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Paths to Medical Physics?

  1. Jul 25, 2012 #1
    Hi all,

    I am a little lost in finding a path to medical physics. I am close to finishing my PhD in physics and trying to get in medical physics. As far as I understand, I have three options:

    1- The certificate program at University of Chicago (which takes one year)
    2- A master program in a CAMPEP accredited program (which usually takes two years)
    3- A PhD program in a CAMPEP accredited program (which usually takes four years)

    Are those time lengths correct (1 yr for certificate program, 2 for MS, 4 for PhD)?

    In which of those options am I able to find support from the school?

    Do I still need a residency training to take the ABR exam if I choose the path-3? If not, what is the advantage of PhD over MS?

    Can choosing any of those three options change my chance of finding a residency training?

    Do I need a residency training to take the ABR exam? I was told that the new regulation will go in effect in 2014. Is it possible to take the ABR exam without residency training in my case?

    I am really getting lost in medical physics discussions. I will really appreciate if you can offer some help. Thank you for all your replies.
  2. jcsd
  3. Jul 25, 2012 #2


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    Approximately. A PhD may take longer, but if you already have a PhD in another branch of physics, I would look at just options 1 or 2 though.

    The post PhD certificate program that I'm affiliated with (not the University of Chicago) does not provide financial support.

    For gradaute programs, the level of financial support varies considerably from school to school. I believe in the US it's not common for MSc students to be supported. It's more common in Canada. Many programs will have opportunities for part-time work doing QA that will give you about the same amount of money as you might expect from typical graduate stipend/RA/TA arrangements.


    For someone who already has a PhD in a different branch of physics, there isn't much point in doing another one in medical physics. The advantages that the PhD give you over the MSc boild down to more training in research, and perhaps a more specialized skill set. If you already have a PhD, you have the reserch capacity. Development of the more specialized skill is something that can be accomplished with a post doctoral position, or even in a residency.

    That said, I believe the ABR may knock off a year of clinical experience off of their requirements (from 3 to 2) if you have a PhD in medical physics.

    As far as academic training goes:
    - an accredited PhD in medical physics,
    - an accredited MSc in medical physics + PhD in another branch of physics
    - an accredited post-PhD certificate in medical physics + PhD in another branch of physics
    are roughly equivalent.

    A lone accredited MSc in medical physics is sometimes treated differently, though not necessarily better or worse. For example, they may not be as competative for residencies that are combined with research projects, but they may be more competative for placements with a stronger clinical emphasis.

    Unless you're already in an accredite graduate or diploma program (or starting on in September) you'll need to complete an accredited residency if you plan to write the ABR exam.
  4. Jul 25, 2012 #3
    Given that you pretty much have a PhD in physics already, I would try to get a postdoc in a medical phyisics group and take it from there.

    If you are so sure about medical physics, you should have a pretty precise idea about what speciality interests you. Read the relevant papers. Find out who the relevant people and groups are. Don't be shy and contact them directly, asking for postdoc opportunities.

    This can save you loads of time (years...). You should be able to work in your chosen field, even if you do not have the exact paper usually required. That may or may not turn out to be a problem later. I would take the chance.

    If these people think that this shortcut is not appropriate then they will tell you.
  5. Jul 25, 2012 #4
    Thank you all.

    Choppy, you previously said "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."

    Now you are telling me that I still need to do a residency training after a PhD in medical physics. Isn't that a contradiction?

    M_Quack, To be able to take the ABR exam, I need a degree from a graduate program in medical physics.
  6. Jul 25, 2012 #5


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    I can see how it's confusing.

    There is at least one program that currently offers what's called a "professional doctorate of medical physics" or DMP degree. This is different from a medical physics PhD program. The emphasis is on the clinical aspects of medical physics and, as I stated above the idea is that it combines a 2 year MSc degree with a residency and thus satisfies both of the ABR accredited program requirements.

    Obviously the DMP is another option that would be available to you. It's important to note that it doesn't get you out of the residency. You still do the residency as a part of the program. The advantage would be that you don't have to worry about applying/acceptance to a residency as you would if you did a seperate MSc or completed a post PhD program. What I would be concerned about is whether or not you're getting paid to be a resident when that's the work you're doing. I have other concerns about the emphasis of such programs shifting away from physics and research as well, but if you already have a physics PhD that isn't as much of an issue.

    I would advise you to look into it and make your own decision.
  7. Jul 25, 2012 #6


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    The issue with getting into the profession of medical physics is that board certification is required or at least a desired for most positions in the field (in North America) these days. And to be eligible to write the certfication exams you need to jump through a lot of hoops - to the point where it's creating a bottleneck for entry into the profession.

    Your advice is fine however for someone purely interested in the academic branch of medical physics. Although this branch tends not to pay as well as the clinical one, unfortunately.
  8. Jul 26, 2012 #7
    I was indeed thinking about the academic branch. I am not in the profession so I do not know about all the necessary certifications.
  9. Jul 27, 2012 #8
    Hi again,

    Choppy, since the residency requirement will go in effect in 2014, can I avoid the residency requirement by going to a certification program or a MS program in August 2013 and apply to the ABR exam before 2014? I am thinking that since the residency requirement for the ABR exam will be effective in 2014, I can apply to take the ABR exam and possibly take the exam before or after the beginning of 2014. Does that work? Can you tell me any possible way to avoid the residency requirement since I was told that the residency programs are very competitive?
  10. Jul 29, 2012 #9


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    You have to look at the timelines to see if what you're proposing will work. My certification is with the CCPM, not the ABR, so I'm not an expert in the ABR process. The ABR as I understand it is a multi-staged process the culminates with an oral exam. In order to take that final exam you need 3 years of clinical experience, one of those years is generally waved if you have a PhD. I don't know if that's a PhD in medical physics, an accredited medical physics program, or just a PhD. What's new in 2014 is that this experience will need to have come from an accredited residency. At this time, my understanding is that you still need the clinical experience.

    Working backward from 2014 it seems you would need to have started already in order to meet the clinical experience requirement. Perhaps some of the other medical physicists who post here would have a better idea about the details.

    Aiming for membership with the CCPM (the Canadian college) is another option. The CCPM is not introducing the CAMPEP requirements until 2016, and it is generally accepted as equivalent in most American centres (or 'centers' I suppose). You still need at least 2 years of clinical experience beyond your graduate training though.

    By way of advice, I would strongly encourage you to go through with a full residency if at all possible. An accredited residency is not just a hoop to jump through. It will ensure that you get adequate clinical training in all aspects of the field in an environment where you are supervised and do not have to assume the full weight of responsibility given to a qualified medical physicist. If you work your way through a non-accredited program the main concern is that you won't be exposed to the full spectrum of duties a medical physicst has (or in other words, you'll end up doing nothing but QA for 2 years).

    Also going through the residency will make certification exams much less stressful because you will have clinical experience to draw on. It will also make work in general less stressful as you'll have a base of experience do draw on when confronted with new problems. And it's not like you don't get paid (with perhaps the exception of the DMP programs). Resident salaries range considerably, but at minimum you're on par with post-docs in other fields.

    Finally, the residency will make you much more attractive to potential employers, particularly when you're looking for the first job. Employers in this field want to know that you'll be effective in the clinic as soon as you're hired - not a liability for the first six months.
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