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Medical and Health Physics Graduate Programs

  1. Oct 10, 2013 #1
    I graduated in May with a BS in Physics and I am interested in going into either Medical or Health Physics. I'm still trying to decide which I'd rather go to school for, but I will probably apply to both types of programs in the meantime. Does anyone have advice about what the best graduate programs are in each of these fields? I know that if I want to do Medical Physics I should go to a CAMPEP-accredited school, and there are very few graduate Health Physics programs, but which programs would better prepare me? I'm leaning towards doing a PhD if possible because I don't want this degree to add to my already hefty student debt.

    One program that I'm interested in is UMass Lowell's Radiological Sciences PhD, which is a CAMPEP-accredited program that allows students to concentrate in either Health or Medical Physics. Has anyone heard anything about UMass' program? It was only accredited in 2012. I would be most interested in this program because of geography and because of the option to choose which area to focus on after I've already had some exposure to each.

    Other programs I'm looking into are Penn and Columbia (for Medical Physics) and Oregon State (for Medical or Health Physics).

    Finally, how competitive are Medical and Health Physics programs to get into?

    Any advice would be greatly appreciated!
  2. jcsd
  3. Oct 10, 2013 #2


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    Hi CFinley,

    In my opinion* when assessing medical physics programs the decision should really be about assessing advantages and disadvantages and ranking each according to the criteria that are important to you as a student. Things that I would look for if I were a student look at programs right now would include:
    1. Obviously CAMPEP accreditation.

    2. I would look at the research projects that the current students and faculty are working on and publishing. Are they interesting to you? Would you want to spend the next 4+ years of your life working on one of them?

    3. Kind of related to 2, what facilities are available? I would personally lean towards a facility that is directly associated with a cancer centre, that has labs that are conducted in a cancer centre, and that has access to some of the newer treatment/imaging modalities.

    4. Financial support and/or work opportunities for students. Some medical physics graduate programs support their students with a guaranteed stipend. Others have QA and/or TA positions available. QA work is a major plus because that's work experience that goes on your CV which will make you more competative later on.

    5. What are the faculty up to? Do they have protected teaching time? What are the opinions of the students currently enrolled in the program of their instructors and the quality of their education? Things to look out for include a single professor who has more than ~4 students and clinical responsibilities - is this person is a good position to mentor you?

    6. There are some "Doctor of Medical Physics" programs out there. The advantage they offer is that you get an accredited residency out of the deal. The disadvantages are that (a) my understanting is you pay them during the residency and (b) there is less focus on research than in the more traditional PhD route.

    7. The CAMPEP-accreditation is based on meeting specific curriculum requirements. In my opinion its good to look for programs that will still have a heavy emphasis on learning the physics and engineering behind medical physics. Some students will steer away from such programs because they are perceived as more difficult, but long-term, I think they produce better physicists.

    8. Try to find out where their graduates are ending up (many schools will post what's happened with their recent graduates). Do they also have a residency program and does it commonly hire graduates from its own program? Are most of the graduates getting residencies or positions in the field?

    I can't say that I know of any specific positives or negatives about the schools you've listed.

    As far as competativeness goes, yes medical physics programs are competative to get into. Typical students who enter into the gradaute programs I'm familiar with have GPAs over 3.5. And there are to my understanding more gradautes than there are accredited residencies, so the competition for residency positions is strong. Then it's a competative environment even for finishing residents too.

    With respect to Health Physics, you can certainly get into Health Physics from Medical Physics. It's nearly impossible to go the other way though.

    *For what it's worth I'm a practicing medical physicst.
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