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How can I improve my chances for a medical physics program?

  1. Jul 22, 2009 #1
    Hello all! I just got a B.S. in physics from a large public university this past spring, and I am planning on applying to some Ph. D. programs in medical physics for Fall 2010. Unfortunately, my background isn't particularly strong. I have:

    -3.4 GPA
    -60th percentile on physics GRE
    -No research experience

    I do have a few things going for me:

    -Experience with programming languages (python, C++, Fortran) and electronics
    -Probably able to get at least 2 pretty good letters of recommendation and a decent 3rd one

    At the moment, I don't have anything planned for the upcoming academic year ('09-'10), but I want to try and improve my chance of being accepted. Does anybody have any suggestions on what I could do? Maybe take some classes from the school I got my B.S.? Or get a job? Any input would be greatly appreciated. Thanks!
     
  2. jcsd
  3. Jul 22, 2009 #2
    Well the obvious answer is to try and take a coop/intern/research student in medical physics. They're actually pretty plentiful (I ended up leaving coop in my undergrad because I couldn't get anything BUT medical physics and code monkey work)
     
  4. Jul 22, 2009 #3

    Choppy

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    One suggestion might be to contact whatever radiation therapy facilities are close to you and try to find out if they have need of anyone to do routine clinical QA work. It's not all that uncommon for facilities to hire a B.Sc. level physics graduate for a "physics tech" position. This will give you a little insight into the field along with a paycheque. You could also volunteer to get involved with a research project of some sort - even if it ends up being at 'arms length' from medical physics.

    Ultimately I would recommend that you at least do 'something.' One of the worst things you can have on a CV/grad school application is a large chunk of blank time. If you don't have access to a medical physics department in your area, any research experience is better than no research experience, so you may want to volunteer for research with a physics or engineering department.

    Getting into an accredited program is competative, so every little bit will help.
     
  5. Jul 23, 2009 #4
    I too am interested in getting into a medical physics program, but my circumstance is slightly different. I'm a PhD student in particle astrophysics (starting third year this fall), and I'd like to do a medical physics postdoc. I'm curious as to what I can do right now to improve my chances of getting a postdoc. I've been told that I should do as much work on FPGAs and data acquisition as possible, which shouldn't be a problem because my research area has a lot of opportunities for doing hardware stuff. Any other suggestions from anyone?
     
  6. Jul 23, 2009 #5

    berkeman

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    I did a search for threads with the word medical in the title here in the Guidance forum, and got lots of hits. Maybe check out some of these previous threads for ideas:

    https://www.physicsforums.com/search.php?searchid=1683130 [Broken]

    .
     
    Last edited by a moderator: May 4, 2017
  7. Jul 23, 2009 #6

    Choppy

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    Arunma,
    You might want to get a student membership with the AAPM if you don't already have one. They have a job postings section on their website that you could start paying attention to now - see what types of skills and qualifications people are often looking for in medical physics post-docs. Often, these will vary considerably depending on what projects are being funded at the time.

    It's not uncommon these days for people to come back after doing a PhD to do a 2 year master's degree in an accredited program and then seek a residency.
     
  8. Jul 23, 2009 #7
    I'm wondering if it's worth it for me to retake the physics GRE to improve my score? From what I understand a lot of medical physics programs don't even require the test, which leads me to think that they don't care as much about it. So should I spend my time to study and get a better score, or is that time better spent elsewhere? Thanks!
     
  9. Jul 23, 2009 #8

    Choppy

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    So far as I know Canadian programs don't require the GRE, and there are several accredited programs up here. In general the GRE/PGRE is something that's program specific and for some programs you first have to be admitted to the department (which may require the GRE), then the medical physics program.

    I would contact any specific school you're interested in applying to and find out as much as you can about the specific admissions process. Sometimes it helps to speak with current graduate students both to learn about the program and to get an idea of what is required to get in.
     
  10. Jul 26, 2009 #9
    Is it less competitive to get into an unaccredited program? What exactly is the advantage of going to a CAMPEP accredited program? Can I still get certified if I graduate from an unaccredited med. physics program?
     
  11. Jul 26, 2009 #10

    Choppy

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    These are all good questions.

    In general, non-accredited programs are less competative, although this varies from school to school.

    There are several advantages to an accredited program. First and foremost is that the cirriculum has been independently evaluated and certified as meeting the criteria necessary to prepare you for entry level clinical work in this field. There are many progams out there that may use the term "medical physics" but are essentially a general physics education with a project that has a medical application. In an accredited medical physics program you learn all the necessary fundamentals about instrumentation, calibration proceedures, radiation protection, treatment planning, radiobiology etc. that you would otherwise have to pick up on the job.

    The other advantage is with respect to board certification. In general by 2012, in order to write the ABR certification exam, candidates will have to have completed either a CAMPEP- accredited graduate program OR a CAMPEP-accredited residency. By 2014, candidates will have to be enrolled in or have completed a CAMPEP-accredited residency (regardless of program).

    As someone who has recently gone through the board exams, I might add that having some confidence in your academic program does a lot to calm your nerves while going through the process.

    Finally, for the reasons cited above, coming from an accredited program gives you a significant advantage in the job market.

    Can you still get certified? Yes. But if you're starting now, you will very likely have to complete an accredited residency in order to do so.
     
  12. Jul 26, 2009 #11
    Ok, thanks Choppy!
     
  13. Jul 29, 2009 #12
    If you're starting now you definitely need to go to a CAMPEP accredited school. There's almost no point in going to one that isn't. You can go to aapm.org to get more information. Or CAMPEP.org. Basically what it comes down to is that they're slowly changing the requirements to get board certified. To sit for the boards, you'll soon have to have graduated from a CAMPEP school OR had a 2 year residency after a masters. So, if you get in in the next couple years, not going to a CAMPEP school will buy you an extra 2 years of manditory training. The CAMPEP residencies are currently few and far between, and most only want to accept graduates from a CAMPEP program with strong academic background. If you go to a non-accredited school and can't get into a residency, you'll be in trouble (not able to take the boards). Shortly after that a CAMPEP residency will also be required. Again, the competition for this will probably still be pretty fierce. The good news is that many programs are going through the accreditation process right now. So if a school you're interested in is not on the CAMPEP list, then call them and find out what their status is. Many schools have everything done but the final paperwork.
     
  14. Jul 29, 2009 #13
    After all is said and done... What are the odds of landing a job in Southern California? Is there enough flexibility in the job market to allow you to choose whichever geographic region you prefer?
     
  15. Jul 30, 2009 #14

    Choppy

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    The job market depends on a lot of things. In general, for a certified medical physicist, the job prospects are still quite good, but in a relative sense. You will not have a problem getting A job, but getting the job you want in the location you want comes down to availability. I think a place like California is sufficiently large that you shouldn't have a problem getting a job there though, if that's where you want to live.
     
  16. Jul 30, 2009 #15
    Does anybody know which area of medical physics has greater demands for new physicists (Diagnostics, therapy, etc.)?
     
  17. Jul 31, 2009 #16

    Choppy

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    Generally it's radiation therapy. In our department, the therapy specialists vastly outnumber those in other specialties. One might argue that these days a therapy physicist has to know a lot more about imaging than in previous years with so many image-guidance modalities being incorporated into standard therapies these days, so from a "what to study" perspective you would do yourself a favour to learn as much as you can about both paths. There is also the nuclear medicine physics specialty which is also a smaller branch, but I think there's potential for a lot of growth in this branch since PET and PET/CT is becomming more common. Another branch, a specialty of its own within the imaging wing, is MRI physics, which is also likely to grow in the comming years.
     
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