# Programs I am doing PhD in Physics and interested in medical physics

1. Mar 15, 2012

### skyhike

Hi All,

I am doing PhD in Physics and interested in medical physics. I am wondering what I should do to switch to medical physics? I was told that I should do two years training after my PhD and pass ABR exam. Is that all it takes to switch to medical physics? Where can I look for more information about that 2 years training program?

Also do you medical physics is a good program? What subfields are there under medical physics?

Thank you

2. Mar 15, 2012

### Choppy

Re: Medical Physics

Hi Skyhike,

If you're currently a PhD student and interested in a career in medical physics in north america you have a couple of options.

1. Continue on your current path and finish your PhD in whatever field. Then there are currently 2 programs that I'm aware of that allow you complete a 1 year post-PhD program that covers the medical physics didactic coursework and qualifies you for that component of the board exams. After that program you then need to do a residency for at least two years, where you gain clinical experience. Then you can write the board exams.

2. Stop your current program and enter into an accredited medical physics PhD program. Once that's completed you can then apply directly to residencies.

For information on the various accredite programs check out:
http://www.campep.org/

As for you last two questions, I'll start with the last one. The majority of medical physicists (~ 80%) work in the radiation oncology specialty. The rest generally work in diagnostic imaging, MRI, nuclear medicine and radiation protection.

As to whether it's a "good" progam, that's school-, time-, and student-specific. The program that I went through was a good program for me. You have to spend some time researching the specific progams you're interested in to know if they will be a good fit for you.

3. Mar 15, 2012

### skyhike

Re: Medical Physics

Thanks for your reply. I was told that I need a 2 year training program. At another time, I was told that I need a 3 year clinical experience. Now you are telling me that I need a 1 year post-PhD program. Which one is true? What are those two programs you mentioned?

What should I do after finishing my PhD?

4. Mar 15, 2012

### Choppy

Re: Medical Physics

No, I'm giving you various options that will allow you to qualify to pass the ABR or CCPM certification exams.

You can look them up here:
http://www.theabr.org/ic-rp-req

You have multiple options. I've outlined two of them. Other options...
- Some students do a Master's degree in medical physics after completing a PhD in another field.
- Not ALL employers require certification. Some people are able to find junior medical physics positions with little to no direct medical physics training at all. Such positions are (a) going the way of the dinosaur, and (b) highly competative, and (c) don't pay as well as those that require certification.
- Some post-doc positions will be balanced with clinical training. Some are official residencies. Others are not. But this is a way into the field as well. With the new CAMPEP requirements for the ABR and CCPM exams coming into play, the unofficial residencies won't be as popular any more.

5. Mar 21, 2012

### lifter

Re: Medical Physics

Question regarding the ABR certification:

If someone was entering a CAMPEP accredited residency with a PhD, can't they sit for Part 1 of the ABR boards in that first year of the residency? From my understanding, Part 2 requires 3 years of experience, so, assuming you passed Part 1, that can be taken after you get a year of experience following the two year residency (2+1 = 3), right? Then, when do you take Part 3, the next year?

The ABR certification requirements are confusing to me, so thanks in advance for any possible clarifications.

6. Mar 21, 2012

### Choppy

Re: Medical Physics

Hi Lifter,

I am by no means an expert on the ABR. My certification is through the CCPM.

According to the current policy (see link above), to sit for part 1 you have to be enrolled in or graduated from an accredited program. So yes, you can write this if you're in your first year of a residency, provided you graduated from an accredited institution. I don't know what the deal is if you happen to have gotten into a residency but not have come from an accredited graduate program. (Note that the post-PhD programs I've mentioned above also count as graduation from an accredited graduate program).

Part 2 requires 3 years of clinical experience. You get some partical credit for graduate school. My understanding (again - just some random guy on the internet) is that you could in theory take Part 1 and then Part 2 the next day, provided you meet the respective qualifications.

As soon as you pass part 2, you can write (or talk) part 3. Usually these are done in sequence, so I imagine there's a few months between the exams. I assume that they are held annually, but I don't know that.

7. Mar 21, 2012

### lifter

Re: Medical Physics

Thanks, Choppy. I'm a PhD and am planning to enter a certificate program (applied and waiting to hear back), go for a residency, and then get into the workforce. I have no location restriction for a residency or job, so hopefully that will help me in what seems to be a competitive field from what I have been reading. More residencies are becoming CAMPEP accredited each year, so that should help. Also, the economy, in general, is down right now, so it's not out of the ordinary for MP to be competitive at the moment.

8. Apr 13, 2012

### skyhike

Re: Medical Physics

Chopper- thanks again for your response. You gave me two options:

"1. Continue on your current path and finish your PhD in whatever field. Then there are currently 2 programs that I'm aware of that allow you complete a 1 year post-PhD program that covers the medical physics didactic coursework and qualifies you for that component of the board exams. After that program you then need to do a residency for at least two years, where you gain clinical experience. Then you can write the board exams."

I didn't know there is a required coursework after a PhD in Physics. Can you confirm that this coursework is required and I have to take it before Part 1 of ABR exam?

Is it difficult to get into those schools since you said there are only two schools offering this coursework? Another medical physicist told me that a postdoc in medical physics can replace the residency training. Can you confirm that also?

"2. Stop your current program and enter into an accredited medical physics PhD program. Once that's completed you can then apply directly to residencies."

I am almost finished with my program. So I want to continue and get my degree from here. I may start PhD in medical physics if it is a wise option. Are those school very competitive to get in? How long does a PhD in medical physics take? Do I still need to take ABR exam after a PhD in medical physics? After I finish my PhD here in physics, what if I start a master program in medical physics? What are the differences between a master and a PhD in medical physics?

It might have been many questions, sorry. If you can help, it will be very useful for me to decide on my career.

9. Apr 14, 2012

### Choppy

Re: Medical Physics

It's commonly referred to as "the didactic coursework." As mentioned, my understanding is that you need to be enrolled in or graduated from an accredited medical physics program to write part I. If you complete your PhD in another field, you still need to cover this specific coursework. Most of it is not particularly intensive compared to other graduate-level physics courses (although it isn't necessarily trivial either and a lot can depend on who's teaching it). It covers basic treatment planning, imaging, radioiology, radiation saftey, labs to familiarize you with the operation of devices such as linacs, brachytherapy afterloaders and various imaging modalities.

The philosophy behind making people take specific coursework, so far as I understand it, is that simply passing a single exam doesn't necessarily establish competance within a profession. Thus, the certifying bodies have established a set of criteria which includes having taken course that introduce the basic knowledge in the field. If you already have a PhD in physics, you more than likely are capable of doing this coursework. But the point is that you have to do it.

It can be fairly competative, yes. I don't know the admission stats becasue the programs are both fairly new. But just because you have a PhD doesn't guarantee you admission.

Generally speaking, no. A post-doc does not substitute for a residency. Under the new rules, you have to go through an accredited residency program. This ensures that the residents obtain a significant clinical background to establish competance in the profession. The problem with post-docs is that they projects can be all-consuming andvery specific.

That being said, many residencies are combined with post-doc positions. Thus rather than simply two years of clinical training, you might do three or four years that include both scientific work and clinical training.

They're competative. If you already have a PhD, you don't necessarily need another one. I know several people who have done the two years to get a medical physics MSc after a PhD in another field. They are just as competative as medical physics PhDs - sometimes even moreso.

About the same as any other PhD. Again, I would just look at doing a medical physics MSc or a post-PhD program if you already have the PhD.

If you want ABR certification, yes. There are some places that will still hire medical physicists without certification, but they're going the way of the dinosaur. If you really want to enter this field, I highly recommend that you aim to obtain certification.

See above. That's a good option.

Basically they're the same as the differences in any other field. The PhD generally gives the student a stronger background in research. As far as clinical skills and background a PhD and MSc are about the same.

10. Apr 14, 2012

### skyhike

You are suggesting starting a MS program in medical physics is a good option.

According to what you said before, I need to spend one year on the medical physics didactic coursework anyway. And there are only two school that offers this one year coursework. I think MS degree will take two years.

Since there are more school offering MS degree in medical physics than those two schools offering the medical physics didactic coursework, I should have more chance to get into medical physics MS programs than two schools you mentioned that offers one year coursework.

Also getting MS degree should increase my chance to get into residency training program.

I think spending two years for MS degree in medical physics is worth.

Right now, I am thinking that after my PhD in physics, I should get a teaching position in a small college and after one or two years later, I should start a MS program in medical physics. I am planning to do a master in medical physics as I teach in a small college.

What do you think? Any other suggestion?

11. Apr 15, 2012

### EricVT

If you want a career in clinical medical physics then you need to be certified, so it's good that you are focused on paths that lead to that. The current policy on initial certification from the American Board of Radiology states that you have to be enrolled in (or graduated from) a CAMPEP-accredited graduate program to begin the process.

I haven't heard of the one-year programs that Choppy mentioned, but if you are considering that route I would put in the effort to make sure they are CAMPEP-accredited and also contact the ABR and verify that they do in fact qualify you to sit for the Part I exam.

I think you would be very competitive for clinical residency positions if you hold your Ph.D. in physics along with an M.S. in medical physics from an accredited program.

12. Apr 15, 2012

### Choppy

The only thing I might warn you about is that doing a master's degree in medical physics is a serious committment. If you plan on working while you're doing it, it will very likely extend the length of time it takes you to complete it.

Another option that might be worth looking into for someone who already has a PhD is the "doctor of medical physics" programs. These are accredited programs that take 4 years but essentially combine a 2 year MSc with a 2 year residency. I've never been a fan of these programs myself because the concept appears to me to be a way a way to weasel out of paying residents for the work they do.

And the one year programs that I've mentioned are accredited. You can link to them through the CAMPEP website.

13. Apr 16, 2012

### skyhike

Choppy-

Is the doctor of medical physics programs same as PhD in medical physics? What are the differences between those two programs?

You said a master in medical physics is a serious commitment. I don't have any problem completing my master in medical physics if I am paid for my teaching in a college.

Will I be paid if I start a doctor of medical physics program? If so, is the salary similar to PhD student's salary or a postdoc's salary? I have a family and the money I will be getting is important. That is the main reason I prefer doing my master as I teach in a college.

Lastly where can I find those schools offering a doctor of medical physics? I couldn't find it on www.campep.org . If they are Campep accredited, they should be on the web site.

Thanks again.

14. Apr 16, 2012

### Choppy

No. The DMP is a new concept, kind of like an MD or other professional degrees. My understanding is that there is much less emphasis on research and more emphasis on the clinical role of a medical physicist - the practical training that most PhDs would get during a residency.

The issue I was bringing up is one of time. If you're teaching full time at a college, you'll likely have trouble completing an MSc in two years. I worked a part-time job during my PhD and it significantly extended my completion time compared to that of my peers.

My understanding is there is no financial support in the DMP programs, but I'm no expert in them.

I believe Vanderbilt University is offering the DMP now. I'm not sure about anyone else.

15. Apr 17, 2012

### lifter

This is the one in the USA:
https://grahamschool.uchicago.edu/php/medphysics/index.php [Broken]

It is CAMPEP accredited and it makes you board eligible. Having talked with some of the program directors at a few CAMPEP accredited residencies (one of them a top notch facility), I can say that the Certificate program at UChicago would make you an attractive candidate. There really isn't a need to do an MS if you have a PhD, but if you feel you need that extra background that isn't offered by the Certificate (unlikely for a physicist or nuclear engineer), then get the MS.

Before the new requirements came into effect, a PhD in a field closely related to MP could have become board eligible by entering a residency without having to fulfill the didactic requirements. The residents would learn during the residency. Programs like the one at UChicago have emerged to fill that void. It's only 8 months in length, compared to a 2 year Masters Program. You apply for residencies by December of the year you are in the certificate program, the program ends in June, and you begin whichever residency you have hopefully been accepted to shortly thereafter (July-ish).

Residencies are either 2 or 3 years. Assuming it's a 2 year residency, if you were able to sit for your boards in August of the first year of your residency (applying for the boards the previous August near beginning the certificate ... that is still unsure, so you may have to apply a year later, pushing everything back a year), you would take part 2 near the end (before or right after) of your residency, and then finally take part 3 nine months later.

I'm just relaying all of the information that I have been able to gather from speaking to program directors and colleagues. I am planning to go the certificate route and will be sure to update as I progress. Finding information in the field of Medical Physics is difficult, so I hope I will be able to help give the American perspective on things. Choppy and EricVT have been helpful in many threads on PF, so maybe I will be able to pitch in and help give the perspective of someone (hopefully) entering medical physics via the new route of entry.

Last edited by a moderator: May 5, 2017
16. Apr 17, 2012

### skyhike

Thank you all for your responses. I agree it is hard to find information about medical physics.

When did the didactic course requirement become a requirement for ABR exam? Is it recently?

Another think I didn't understand is the purpose of doing a postdoc in medical physics. The medical physicist I talked to said that doing postdoc will replace the residency training. As far as the comments on this forum concerned, this is not the case. Then what is the purpose of doing a postdoc in medical physics? Is it useful anyway to become medical physicist?

17. Apr 17, 2012

### lifter

The 2012 initiative requires that candidates taking Part 1 of the ABR exam in 2012 or later must be enrolled in or graduated from a CAMPEP accredited program. That program can be a residency, an MS program, a PhD program, DMP program, or a certificate program. The only requirement is that it is CAMPEP accredited.

Note that all of those programs besides the residency will have an academic component in Medical Physics. So naturally, you're thinking, "Why not just enter the residency so that I don't have to pay for more school and can just skip out of the coursework?" The answer is that the AAPM has recommended in report #197S that candidates for a residency program should have completed a list of specific courses to have a sufficient didactic background prior to embarking on a residency (publication is here: www.aapm.org/pubs/reports/RPT_197S.pdf).

Considering that, you can see how there is practically an inherent didactic requirement in order to obtain ABR Certification. As I said in my previous post, some residencies don't require completion of the recommended didactic courses, but they still have a preference to Medical Physics students from CAMPEP programs, there aren't many of them available, and they are typically a 3 year program instead of the standard 2 year residency.

The 2014 ABR initiative states that if you took Part 1 in 2014 or later, then you will have had to complete a CAMPEP accredited residency program in order to sit for Part 2.

A postdoc will not replace residency training if it isn't an CAMPEP accredited program. Also, based on the 2014 initiative, you will need to have completed a residency in order to sit for Part 2.

I am not too familiar with MP postdocs, but my best guess is that they are geared towards people who are interested in the research side of MP more than the clinical side of MP. Maybe someone else could give some input on this.

18. Apr 17, 2012

### ThinkToday

The didactic requirements was pretty much always there, IMO. There had to be specific course content followed by experience to sit for boards. You always had to submit transcripts to show you had the bases covered.

Residency requirements are now via a CAMPEP approved program, so just general post-doc work doesn't cut it. Per ABR, "To be eligible for Part 1 on a new registration, you must be enrolled in or have graduated from a CAMPEP-accredited program (graduate program, DMP program, or medical physics residency)."

While post-doc clinical time will help you in the long run it doesn't replace the residency, but it will help you to qualify for Part 2 - Per ABR, "You must have had at least three years (36 months) of full-time equivalent clinical experience in active association with an approved department, division, or practice in the area(s) in which certification is sought under the supervision of a certified medical physicist. This requirement must be satisfied by June 30 of the year in which the Part 2 exam is to be taken."

As a final note: The AAPM and ABR have expressed serious concern about the number of medical physicists that leave research for clinical work (e.g. more money, no publish or perish stuff), and they are attempting to support research medical physicist positions.

19. Apr 17, 2012

### lifter

You must have 3 years of full-time clinical experience OR you a 24 month residency. It doesn't say it on the ABR website (at least, I couldn't find it), but it was stated in several presentations on certification at a recent AAPM meeting.

20. Apr 17, 2012

### skyhike

So there are some CAMPEP accredited postdoc programs and I can do postdoc in those programs instead of residency training and I can take the ABR exam?

Also do you know if I can get any support (money) from the program during the medical physics master program or the certification program to complete my didactic course requirement? What is the support situation for residency training?

Thank you guys for all your help

21. Apr 17, 2012

### Choppy

Aren't you glad you opened the "Pandora's Box" that is medical physics certification?

The history behind the 2012/2014 CAMPEP requirements, as I understand it, is that leading up to this too many people were failing their board exams. The powers that be felt one of the main reasons for this came down to not having covered enough material.

The point of certification is to establish competance within a profession and an exam where half the people taking it fail puts the entire profession on shaky ground. From this came the idea that candidates needed to have completed a specific set of coursework and gained a specific clinical skill set.

I'm not saying I agree completely with how this came about. It has had very serious consequences both for students who found themselves unable to qualify for board exams and the profession in general with the residency bottleneck that followed. But that's my understanding of how and why we're in the position we're in.

22. Apr 17, 2012

### Choppy

With respect to post-docs, it bears noting that post doctoral research does NOT replace a residency. This goes back to my previous point that the point of a residency is to develop a specific clinical skill set. Post-doctoral research offers no guarantee that any clinical skill at all will be developed.

Often, however, a residency will be COMBINED with a post-doctoral research project. This creates a win-win situation. The medical physics department advances its research and the PhD graduate gets clinical training.

As for the financial support question, this varies considerably by program. Most programs will have QA and/or TA work for students. Some will receive stipends similar to gradaute students in other fields. Make sure you look into this for each program you apply to.

Finally, residencies are paid positions. The pay range varies considerably, but you won't be making less than post-docs in other fields. If you get a student membership with the AAPM, you'll have access to their annual salary survey to get an idea of what the numbers really look like.

23. Apr 18, 2012

### lifter

No.

During a massters or certificate program, you might be able to earn a bit of money on the side by assisting in research, but I am unaware of anything like a GRA for masters or certificate students. In other words, you will have to take out loans or pay for tuition out of pocket and try to earn money on the side to pay for living expenses.

For residency training, there is no tuition and the compensation varies. From what I have been able to gather, the typical residency compensation is in the $45k-$50k range.

24. Apr 18, 2012

### skyhike

It seems I have two options to get in the path of medical physics after finishing my PhD in physics. I will either go to a certificate program or a master program in medical physics to complete my didactic course requirement. The financial support from those programs won't be enough to support my family. I am thinking to do a teaching job aside as I complete my didactic course requirement.

I will try to find a teaching job in a city where I can do a master in medical physics or get a certification. Since there are only two schools offering the certification program, my chance of finding a teaching job in a city where I can get certification should be lower than my chance of finding a teaching job in a city where I can do a master in medical physics. I should have a higher chance of getting a residency training with a master than a certificate.

After finishing my didactic course requirement, I can apply for residency training. When I am admitted, I can quit my teaching job and go in the medical physics pathway.

So at this point during my PhD, I am not thinking to do anything for medical physics until I find a teaching position.

Also is there any other health job I can do with my PhD in physics probably with shorter path than medical physics? I didn't know much about medical physics until I took that medical physics course. Are there some other fields I can do with my degree which takes less time for me to get in?

This forum helped me a lot. I want to thank all of you again. If I run into one of you in real life, I can treat you with a meal :)

Last edited: Apr 18, 2012
25. Apr 18, 2012

### EricVT

The ABR certification requirements really only strictly apply to people interested in doing clinical medical physics. If you simply want a job related to healthcare you may be able to find work in industry doing R&D or something similar.

Companies like Varian, Accuray, G.E., Siemens, Phillips, etc. employ non-clinical physicists for a variety of roles in radiology and radiation oncology (for developmental work or clinical training, for example).

I personally don't know a whole lot about specifics in the industry side of things, perhaps others can elaborate further.