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Medical Physics Education Advice

  1. Jan 26, 2017 #1
    Hi Everyone,

    I am currently going through the interview process for several medical physics M.S. programs. I have a very hard time getting a read on how various programs compare. I was hoping that any of you with academic or professional experience in the field could give some advice. As of now, I have been offered interviews at Duke and Vanderbilt. I am waiting to hear back from Columbia, University of Texas-Houston, University of Wisconsin-Madison, and the University of Kentucky.

    I have heard mixed reviews about a couple schools, Columbia in particular. With such a stellar reputation overall, I am wondering if anyone would be comfortable giving their feedback on some of these programs. Any information would be very helpful in moving forward with application process!
  2. jcsd
  3. Jan 27, 2017 #2


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    I don't have a lot of experience with those particular programs, but maybe could offer some general advice. This first big point is that once a program is CAMPEP-accredited, you know that it's curriculum and methodology have been independently reviewed and that it meets the standard for an education in the field. So I think it's important for the students to compare the different programs with factors that are important to them. Some things to consider (in no particular order) include:

    1. What research is currently being done through the program, how much emphasis is there on student research, and what kinds of projects are current graduate students working on? I've always been big on the research side of medical physics because its important that a student learn the skills necessary to bring new technologies into the clinic.

    2. What kind of new technologies are available in the associated clinics, if anything?

    3. What clinical exposure are you going to get? Is everything course based, or will you get hands-on time with linear accelerators? Are you going to create treatment plans? Are you going to be able to operate an MRI machine?

    4. Building on the previous point will you get to do any QA work? Some programs allow students the opportunity to work part time doing QA measurements which builds a clinical skill set, and generally makes you comfortable around the kinds of machines you'll eventually be responsible for. This is a big advantage when competing for residency positions.

    5. How much does the program cost, what kind of financial support is available, and what is the local cost of living? Because most medical physics graduate programs are considered professional programs they don't generally offer the same kind of support as you would get in other branches of physics. Some programs balance it out so that students are able to support themselves through QA work. Others have pretty high fees. Do your homework.

    6. Programs are required to post stats on their graduates. Where are they ending up? Is that where you would like to be?
  4. Feb 8, 2017 #3
    Just wondering, what have you heard about Columbia?
  5. Mar 17, 2017 #4
    Choppy, thanks a lot for your input. Those are definitely some of the bigger factors that have been influencing my decisions thus far.

    Bpollard, I have heard that the program is not very cohesive, despite being quite large. I have also heard that the faculty don't take the level of personal interest in students as can be seen in other programs. I recently was accepted their for fall, but have no firsthand knowledge of the program as no one I tried to get in touch with responded prior to my acceptance.
  6. Apr 2, 2017 #5
    I'm guessing this info is too late but no harm responding.

    Columbia as a school has a great reputation but their medical physics program is not a standout (from a reputation perspective). That doesn't mean it is bad, just that they aren't really doing anything that differentiates them from other programs.

    Duke and Vanderbilt are both great programs, but if you are interested in clinical experience during graduate school then Vanderbilt will have more to offer. Research and didactic side I would give the nod to Duke. Fang-Fang Yin and Ehsan Samei are great people at Duke on the therapy and imaging sides, respectively.

    UW-Madison is another stellar program and the graduate network is huge. Didactic and research opportunities are top-notch. They are also one of the early-adopters of MR-guided radiotherapy technology (ViewRay) if that interests you as an area of research. I think it will be an area of solid growth over the next decade. We are in the process of installing an MR-Linac where I currently work.

    Disclaimer about University of Kentucky is that I attended there for graduate school...University of Kentucky is a strong clinical program. At least when I was there all of the graduate students did a solid 12-14 months of clinical work in addition to the didactic and research requirements. It was almost like a simultaneous residency. Small class sizes (6-8) and they seem to do a good job of picking students who mesh together well. They have at least 4 residency spots available exclusively to their program graduates every year through a hub and spoke model. They have a new Ph.D. program that I believe will start accepting students this fall. Janelle Molloy and Lee Johnson are great faculty there and Lexington is a great mid-size city.
  7. Apr 2, 2017 #6

    Thank you so much for that insight; this has been super helpful. Do you have any opinions on MD Anderson as well?
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