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Reaching for Medical Physics - Do I stand a chance?

  1. Jun 27, 2008 #1
    Hello everyone,

    I am looking for some advice today on whether or not I stand a chance at being admitted to an accredited medical physics program here in the United States. My stats are as follows:

    GPA: 3.67
    On track for a B.S. in Physics with an edge in experimental physics.
    1 course in Biophysics
    Math up through linear algebra and diff. eq
    T.A. freshmen labs for 2 years

    No courses in chemistry
    No courses in biology

    I hear a lot about how competitive this field is to get into and sadly my heart is very set on it. I can possibly get a year of first series calc. chem classes before I graduate but other than that this is pretty much as far as I can go. I have to make a decision this year on whether or not to try or go for a more cosmological aspect. I also have not graduated yet and not taken the GREs.

    Anyone care to give me an honest opinion of my chances?

    Last edited: Jun 27, 2008
  2. jcsd
  3. Jun 27, 2008 #2


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    As a medical physics resident, I think you stand a chance - although I'm not on any admission's committee. I think it would help to have 1st year biology and chemistry in your background so that you'll have a good grasp of the radiobiology concepts - although I don't think it's necessary. Other coursework that you help would be any kind of signal or image processing course, and obviously any undergrad medical physics courses.

    It also helps to get some experience with a research project that's related to medical physics. Or, if there's a cancer hospital nearby, see if they need anyone to help out with the QA work.
  4. Jun 27, 2008 #3
    I agree with all of that. Sadly medical physics is pretty much unheard of here at my school so it's near impossible to get any kind of research experience related to the field or undergraduate courses. Biology might be a tough work in but I'll take a look at it. With only two years left there's only so much room for courses. My biophysics class funnily enough was only an experimental class here where there were only 4 students including myself :(
  5. Jun 28, 2008 #4
    There are a number of programs at good universities that are not CAMPEP accredited. Duke University, for example. You aren't yet required to graduate from a CAMPEP accredited program to become a licensed medical physicist...
  6. Jun 28, 2008 #5
    In 2012 you will have to be and by the time I graduate it will be past then. Well! I'll just have to take my chances and try.
  7. Jun 28, 2008 #6
    I have a question on this topic which I would like to direct to Choppy, though I welcome anyone else's input as well. I'm sort of coming from a different angle. I'm a first year graduate student in high energy astrophysics. I'm thinking rather strongly about going into medical physics after I get my PhD in physics. I'm planning to complete a PhD because I'm not sure yet whether I want to be a medical physicist or an astrophysicist, and I'm told that astrophysicists have a very easy transition into medical physics. I'm also told that one need only complete a postdoc in medical physics in order to make this transition. But I'm a bit confused, seeing as how there are medical physics MS programs out there as well. How does all of this work?
  8. Jun 29, 2008 #7
    A medical physics master's program is 18-24 months.

    I would encourage you to talk with any university that has a medical physics program to ask about the licensing issues. When I last investigated this topic in 2006, the Duke professors I talked to basically said "it does not matter," even though the CAMPEP accreditation issue had been around since at least 2002. The information referencing the 2012 date I just looked up was from late 2007.

    Chances are, either licensure isn't required in some areas, or the successful unaccredited programs will soon be accredited.
  9. Jul 1, 2008 #8
    I have investigated this matter for quiet some times now. The best resources that I found are,

    1. http://www.aapm.org/main.asp for general post education and licensing.
    2. http://theabr.org/ for licensing.
    3. http://rtjobs.allhealthcarejobs.com/joblinks/medical_physicist_jobs.aspx for job markets.
    4. All the Campep accredited medical physics residency program websites (can be found from 1)

    Beginning of 2012, one must be a graduate of Campep graduate programs or residency programs in order to write the board test. Beginning of 2014 one must be a graduate of Campep residency program in order to write the board test. So if you're thinking about going to graduate school now to get Master's in medical physics to become a licensed medical physicist, you don't have to go to accredited program. Say, you go to Duke to get the master now, you will finish it in 2010. However, before you take the board exam, you must have at least 2 years of hospital based work experience supervised under licensed medical physicist. So with all the possibility, you might be able to pull it out but it's too risky. I wouldn't take such chance. Getting into medical physics residency program should be the most definite way of becoming licensed medical physicist. However, being admitted to residency program is extremely competitive. Only the very best in the field of astrophysics or particle physics with Ph.D plus some postdoc experience stand the chance. It is because the hospital based residency program committee prefer candidates with ph.d in medical physics from CAMPEP accredited programs. So, if you're thinking about doing Astrophysics ph.d and then going for medical physics residency, I say good luck. It won't be easy.

    Like someone mentioned above, you can apply to a program that is not yet accredited and hope they will become accredited during your stay. This is plausible. For example, when I was applying to medical physics programs, University of Chicago was not accredited but now it is. However, one should be very careful with this approach. For example, Purdue's medical physics program claims that they would soon be accredited. However, they've been saying that for quiet some times now and I haven't seen any change (Duke as well).

    Of course, medical physicist doesn't have to be licensed in order to do research and teaching. If you're not interested doing clinical duty and grab tons of money all of CAMPEP thing doesn't even matter. You don't even need to have ph.d in medical physics to do research and teaching in field of medical physics. Also, some states does not require any license for a medical physicists to be hired. But this is definitely changing rapidly and the new trend is forcing medical physicists to be licensed no matter where you work. Most medical jobs require you be board certified if not they will require you to have the certification after some times of hiring.

    Keep your eyes wide open cuz they change things (policy, programs, etc) rather rapidly. AAPM is now even considering developing a new professional degree called Doctor of Medical Physics (MDP) which might be the ultimate degree to be earned for practicing medical physicists and this degree would entirely be professional degree like medical doctor's where you have to pay all the costs of tuitions with minimized research component. Don't panic, this is just something that they're talking about yet.

    I said a lot of things here, rather in chaotic manner. I'm sorry. Do some research for yourself and you might agree or disagree with me.
  10. Jul 1, 2008 #9
    There's a need for more medical physicists. It is odd that the professional organization is taking these steps that will dramatically reduce the supply of licensed medical physicists.
  11. Jul 1, 2008 #10


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    Hi Arunma,
    "Easy transition" is one of those broad, ambiguous phrases to be leary of. The theoretical aspects of medical physics aren't generally as challenging as those in astrophysics (although depending on the research, if any, you get involved in, they certainly can be). Many physicists coming from other fields are reasonably comfortable with the level of problems medical physicists are faced with from day to day.

    To work in the field, the minimum requirement is generally an M.Sc. in medical physics or a higher degree in a related field coupled with some experience (gained either through post-doctoral work, or clinical QA work). In order to do research, or assume any academic position, you generally need a Ph.D.

    Medical physics is a profession. Thus, not only do you need a degree, but some kind of certification of professional competance from a nationally recognized institution is also desired (note that I didn't say manditory... yet). To qualify for this you need to work for so many years in a clinical setting, and be exposed to the various scenarios a medical physicist is clinically responsible for and then demonstrate your competance by passing an exam. This work is often called a "medical physics residency."

    That being said, there are many people in the field currently who transitioned into it directly from grad studies and post-doctoral work in other areas. And as the demand for physicsts will only increase in the forseeable future, I think there will continue to be opportunities to get in for people who haven't come from accredited programs. The choice jobs, however, will generally go to the most qualified candidates.

    The reason why accreditation is being pushed is simply because not all medical physics programs are equal. In many programs, the students graduate with excellent research skills, but don't have sufficient practical knowledge to begin work in a clinic. By setting these standards, I think the idea is that more schools will include a basic didactic set of courses for the students and thereby increase the number of competant graduates.
  12. Jul 16, 2008 #11
    A relative of mine did his Ph.D in Medical Physics, I will look into it

    I beleive that Univ of Wisconsin - Madison has one of the best programs in this field. Also check out the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign, however it is catergorized under 'Nuclear, Plasma, and Radiological Engineering' (medical physics being under radiological engineering, check out their graduate program for Nuclear for more info)
  13. Dec 17, 2008 #12
    You should also realize that U of I Champaign is not accredited, as of the most recent list of CAMPEP accredited schools for medical physics. That's not saying that U of I won't BECOME accredited soon, but make sure you know what's accredited / what you want before you apply to these schools. Also, I just recently attended a lecture that stated this funnel effect that is occurring. Many students are now applying to become medical physicists, while only a handful of schools in North America are accredited. Hopefully, they will start giving accreditation to more schools.
  14. Dec 17, 2008 #13

    this is true, however all of the medical physicists in the hospitals in the urbana and champaign areas are graduates of the university of illinois. though it may not be accredited, the graduates all passed the medical physics board examinations, which as far as i saw it, made up for the lack of accreditation (accredited grads may not necessarily do well on boards)
  15. Dec 17, 2008 #14
    i have also seen many medical physicists who have PhD's in Environmental Science but did a 'Radiation science' option.
  16. Dec 17, 2008 #15


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    Keep in mind that CAMPEP accreditation is a relatively new thing (last 10 years or so), so most currently working medical physicists will not have come through an accredited program.

    You don't need to come through an accredited program to be able to pass board exams, and you are correct in that coming from an accredited program does not guarantee that you will pass anything. However, the accreditation process ensures that most of the material covered in the exams is presented in your coursework. Without this stamp - it may or may not be covered, which is why I usually recommend that anyone looking into medical physics aim to get into an accredited program.

    I know zero medical physicists with PhDs in Environmental Science. Some graduate programs however are run through university oncology departments rather than physics departments, so technically the graduates have PhDs in oncology or very specifically in "medical physics." At one time it may have been possible to get into this field without a physics background, but the odds are very much stacked against you today.
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