help me since I'm sure these schools are probably really hard to get into and my GPA isn't as stellar as others. I am looking at other closer colleges too such as Cincinnati, Toledo, and Cleveland State, but they would would be my secondary choices because I want a program that has a residency. I don't want to run into any problems of having my degree and can't get into a residency, since I've been told that's an issue lately.

    Also, if anyone has any suggestions on how to beef up my CV, that would be great. I am hoping to get a 4.0 this semester to boost my GPA, but any other suggestions would be greatly appreciated! Thanks!
    Last edited: Feb 11, 2013
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  3. Feb 12, 2013 #2


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    It sounds to me like you would have a fairly reasonable chance of getting into an accredited program. Generally speaking, a 3.5 GPA is about the point where a student begins to become competative for graduate positions in medical physics programs.

    Something that stands out for me:
    "This program drops some of the upper level physics classes that aren't necessary for medical physics and replaces them with upper level chemistry and biology."
    and later:
    " I will have 2 semesters of chem, 2 semesters of organic chem, 1 semester of cell biology, 2 semesters of gen biology,..."

    There are a couple flags here for me. First, the idea of "dropping" upper level physics courses is somewhat disturbing. While it's unlikely that a senior undergraduate course in general relativity is going to be of much use to you in a medical physics career, courses like mathematical methods, a senior lab, computational physics, statistical physics and senior E&M, are invaluable.

    Further, what you've quoted really don't sound like "upper level" chemistry and biology courses. 1-2 semesters only sounds more like what would be covered in first year.

    These aren't necessarily obstacles that will keep you from being admitted to a medical physics program. These things will sometimes depend on the opinions of the program directors. In the two the programs I've been associated with (Canadian), the directors have been very old school in the opinion that medical physicists are first and foremost physicists and presenting them with the idea that dropping upper level physics courses is a good thing won't fly very well.

    Experience as an x-ray tech will be an asset. Your research project will also be an asset.

    Definately programming and electronics will help you (although the way my mind works is that another flag has popped up wondering how one can get a physics degree without a courses in both).

    Something else to consider is that based on how you're phrasing things is sounds like you may be confusing a program that also has a residency with a program that combines the degree with a residency. In the case of the former (which is a lot more prevelant) you are not guaranteed a residency after completing your degree and you have to compete for a position just like any other residency.

    The later are the case with the DMP programs. These have the advantage of guaranteeing a residency, but at the cost of (as I understand it) not paying you for the work that you do as a resident.
  4. Feb 12, 2013 #3
    You seem like you have a good chance, provided you do well on the GRE. GATech has a good medical physics program in the nuclear engineering dept., check it out.
  5. Feb 12, 2013 #4
    Choppy- I'm not very sure about all of the upper level classes, that's just what I was told by my advisor. Here is the link to our website for this program. Maybe that will be of some help explaining it. I had to take mechanics, which it says you don't have to take. I decided to take this route instead of a pure physics degree because I thought it would prepare me better i hope that decision doesn't backfire on me :/ what would be the best programming course to help me? I was just wanting a program that offers both program and residency, not necessarily a program with residency guaranteed. I just figured the programs may be more likely to accept their own graduates for residency other than others.
  6. Feb 12, 2013 #5
    I've looked into Georgia tech and I was considering their distance learning program. Do you know anything about it? I have a 5 year old daughter and I am trying to stay as close to home as possible or I wouldn't even consider the online program.
  7. Feb 12, 2013 #6
    I can't speak for all programs, but this is at least true for the University of Kentucky (the graduate program I completed). My understanding is that UK has recently increased their number of medical physics residents to four, so they accept two each year at the main UK site. I believe UK has also recently set up an affiliation with a clinical site in Indiana and they offer one of their graduates a residency position at that site. UK also seems to be on good terms with the University of Louisville medical physics residency, as at least two UK graduates have taken residency positions at Louisville in the past couple of years.

    As far as I know, UK has only admitted graduates of their own program to their residency so far. Since the graduate program itself has such a lengthy and involved clinical component (12-18 months) this allows them to bring in residents who can easily make the transition into full-time clinical training.

    As of a few years ago I believe they were receiving 100+ applications for about 6 spots in their graduate program, so it is fairly competitive. Politely contacting the DGS and requesting a site visit and tour where you can meet current students, residents, and faculty would be helpful. This would be true for (presumably) whatever graduate programs you were considering.

    GPA, GRE, and completed coursework are important to admission committees, but they will also value your continuing history with the radiation sciences. Since you will eventually be entering the field of medical physics as a representative of your graduate program they are also interested in picking candidates that they believe will succeed in the clinic, which means having good interpersonal skills and communication abilities and being able to present yourself to positive effect. This is where face-to-face meetings are useful.

    Can you list out exactly what physics and physics related courses you will have completed at graduation?

    Are you considering therapeutic medical physics, diagnostic medical physics, or nuclear medicine physics? It's an important question because most programs do not offer training in all three, and some only offer accredited training in one branch (therapy is far and away the most common).

    Good luck.
    Last edited: Feb 12, 2013
  8. Feb 12, 2013 #7
  9. Feb 12, 2013 #8


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  10. Feb 12, 2013 #9
    I will have principles of physics I/II with labs(intro courses), Electricity & Magnetism I, Thermal Physics, Modern Physics w/ advanced lab, Quantum Mechanics I, Mechanics, and Biomedical Physics. The classes dropped from Marshall's pure Physics degree is E&M II, Quantum II, and Math Methods along with some electives, which are replaced by the Biomedical Physics and Cell Biology. I am really starting to worry that my choice of selecting the area of emphasis program is going to hurt me based of all of your reactions to it.
  11. Feb 12, 2013 #10
    From what I understand, I would have to find a local clinical site for the online program and I would have to travel there every so often for labs and such, but I haven't looked into it all that much. I basically just know it's an option haha
  12. Feb 12, 2013 #11
    In my opinion you would still have a competitive application. If you have room for another class or two or three then picking up those courses would be good. My personal opinion on the order of importance would be:

    (1) Mathematical methods
    (2) E&M II
    (3) Quantum II

    Have you had any exposure to atomic physics or particle physics in your studies? Both are important to the study of medical physics. A graduate program would probably do a refresher on anything you needed to know but it would be helpful to have some exposure to it beforehand if possible. Knowledge of radioactivity and the basic physical interactions (photoelectric effect, compton effect, pair production, photo-disintegration, elastic and inelastic interactions of particles) is very important.
  13. Feb 12, 2013 #12
    Would it hurt me tremendously if I couldn't fit those classes into my schedule? They offer the upper level classes here every two years and I don't think I could get into any of those before I plan to graduate. I have had a lot of exposure to compton, photelectric, etc. while in x-ray school. It's been a few years since I've had that, but if they have a refresher on all of that, then I would be good on that part.
  14. Feb 12, 2013 #13
    Tremendously? No, I don't think so.

    You will be competing against people with more extensive physics coursework completed, but your typical applicant will probably not have your history with the radiation sciences (medical physics specific research project on motion management plus radiologic technologist background).

    Plus it isn't as though your coursework in biomedical physics and cell biology is for nothing. There will of course be some value there.

    Probably the best thing that you can do is to apply to several different CAMPEP-accredited programs and keep your options open in case you don't get into your first few choices. That goes for everyone interested in the field, though.
  15. Feb 12, 2013 #14
    Ok thank you so much for your help! I was really hoping that my background in radiation sciences would help me. Also, you mentioned that I should schedule a visit to campus. When would be a good time to do that if I plan on applying for fall of 2014? I would love to start doing that now, but I would be afraid if I did that too early, then they may forget me by 2014. Since you went to Kentucky, do you happen to know of who exactly I should contact about the tour?
  16. Feb 12, 2013 #15
    I can PM you that contact information.

    Review this information page for some guidance. Specifically, the last point emphasizes the importance of a site visit and says it will ideally occur no later than mid-to-late January since February is when admission decisions are often made.

    Feel free to ask any other questions you may have.
  17. Feb 12, 2013 #16
    Great! I just want to thank you again so much for taking time out of your day to help me! I greatly appreciate it! If anyone else has any helpful tips or advice feel free to let me know!
  18. Feb 14, 2013 #17

    Starting school in 2014 places you under the new guidelines by ABR. In order to be ABR certified you need to attend both a CAMPEP accredited graduate school and CAMPEP accredited residency program so sit for part II. That is a tough spot to be in and I am actually quite surprised schools like Penn and Duke haven't fought this. Duke is still a fairly new player, but if you look at past residents of Penn you will notice that most of them are coming from pos-doc positions and at a minimum a PhD from Nuclear Engineering and Physics. In fact, this is the last year residents can come from non-CAMPEP accredited programs. Furthermore very few residency programs take non-PhD students.

    For this reason, I would suggest taking a hard look at Vanderbilt and Kentucky. Both these schools are a bit non-traditional in that they are purely clinically focused (no research). Kentucky tends to feed straight into their residency program. Vanderbilt on the other hand has an accredited graduate program with an accredited professional doctorate program. Their professional doctorate program is intended to provide the same training as a residency, but instead of getting paid you will pay them. I am not sure how this is viewed in the eyes of the ABR. However, given Coffey's position I am sure they will allow one of their graduates to sit for part II.

    Do take the above physics courses for Kentucky and Vanderbilt.

    To make yourself competitive for other medical physics programs take courses that provide a thorough coverage of interactions, radiation biology, detections, instrumentation techniques, and imaging. Courses in Fourier transform would be great if you are considering adding some math courses. Take a few programming classes as well (Fortran, C++, matlab). Understanding Monte Carlo simulations would be beneficial along with point kernel methods.
  19. Feb 15, 2013 #18
    Just a small correction regarding Kentucky's program.

    They do require each student to participate in research during both the graduate program and the residency. The graduate program is non-thesis (instead opting for a lengthy clinical component) but the clinical research is performed with the goal of a poster session or presentation at a national or regional meeting.
  20. Feb 25, 2013 #19
    This is not quite correct. The 2014 requirement is that you must complete an accredited residency before sitting for Part 2 of the ABR exam. It actually doesn't replace the 2012 requirement, which is that you must be enrolled in or have completed any accredited program (MS, PhD, certificate, DMP, or residency) in order to take Part 1 of the exam. So a single residency program fulfills the requirements for both. However, an accredited residency is obligated to ensure that all residents either have received the required didactic training, or that they receive it during their residency.
  21. Feb 18, 2014 #20
    Just a quick update for anyone in the future that may have a similar background. So far I have been accepted to Toledo, Indiana-Bloomington(not yet CAMPEP accredited), and I have an interview at Kentucky. Apparently my x-ray background is helping me quite a bit so far considering my GPA and GRE scores were very average.
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