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Questions on Medical Physics Grad programs

  1. Aug 6, 2015 #1

    I have found a few threads discussing medical physics, however I am still have many questions. I am going into my senior year of college with my plan all along being to get my Phd and teach physics at a university. After spending two years researching in an acoustic/optics lab, however, I realized that research is not for me. I have recently found out about medical physics, and believe that this job (clinical setting) has all of the different components I am looking for in a job:
    real life application of physics
    ability to help others
    a job where communication and teamwork are vital (opposite of sitting in lab all day by myself)
    somewhat repetitive job, however every patient will have different obstacles
    a stable job outlook with decent pay (once I am able to get a residency)

    Questions I have:
    Is the above description an accurate picture of clinical medical physics?

    I am a female with a 3.9 GPA (3.87 in physics) so far at a liberal arts college. As I said earlier I spent two years in a research lab, have presented at an international conference, and will be second author on a paper coming out this summer. I know I would receive 2 amazing letters of recommendations from two of my physics professors. I was a stubborn underclassman, however, and decided that I needed a minor in dance instead of taking some base classes such as biology and chemistry. Will this hurt my chances of getting into a masters program?

    With two semesters left I do not have a lot of time to catch up on what I have missed, which class(es) do you think are most beneficial for me to try to squeeze in this year? General Bio 1, Chemistry 1, Intro to Java (did take a computational physics class), Intro to psychology

    I have slowly started researching grad programs and found University of Kentucky to have a good program with a lot of times set for clinical experience. Are there other grad schools like this? Which grad schools, such as Columbia, have very little hands on experience that I may want to stay away from?

    What type of scholarships/financial aid are usually given out to this type of major/how much does a typical degree cost on average?

    I know residencies are extremely competitive right now, what happens if I do not receive one? Will I still be able to find a job or will all the time and money I put into this degree be almost useless until I complete my residency?

    I am hoping to get to shadow a professional in the coming weeks to see exactly what this job entails, but I would love to hear any feedback/ suggestions you all have.

    Thank you!
  2. jcsd
  3. Aug 6, 2015 #2
    That's a fair summary for a clinical situation. Assuming you have the standard physic curriculum of classical mechanic and E/M , thermodynamic, electronics/circuit analysis , modern physics, intro to QM plus relevant math courses you could consider human anatomy/physiology,perhaps applied statistics or a programming language.

    I'm sure @Choppy can add more especially in the realm of programs and requirements. One must take care in vetting MP programs since some are embryonic and may not be accredited which will affect one chances for a residency.
  4. Aug 6, 2015 #3


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    Hi Mrok,

    I agree with gleem that it's pretty reasonable.

    Hurt? No. I think there's a bit of a misconception out there that everything an undergraduate student does should be related to what he or she wants to do in the future. Developing non-physics, non science interests with electives is important. In some cases that actually makes you a better scientist because it allows your brain to shift gears once in a while.

    I would prioritize those options in the order you have them. A solid foundation on biology and chemistry is important for understanding radiobiology. (I'm often surprised that a degree in physics doesn't always come with these as a requirement.) Programming is important. Programming in java is something you can pick up if you already know how to program. Psychology is likely to be the least applicable. Medical physicists don't have a lot of direct patient contact.

    I believe @EricVT is a grad from the Kentuky program and has spoken highly of it. I try not so say too much about any given program on these forums because they all have advantages and disadvantages. One particular thing to look for with regards to hands on experience is the opportunity for a job as a physics assistant. Not only will you get paid, you'll be getting a lot of direct experience that will help you compete for a residency, but it gets you into the clinic on a regular basis so you can spend time with radiation therapists, service technicians, and medical physicists which in turn creates an early familiarity with the clinical environment.

    It varies considerably. Because most medical physics programs are considered professional programs, the general advice that as a graduate student you can expect to be supported on a stipend or TA doesn't apply. In some programs you get full support. In some programs you practically are supported through TAships and QA positions, but there is no formal guarantee of support. In other programs you're paying out of pocket. You'll have to investigate specific programs for specific details, but most will be forthcoming with this kind of information on request if it isn't already available on their web page.

  5. Aug 7, 2015 #4
    Thanks for the quick replies- they were very helpful!
  6. Aug 11, 2015 #5
    This is correct. I attended the University of Kentucky for Medical Physics and look back on my time there very fondly. I would be happy to answer any questions about the program either here or in private. Choppy is correct that there are many very strong programs out there to consider and they all have qualities that may be strengths or weaknesses depending on the person evaluating them:

    (1) Class size can vary widely from program to program. Small programs may only have 12 - 16 students at any given time (all years combined), while some programs have 100+. For some people the small class size is a positive, while others may put more value in a larger program with a wider network of graduates.

    (2) Location...programs can be found in small towns of 50,000 or less people all the way up to world class cities such as New York City. Depending on how you like to spend your free time the type of place your program is found in can definitely influence your enjoyment of your time there.

    (3) Clinical and research opportunities...some programs incorporate clinical work into their graduate program structure while others stick to didactic approaches and leave the clinical experience to the residency. Some require a thesis for their M.S. students while others do not. When it comes to residencies, some will be impressed with applicants coming from clinically-oriented programs and others will be more impressed by research efforts. Where do your interests lie?

    Good luck.
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