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Post-Graduate Certificate in Medical Physics

  1. Sep 15, 2014 #1
    It seems like a new program designed for people with PhDs in physics and related fields to gain the necessary background/experience needed for applying to medical physics residencies.

    There are about 9 places (in US + Canada) that offer this kind of program at the moment.

    I do want to apply to it but I am not sure if it is a good investment especially with the tuition cost for the year being about $30,000. With another $20,000 dollars for living expanses, one will have $50,000 of debt. From what I have read, tuition wavers are very very very limited.

    Now $50,000 of debt maybe worth it if one were guaranteed (or at least had high probability of getting) residency.

    The only alternative to this kind of program is to do an MS in medical physics, which will put you in about $100,000 of debt (assuming that it is virtually impossible to get into residency with only a pure physics background).

    I think it is a great idea and I am not sure why they don't just offer a tuition waver and an RA for people who already have PhDs and are ready to start doing productive research in the field.

    Has anyone heard of it? Any opinions on it?
  2. jcsd
  3. Sep 15, 2014 #2


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    Advantages of the post PhD certificate programs:
    1. You complete all of your didactic coursework that qualifies you for a residency in about 8 months to a year.
    2. You don't have to do another research project.
    3. You're generally just as competitive for residency positions as students who have come through a full medical physics PhD. In some cases you have advantages in that you potentially bring a novel skill set and background to the profession. In some cases you have disadvantages in that you won't have the same directly applicable research experience that a residency might be looking for.
    4. The coursework will be reasonably fresh for you when you start a residency. The medical physics PhDs will have taken it several years ago. That's not a huge advantage in most cases, but perhaps worth thinking about.

    The disadvantages:
    1. Cost. Certificate students are generally not supported the way graduate students are. Although to be fair, in medical physics, graduate students aren't always supported to the same extent that physics students in other fields are supported. It's important to shop around though. The numbers you've posted seem high to my, but I'm Canadian.
    2. The program won't directly provide you with medical physics research experience. Other people competing for residencies will likely have a few medical physics-specific research papers published. This can be an advantage for those residencies that are hybrid clinical-post-doc positions. But again, you might bring something to the table that others don't from your own field.
    3. Compared to students who've done a PhD in medical physics there are less networking opportunities, simply because you will have been in the field for less time. Medical physics-specific references will start out "I have known this person for less than a year..."

    The MSc is another option, and it gives you the advantage of doing a project that's specific to the field (assuming you do a research-based MSc, again... Canadian experience here). I'd shop around cost-wise as your estimates seem high. And remember that even if no financial support is guaranteed, students usually get jobs doing QA and these pay enough that you're breaking even at the end of the semester, if not a little bit ahead. Most programs won't guarantee them though.
  4. Sep 16, 2014 #3
    Thanks Choppy for the very informative reply. Is it true that these programs are fairly new or I just happen to learn about them now? I will probably give it a shot and maybe I get offered some financial aid. Perhaps the cost ($30,000) that I posted is a little higher than average, but it is the cost for one of the programs (an Ivy League school).

    By the way, how much does the program one attends matter in obtaining a residency? I mean say UCLA/Columbia/UPenn vs. say UNevevada Las Vegas. I understand that there are many factors, but purely on the brand name basis, does it matter?
  5. Sep 16, 2014 #4


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    Yes these programs are fairly new. I think most have been available (formally) for under five years. Historically, PhDs from other fields have been able to directly enter the profession as residents or junior physicists, but the certification boards have changed that in order to formally instill a minimum competancy level.

    To my knowledge there is no ranking of medical physics programs and generally there is no hiring preference given to anyone by brand name. CAMPEP-accreditation is very important. But beyond that, I think it's most important to select a school where you're likely to perform well. CAMPEP ensures that the basic coursework is similar across the board, and since accredited medical physics programs are tough to get into in the first place, most student won't be all the different in terms of work ethic and grades. What's going to seperate you from other candidates when competing for residencies are things like: reference letters, clinical skill set and experience, special projects you've been involved with (commissioning new devices for example), your research background and publications (particularly if the residency has a research component), and awards such as those given by the various young investigator symposia.
  6. Sep 23, 2014 #5
    For future reference, I just checked the tuition cost at the University of Chicago and it is about $28,000:


    Yes, the programs are fairly new. It seems like they started only three years ago (U Chicago and Calgary were the first to be accredited on 2011):


    A couple more questions:

    1.Do you know (approximately) how many applicants typically apply to each of these programs? I know they admit around 6 people per year.

    2.Also for the dress code, does one have to be 'clean' shaved (i.e. no beard)? If yes, is these all across the board or it would be different if one works on, say, diagnostic imaging instead of radiation oncology? The reason for my question is that A. I do keep a beard and I am not willing to trim/shave (it is personal) B. I have attended medical physics conferences and I have not seen anyone with facial hair (unlike traditional physics departments).

    Thanks in advance Choppy.
  7. Sep 23, 2014 #6


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    1. CAMPEP requires programs to post (or at least make available) statistics on admissions and graduations, and most programs have these available online. In my experience the certificate programs are less competative than the graduate programs from a numbers point of view, but the details of what the numbers look like probably vary from program to program.

    2. Generally speaking medical physicists have to adhere to the professional dress codes of their employers, which are often hospitals. Hence the dress code is generally more professional than what might typically be encountered in academia. I've never heard of specific restrictions on facial hair though (although I don't have a beard, so I don't pay attention to such things). Occasionally medical physicists will have to attend operating rooms (for brachytherapy procedures for example), so there are restrictions there - but that's usually along the lines of making sure that facial hair is covered.
  8. Sep 23, 2014 #7
    As always, thank you Choppy.
  9. Mar 24, 2015 #8
    I know that the medical physics programs at UT-MD Anderson, and LSU both offer tuition waivers and stipends to all of their masters and PhD students. Other programs offer tuition waivers and stipends to select students. If you build your resume and work hard to be qualified and well-rounded, you never know what opportunities may arise. Search very hard for the programs that offer funding, then research what their programs suggest and require. Some programs suggest recommended courses, preferred GPA and GRE scores, and other factors that will help one be viewed more favorably when being assessed.

    If it's something you want to do, go for it!

    Here are some factors that UT-MD Anderson suggests:

    • Previous research experience and accomplishments, including participation in science fairs
    • Enrollment in laboratory and research-based courses
    • Involvement in research projects and publications
    • Expressed commitment to a career involving biomedical research
    • Undergraduate grade point average
    • Performance in undergraduate courses in the biological and physical sciences, physics and mathematics
    • Trends in academic performance
    • Degree difficulty of undergraduate academic program
    • Previous graduate-level study
    • Honors and awards for academic achievement
    • Performance on the Graduate Record Examinations (and, for international applicants, the Test of English as a Foreign Language and the Test of Written English)
    • Success in overcoming socio-economic and educational disadvantages
    • Letters of recommendation
    • Statement of purpose

    Good luck!
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