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Medical Physics: Grad School Advice

  1. Aug 30, 2014 #1
    I was hoping to apply to some of the graduate programs in Medical Physics this fall and needed some advice/suggestions for the same. It would be great if someone could help me out with the following issues:

    • Is it a good idea to consider only the CAMPEP accredited programs?
    • If I am considering only the programs in the US and Canada, which are some of the good masters programs to look into that are not too competitive and expensive at the same time for an international student?
    • If I pursue a M.Sc. in Medical Physics in Canada from a CAMPEP accredited program, is it possible to move to the US for a job and vice versa?
    • What are some of the important things to keep in mind while applying to Medical Physics programs? I applied to a significant number of programs for a Ph.D last year, and most of them resulted in rejections despite of having a descent profile with prior research experience in Particle Physics. I thought this was probably due to the lesser intake of Ph.D. students as compared to Masters students, and they would probably prefer someone having relevant research experience. I was eventually accepted into Duke, but the program was too expensive. Seeing this, is it a good idea to apply to Masters programs this year?
    • I have seen some conflicting views about the job prospects for Medical Physics graduates on this forum. Which one of them can be considered as a realistic scenario?
  2. jcsd
  3. Aug 30, 2014 #2


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    These should be the first on your list if your goal is to eventually work as a clinical medical physicist. Graduation from a CAMPEP-accredited residency is required to write the ABR certification exams and the most competitive candidates for the accredited residencies come from accredited graduate programs. In Canada by 2016 you will need to have come through either an accredited graduate program or residency to write the CCPM membership exam. These certification exams may or may not be legally required to work as a medical physicist, but the practical reality is that the desirable positions (and most of the perhaps less-desirable ones) are flooded with applicants who have their certification. If you don't got the CAMPEP-accredited program route you can still get in, but it's a tougher slog. You may have to do a post-PhD certificate year, or simply compete without that certification.

    There are of course other options besides clinical medical physics positions: industrial research and development, industrial teaching or service positions, technical sales, academia, entrepreneurial ventures, and health physics positions come to mind and these don't generally require certification.

    Just about all accredited medical physics programs are competitive to get into. One thing to look for are programs that offer financial support. Unlike most other physics graduate programs, medical physics programs may not come with a guaranteed TA or stipend for support. Many of them will offer part-time work to graduate students as physics assistants doing QA work. This is a huge advantage because it means as a resident you will start on your first day with skills that can contribute something to the department.

    Other things to look for include:
    - an emphasis on research
    - clinical skill development
    - faculty with dedicated teaching time
    - opportunity for exposure to a broad range of treatment and imaging modalities
    - graduates of the program are ending up in positions that you would be happy to end up in

    I'd hate to give a list. I'm sure I'd be biased towards my own institution. Just work your way through the CAMPEP list and come up with your own set of what criteria are important to you.

    Yes. An accredited graduate degree in medical physics is accepted all across north America (and generally throughout the world). Certification is also generally accepted on par, although I believe there are a few states that specifically require ABR certification.

    One thing to keep in mind is that the process is competitive. Most programs will have funding for only so many slots per year, so whether you get in or not depends a lot on who else applies (assuming of course you meet the minimum requirements). It helps to apply to more than one program.

    I would also try to visit the campus of any programs you apply to if at all possible. Talk with prospective supervisors, instructors and graduate students. This puts a face to the application, helps you to decide if the school is right for you, and will give you concrete material to reference in any statement of purpose letter.

    Most of them are realistic for someone.

    Simply having completed an MSc in medical physics will not guarantee you a residency or permanent employment in the field. By the numbers I think there are roughly 250 graduates produced per year (not sure if that's US or north America). The predicted demand for clinical medical physicists over the coming decade is roughly 200 new positions per year. The big problem facing the field though is that there are less than 100 residency positions per year - hence there is a huge, and undesired bottleneck at the moment. The bottleneck is likely to widen as more residency programs are accredited, but I doubt we'll see that factor double in the next few years.
  4. Aug 31, 2014 #3
    Why is it really that difficult to get a residency position with just a masters degree even if the number of Ph.D. positions are significantly less than people who have the Masters degree at a given time?
  5. Aug 31, 2014 #4


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    Generally speaking PhDs are preferred over MScs for residencies because you can get more out of a PhD for the cost of running a residency. A PhD generally has a few more years of experience in the field and so will be easier to teach. Also, a lot of residencies come with projects - either clinical or research-based, and PhDs generally bring more to the table that can be used to push these forward.

    And you can still get a residency with an MSc. It's not like this doesn't happen. It's just the PhDs are more competitive and they tend to take up the more popular ones.
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