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Programs What makes a good medical physics school?

  1. May 31, 2017 #1
    I've come to realize that basic research isn't for me and that id like to work in something more immediately applicable. Medical physics seems like a good choice. I'd prefer to stay in Canada so out of the 10 or so campep accredited grad. programs how do i decide which ones I should apply for? My average is around 90%, is this competitive for med. phys. schools? I should be getting pretty good recommendations.
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  3. May 31, 2017 #2


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    I would think that a university with a hospital associated with it would be preferable, but @Choppy or @Dale can offer better information...
  4. May 31, 2017 #3


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    When it comes to accredited medical physics programs in Canada, there aren't any really "bad" choices. But the programs all have various strengths and weaknesses.

    Things that I would look for include:
    • The programs should publish statistics on where their graduates are ending up. Are their graduates getting residencies?
    • Direct clinical exposure is a major thing to look for. Are graduate students doing labs on linacs, MRI units, CT, etc? Are they generating radiotherapy treatment plans (not necessarily clinical plans)? Are they contouring anatomical structures as a part of their anatomy course?
    • What kinds of research is being done in the program? What type of project are you likely to get? Is the department known for having strength in a certain area, or do the projects seem more like "make work" projects? (Often you can tell the difference if student projects are getting published in major journals like Medical Physics, Physics in Medicine and Biology, Journal of Applied Clinical Medical Physics, Radiation Oncology Biology Physics, etc.)
    • How do the courses break down? What if anything are you required to do in addition to the CAMPEP didactic coursework - core physics classes, journal club, business courses, etc.? (Sometimes extra courses are a good thing, sometimes they're just more work.)
    • For a PhD, do you have to write a comprehensive exam with the other physics students? What is the format of the candidacy exam?
    • Do students have opportunities for external learning such as AAPM summer school, or conferences? Is there support for them to attend?
    • What infrastructure is available to students? Will you have an office or a cubicle, or do you just show up to a classroom like an undergrad student? Computing facilities? What kinds of new equipment have been put in or are being put in at the program's associated clinic?
    • Access to professors. Do faculty have protected teaching/academic time or are teaching duties just piled on top of an already insurmountable clinical workload? What other responsibilities to professors have? Are there two guys who share ten students? If so, will they have time for you?
    • Talk with current graduate students and find out what their experiences have been like.
    • Are there opportunities for QA or commissioning work? This is a major advantage in my opinion. Not only can you earn money as a student, but you get relevant, hands on experience that will make you more competitive for residency positions. Often it's not "guaranteed" because it's not the university that controls the hiring - but this is the kind of thing that you can ask current graduate students about.
    • What kind of financial support is offered and how does that compare to the local cost of living?
    • Don't ignore other factors such as university facilities, clubs, and the particulars of the city. It's hard to perform at your best if you're unhappy with the environment you're in.
    Anyway, I realize this is largely just a list of questions, but thinking about them might help to get you thinking in the right direction.
  5. Jun 2, 2017 #4
    Thanks for a lot to think about! For writing the comprehensive exam, is it better to write it or not write it? I'm quite tired of taking tests by now but is there any other reason for writing the exam? Also what is QA and commissioning work?
  6. Jun 2, 2017 #5


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    With respect to the comprehensive exam, there's advantages and disadvantages. Not all Medical Physics PhD programs require them.

    The advantages include a kind of "integration of knowledge." Studying for a comprehensive exam tends to solidify your core knowledge of physics in a way that studying for individual subject tests can't really mimic. Most people who've gone through the experience tend to agree that it makes one a better physicist in the end. There's a bit of a "badge of honour" to it as well.

    The main disadvantage is that it can add a significant amount of time to your degree. Many students will do nothing else other than prepare for it in the months leading up to it. In some cases, if the first attempt is not successful, a student can spend the better part of a year just getting through this exam. In more academic settings going through this exercise tends to have a lot more value. But for someone who ends up primarily as a clinical Medical Physicist, the benefits may not be worth the cost.

    Believe me, I understand "test fatigue." But in order to eventually become a certified Medical Physicist you're going to have a lot more of them. Even without the comprehensive exam there's still exams in all your courses, a candidacy exam, your thesis defence, and then your board exams - written and oral (and the ABR even breaks them into stages if you end up taking those).

    QA and Commissioning Work
    Often Medical Physics graduate students can get part time jobs doing quality assurance measurements in the radiation therapy centres affiliated with their programs. Every day/month/quarter/year various machine performance parameters need to be measured to make sure they are within an acceptable tolerance level. These would include things like radiation output rate, beam symmetry, mechanical tests, tests on the performance of the multileaf collimators used to modulate the beam, objective tests of the quality of your imaging systems, etc. They can also include patient specific delivery verifications, where a treatment would be delivered to a phantom device and the dose distribution that you record is compared against a predicted one. Students are often hired to help out with these measurements.

    With respect to commissioning, that's all about bringing new technology into the clinic. Students can sometimes be asked to help out with testing the new equipment to make sure that it performs the way that it's supposed to, developing procedures, calibrating it, comparing it against older or more established equipment, etc. This isn't something you would be left alone to do, but might get asked to help out with.
  7. Jun 6, 2017 #6
    Thanks for the information. I've been reading about how hard it would be to get residencies with only a master's degree so I suppose qa and/or commissioning work would be essential to get a position. Do you know what the job outlook is after a residency is completed? I only found stats on residency placements on programs websites.
  8. Jun 6, 2017 #7


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    Once you have your certification the job outlook for Qualified Medical Physicists is pretty good in my opinion - at least in a relative sense. All of the recent residents that I know of are working as medical physicists, although a couple are in temporary positions.

    One thing to consider is that you're dealing with a small numbers game. You might not get to work in the city or province of your choice - at least not at first. When you finish, you go to where the jobs are. You can't expect anyone to be knocking down your door, but that's true in just about any field these days.
  9. Jun 7, 2017 #8
    Do you have any job statistics for medical physicists post residency? Also thanks for all the information, you've been very helpful!
  10. Jun 7, 2017 #9


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    Unfortunately, not really. There's some data on the second page of the CAMPEP 2015 residency report. It seems to indicate that the majority of residents find their first employment within a month of completing the residency. It doesn't say what that employment is though - permanent/temporary, Medical Physicist/Starbucks Barrista, which is a little disappointing.
  11. Jun 7, 2017 #10
    Hmm these stats are quite good. I suppose getting the residency in the first place is the main hurdle. I will look into how to optimize my chances for a residency placement then. And once again, thanks for all the help, you have been very informative!
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