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Columbia (M.S. in Medical Physics) vs. Vanderbilt (DMP)

  1. Columbia (M.S.)

    1 vote(s)
  2. Vanderbilt (DMP)

    0 vote(s)
  1. Apr 6, 2015 #1
    Hello, all. So, I am a prospective medical physics graduate student for the fall of 2015 and I have been accepted into two of my top four choices: The 2 year M.S. program in Medical Physics at Columbia and the four year DMP (Professional Doctorate of Medical Physics) program at Vanderbilt. Both programs would require massive student loans and both would be extremely expensive. Also, from everything I can gather, both programs have stellar reputations.

    To those of you familiar with the medical physics field and with the prospects of the somewhat uncommon DMP degree in particular, do you think the guaranteed residency is worth taking out loans for an extra two years? What would an M.S. graduate from Columbia's program do with his/her life if he/she didn't get into a residency program? Are there "junior" medical physicist jobs available for such unfortunate souls? etc, etc. Any information from people currently in the field would be greatly appreciated.

    One additional concern I have is that I will be turning 30 this coming summer. I need to get my career going. The biggest thing that worries me about the DMP is the extra two years and having to go even further into debt for a residency experience that I would be paid for elsewhere. The biggest thing that worries me about the Master's program is that admission into medical physics residencies is absurdly competitive, and without a CAMPEP accredited residency, one can not become a board certified medical physicist.

    Thanks in advance.
  2. jcsd
  3. Apr 6, 2015 #2
    I"m glad you posted this request I am a retire medical physics +30 yrs experience. By the way I was 33 when I entered a MP program. I was preparing to post a thread on the problem of completing the certification career pathway in particular for radiation therapy. And I might add it is negative and I expect some flack. As you know certification now requires completion of a CAMPEP accredited residency and certification is required for independent practice., Without certification you will always need "supervision" by a certified physicist. Currently there are only about half the number of residencies needed to meet the needs of current MS/PHD grads.. The rest ( currently about 170) must accept junior physicist position at best or dosimetrist, physics assistant . I might add that MP graduate programs have a conflict of interest in graduating students. The AAPM admits that It does not have much knowledge of how many grad students are in the pipe line

    The AAPM is currently "trying" to think about what to do. It seems the present number of residencies is just about meeting the needs of the profession based on some rather ill defined estimates. The problem is it is about 4-6 years from entering grad program to certification not a short time. The AAPM has no hard number on how many current physicist are going to retire or when within the next 10 years. Currently radiation therapy is at the top of its game with regard to the delivery of radiotherapy treatments. These highly technology dependent techniques are labor intensive requiring more and competent manpower. The AAPM expects this revolution to continue in some way say with proton therapy perhaps or an as yet to be discovered.technique.

    BUT radiation therapy has always be a sort of step child in cancer treatment being mostly pinch hitting for surgery, chemotherapy.or whatever when they failed or finally decided that they could not do any more for the patient. Now that;s a bit of an exaggeration radiation therapy is key for certain cancers but when a new surgical technique or chemotherapy regimen is introduced radiation therapy sees immediate increased cessation of referrals. Most Docs want to keep patients solely under their care. If you watched the Ken Burns production of "Cancer: The Emperor of All Maladies" on PBS recently you should have notice the slighting of radiation therapy as a viable cure for cancer with no reference to any current uses of radiation in cancer treatment. Not that it wasn't mentioned in a negative way however, for its effect on tumors was stated as " to burn out" the cancer. From that program you would not want to be treated with radiation.

    The crescendo of the program was the strides being made in immunotherapy and looking for genetic solution for cures. Recently there is some excitement in this area because for the first time Glioblastoma Multiforme a deadly brain cancer has shown tremendous response. Glio as it is often referred to is currently treated palliatively with Stereotactic Radiotherapy which is one of the technically intensive modalities currently used to extend the life of the patient. So what is the future? That I cannot tell but from the past I believe that it is precarious in view of the concentration on solution from genetic sciences particularly in funding research in this area. Any reasonable person would agree that a genetic cure is a good possibility but when is unknown. But even if it takes 10-15 years and you go for a MP career what do you do when you are 45 or 50? I think MP is a serious gamble. It is not easy to get into unless you become an assistant physicist or dosimetrist and a full career until retirement does not seem guaranteed. Radiation therapy may linger for decades as a life extender but I do not see droves of patient flocking to those clinics in the years ahead. Choose wisely. If you choose to go with MP join the AAPM as a student affiliate to keep abreast of developments in the field as well as other areas of cancer treatment.
  4. Apr 7, 2015 #3


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    This is a tough question. I share your concern about programs charging the students for a residency. The thing is, residents make a considerable contribution in terms of work to a medical physics department. They do QA. The commission new equipment. They check plans. They do a lot of the little mundane tasks that the qualified medical physicists don't like doing. You have to train them to do these things, and supervise them to an extent, but the fact of the matter is that they do a lot of work. But that's the point of a residency. It's to do the work so that the resident gains clinical experience. If they're not contributing, they're not getting the experience that matters.

    Getting off of that soapbox though the reality of physics residencies is that they're tough to come by and rolling the clinical component into the graduate program solves this concern. When you finish the DMP program, you're ready to write your (final) board exams.

    CAMPEP programs are graduating just shy of 300 students over the last couple of years - MSc and PhD combined. There are roughly 120 CAMPEP residency positions currently available, and most of them tend to prefer PhD candidates. The number of residency positions is expected to go up, but it's not likely to double over the next 2 years. If you want to be competitive for a residency position, you have to seriously consider doing a PhD, and whether or not that's funded depends on the particular program.

    The other potential pitfall of the DMP route is that it's still relatively new and there's only one or two programs so you'll be faced with constantly explaining what it is, which could make job hunting difficult.

    Something else to mention is to look at the statistics for each program - I believe accredited programs are now required to publish these. What are their recent graduates doing?

    You might want to read this thread.
  5. Apr 7, 2015 #4


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    I disagree with Gleem that medical physics is a gamble in the long term. I believe that it's going to be very stable for the foreseeable future - at least as far as career choice goes. My arguments are up on my blog.
  6. Apr 7, 2015 #5
    There currently a bulletin board discussion on the AAPM website dealing with this dearth of residencies to accommodate the current graduates. Some members as myself feel it is appalling that there is such a discrepancy between candidates and residencies. Others just say "nothing is guaranteed".people still get law degrees and MBA's even though there is a glut of them so you took your shot and, "oh too bad" no place for you. But at least with a law degree you can still go into private practice. Not true with MP. Next year the 170 grads not granted a residency this year will compete with new grads. Again only about 110 of this pool these will get a residency. The matching program for the residencies has selected the best graduates for the residency. Ir would seem that if each new graduating class has basically the same profile as the previous then those that are not selected this year will be a a higher risk of not being selected next year.. Not a gamble?

    And what is the foreseeable future, 10 to 15 years certainly not long enough for a career when you might spend half that time getting your foot in the door. If radiation therapy is stable and we are meeting the needs now how many people need be in the pipe line?
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