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Welcome to the Students and Trainees Subcommittee blog!

Here, we hope to disseminate information and discuss issues facing students and trainees in medical physics. We also aim to include relevant posts about potential clinical and non-clinical career paths in medical physics.

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clinical medical physics

Student & Trainee Events at AAPM 2017

It’s July again, and the AAPM 2017 Annual Meeting is nearly upon us! For both new and experienced physicists alike, the AAPM Annual Meeting is an incredible opportunity to network, share scientific and clinical knowledge, and showcase cutting-edge technologies and research that support the field of medical physics. For AAPM’s most junior members, the Student and Trainees Subcommittee strives to provide opportunities for personal and professional development throughout the conference. This year, the STSC has an extensive list of sessions and activities, which we would like to share with you in detail, so that you can plan accordingly. All these events and many more can be found on the 2017 Annual Meeting website.

Student and Trainees Subcommittee Meeting
When: Saturday, July 29 from 2:00 pm to 4:00 pm
Where: Capitol Ballroom 1, Fourth Floor, Convention Center

The STSC meeting (as well as most association meetings) is open to all AAPM members (per AAPM Rule 3.3.2). If you are interested in getting involved with the STSC or want to learn more about the events and outreach we provide, feel free to join us at our meeting Saturday afternoon. We would love to meet you and hear your input!

Student and Trainees Meet and Greet hosted by ACR
When: Saturday, July 29 from 5:00 pm to 7:00 pm
Where: Pizza Republica, 890 14th St., Denver, CO

The American College of Radiology (ACR), in collaboration with STSC, is hosting a casual social to bring together students and trainees and kick off the AAPM with delicious wood-fired pizzas. This event is free (yes, free!) to attend for all registered students and trainees. You may RSVP for the event at the link below.

Please RSVP to the Student and Trainees Meet and Greet by Saturday, July 22: RSVP now

Annual Student Meeting: Provocative Questions in Medical Physics Training
When: Sunday, July 30 from 8:30 am to 10:00 am
Where: Four Seasons 2, Street Level, Convention Center

Each year, the Annual Student Meeting provides the opportunities for student networking and discussion on issues important to students of medical physics, such as education and career development. This year, a panel composed of six physicists from academia, industry, and the clinic, will address topics related to professionalization and skill sets of medical physicists today. The speakers will provide their insight on three topics of interest, including the changing education and skills of medical physicists, the nature of medical physics research, and professionalization. Each topic will have two speakers presenting their arguments, followed by dedicated time for interaction with the audience. Don’t miss this exciting opportunity to interact with a wide variety of professional physicists!

Undergraduate Networking Session
When: Sunday, July 30 from 10:00 am to 10:30 am
Where: Four Seasons 2, Street Level, Convention Center

Following the Annual Student Meeting, the Society of Physics Students (SPS) invites undergraduates attending the meeting to meet others in the field. A short talk on medical physics as a personal endeavor will be given, providing a unique perspective on the field.

WGSTR Student and Trainee Lunch and Career Expo
When: Sunday, July 30 from 11:30 am to 1:00 pm
Where: Four Seasons 2, Street Level, Convention Center

The WGSTR and STSC are hosting a joint luncheon and career expo to foster discussion on the multitude of career paths available in the field of medical physics. During this event representatives of several different private companies, government agencies/labs, and academic institutions will describes their roles and career development. Following these remarks, students, trainees, and young professionals are encouraged to connect with representatives to better understand the physicist’s role in these diverse positions. Please note that this event is not intended to be a job fair, but rather an opportunity for students and trainees to discover potential career paths that medical physicists may follow outside of the clinic. We highly recommend this event to all students and trainees!

Though the registration deadline has already passed, you can still attend this event at no cost (no lunch provided).

3rd Annual Residency Fair
When: Sunday, July 30 from 1:00 pm to 3:00 pm
Where: Lobby B, Street Level, Convention Center

Finding the perfect residency can be difficult. Thanks to collaboration between STSC and SDAMPP, the Annual Residency Fair at AAPM provides students the opportunity to learn more about individual CAMPEP residency programs across the country. Come meet and interact with program directors and current residents to learn more about your potential fit! This year there will be more than 50 imaging and therapy programs participating in the Residency Fair!

You can RSVP to attend the Residency Fair here: RSVP now

Still not sure where to begin? Check out our Reddit AMA with several medical physics residency program directors to get some inspiration for potential questions you could ask.

Student Night Out at Great Divide Barrel Bar
When: Sunday, July 30 from 6:00 pm to 8:30 pm
Where: Great Divide, 3403 Brighton Blvd, Denver, CO

Join us for the Annual Students and Trainees Night Out (SNO), sponsored by STSC! This event, crafted specifically for students, trainees, and post-docs, provides attendees with the chance to network with fellow future physicists and enjoy an evening of fun and camaraderie. This year’s SNO will occur at the Great Divide Barrel Bar, a casual locale featuring craft beers, a lounging area, ping pong, and cornhole. If you want a break from the hustle and bustle of the Student Day events, this is the place to be!

Partners for the Future
When: Sunday, July 30 through Wednesday, August 2
Where: Exhibit Hall

There’s never a better time than now to start thinking about the future! Partners for the Future strives to create lasting connections between corporate affiliates and students at the AAPM Annual Meeting. This event is especially beneficial to students by introducing what commercial products are available and what opportunities exist for collaboration with each company. This year we’re adding even more excitement with the addition of a chance to win a $100 Amazon gift card! You can learn more about how to participate in Partners for the Future here.

Interview Workshop
When: Monday, July 31 from 4:30 pm to 6:00 pm
Where: Partners in Solutions Room, Exhibit Hall

The STSC would like to invite students, trainees, and young professionals to attend an interview workshop to practice interviewing skills and receive feedback from real interviewers. This workshop will consist of two parts: first, guidance and examples of how to respond in an interview setting will be introduced. Second, participants will sit through group interviews and gain experience both listening to student responses and receiving feedback for their own answers. For anyone looking to interview in the near future or simply sharpen your communication skills, this is an event you do not want to miss out on.

You can RSVP to the Interview Workshop here: RSVP now

Other Events of Interest to Students and Trainees:

Undergraduate Poster Session
When: Sunday, July 30 at 3:00 pm
Where: General Poster Area, Exhibit Hall

The Society of Physics Students (SPS) Undergraduate Research & Outreach Poster Session highlights the work of undergraduate students with an interest in medical physics. Stop by to meet the future faces of physicists in medicine!

New Members Symposium
When: Tuesday, August 1 from 4:30 pm to 6:00 pm
Where: Room 108, Street Level, Convention Center

Joining us at AAPM for the first time as a new member? This event might be for you! At this year’s New Member Symposium, you can learn more about the organization, member resources, opportunities to get involved, and about topics of particular interest to new professionals. We encourage you to take advantage of this great opportunity to learn valuable information and to grow your professional network. All new members who register to attend will receive one raffle ticket for complimentary registration for the 2018 Annual Meeting and one drink ticket. There will also be a photographer available to take pictures for your profile in the AAPM directory.

If you’re interested in attending, please also consider filling out the Leadership and Teamwork Survey for the New Members Symposium. This is a chance to be part of the symposium and get your questions answered from a panel of experienced physicists! These questions could range from how to transition from trainee to leader, what are different types of leadership roles, how to be a team member and leader, etc. The panel will use your feedback to generate their talks for the symposium, ensuring coverage of topics you want to hear about! No question is too big or too small, and all questions will be presented anonymously.

Survey can be found at the following link: Leadership and Teamwork Survey

Physics Review Courses
When: Saturday, July 29 through Sunday, July 30
Where: Room 201/203 (Diagnostic/Nuclear Medicine) and Room 205/207 (Therapy), Convention Center

These courses provide a good review of medical physics for physicists entering the specialty, physicists in need of continuing education credits, and physicists who would benefit from a refresher course taught by experts in the field. All learning materials will be provided to registrants on a thumb drive. The courses will be held concurrently on Saturday and Sunday. You can find a more detailed schedule of the review courses here.


And as always, be sure to follow us on our Facebook and Twitter to stay up-to-date on relevant events and opportunities for medical physics students and trainees. We hope to see you in Denver!

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Preparing for the ABR Medical Physics Exams

Every August and May/June, Medical Physicists seeking board-certification flock to testing centers and oral exam testing rooms to sit for parts of the ABR exam.  Parts 1 and 2 are offered in August as computerized tests, while Part 3 is an oral exam administered in late May to early June.  In order to sit for the ABR exam, you must apply the year before and meet the requirement for each exam.  Full information on the exam parts can be found on the ABR website here

Anatomy of the exams

Part 1 is the general medical physics knowledge and clinical exam, which is the same for all medical physics specialties. The deadline for applying to take this exam is October 31 of the year before you sit. This year, 2017, the exam is offered August 7th and costs $505.  In order to be eligible for this exam, the applicant “must be enrolled in and in good standing with, or have graduated from, a CAMPEP-accredited program (graduate program, doctorate in medical physics [DMP] program, certificate program, or medical physics residency).”  The general portion of the exam covers the knowledge expected to be covered in core graduate program classes, such as dosimetry, medical imaging, nuclear medicine, radiation safety, and radiotherapy treatment process. The clinical portion focuses on introductory anatomy, physiology, and terminology.   A content guide and sample questions from ABR can be accessed here.  Please note this year begins the new question types (more below) and the ABR Part 1 page has been updated to reflect these new question types.  Once you have applied for Part 1, you have 5 calendar years to pass Part 1.  Once you have passed Part 1, you have 10 calendar years become board eligible. ABR says: “Board eligibility for medical physicists begins once a candidate has been approved for the Part 2 Examination, or has completed a CAMPEP-accredited residency, whichever occurs first.”

Part 2 is the specialty exam.  There are three different exam specialties: diagnostic, therapeutic, and nuclear medical physics.  When applying for this exam, you will have to pick which exam subspecialty you are going to take; you cannot pursue two different specialties at the same time.  However, after finishing one specialty (though Part 3), you can pursue a second. This year the Part 2 exam (computerized) is administered on August 8th and costs $650.  In order to be eligible for this exam, you must pass Part 1 and complete a CAMPEP approved residency or be approved for Part 2 though application, whichever occurs first. International applicants who do not hold US or Canadian degrees can complete a structured mentorship; more information here.  The material covered on this exam is at the level of that expected to be covered in your residency program. A content guide and sample questions from ABR can be accessed for diagnostic, therapeutic, and nuclear subspecialties.  Note these pages have not been updated to show the new question types (more information below).  Examples of new question types can be found under Part 1 information here. Once you are considered board eligible, you have six calendar years to become fully certified by passing all three parts of the ABR exam.

Part 3 is the oral exam.  This is the only in-person exam and consists of five questions, one from each of five categories, asked by five different examiners.  Part 3 is currently held in a hotel in Louisville, Kentucky.  This year, the exam was held between May 21st and 24th and cost $765.  This exam is designed to test “your knowledge and fitness to practice applied medical physics in your specified specialty.”  An invitation is sent approximately five months in advance, and if you accept the invitation, you will be scheduled and need to pay the fee.  A list of the categories for each of the specialties can be found here.  This exam can only be taken after a candidate has passed Part 1 and Part 2.  

New question types

Beginning with the 2017 tests, the ABR is introducing new questions types.  Prior to 2017, questions on Part 1 and Part 2 were multiple choice and divided into simple and complex, where complex questions required more involved computations.  The Part 1 and Part 2 exams will now have:

  • case based questions:  multiple part questions without the ability to go back a change a previous part that are designed to replace a complex question
  • multiple-select questions:  participant will need to select the indicated number of correct answers from all choices
  • fill-in-the-blank questions: the correct answer is entered into the blank with no choices presented
  • point-and-click questions: the answer is selected by using the mouse to click on the require object in an image  

Examples and more details on the new question types can be found in the Part 1 content guide.

Preparing for the exam

Special thanks to Dr. Josh Evans (Therapy) , Dr. Frank Corwin (Diagnostic), and Dr. John “Chet” Ford (Therapy) for taking the time to discuss their advice on preparing for the exam with me.  A session from AAPM last year given by Dr. Josh Evans, Dr. Laura Padilla, Dr. Matthew Studenski, and Dr. Todd McNutt on preparing for the ABR Part 2 and Part 3 can be found here.

For all three parts, here are some general pieces of advice.   

1)  Everyone, including myself (I’ve passed Part 1), advise beginning preparations at least 2–3 months in advance (I know… not helpful to those taking the exam this August).  This is recommended to have time to cover all the material in small manageable sections.  

2) Begin with the information about topics on the ABR website to determine what information to include in the study plan you create.  This plan could be an outline of topics to cover with a proposed timeline, which can keep you on track and prevent the amount of information from feeling overwhelming.  

3) Go over everything even if you know it, and spend more time with the material you do not see “every day.”  If you are in a therapy-focused program, this could mean putting extra time in studying imaging (MR, CT, PET, SPECT, etc…) for Part 1.  

4) Don’t forget to take breaks.  Your mind can only handle so much information before you get diminishing returns on what you can recall. One advisor suggested no more than 2–3 hours a day.  

5) Test-taking tip for Parts 1 and 2: if you can’t answer a question in about one minute, flag it and come back. (An exception is the new case-based questions: you have to answer the parts in order and cannot go back. The system should give you a warning before starting one of these questions.)

For Part 1, your class notes and lectures are a good starting point.  I personally created a study guide for each of my graduate core classes from my notes and lectures beginning in February to study for my comprehensive exams in April. I then continued to use these study guides to prepare for the ABR Part 1.  In addition to your notes, there are several online resources that are available.  Sites like WePassed.com (recommended by all individuals I asked),  physicsabr, Quizlet, and the Yahoo Med Phys Bard Prep group have practice questions you can do (not all are free).  You can even find additional suggestions from sites like Reddit.  Just a word of caution: you sign an agreement before taking the ABR exam that you will not share ANY questions from the exam (they are under copyright), including “recalled” questions.  Some online resources you find may include questions that are in violation of that policy.  I personally do not know if the sites listed above include any “recalled” questions and urge you to use your judgement even with resources suggested here.  For a more hard copy approach, going over chapter questions in textbooks such as Kahn (The Physics of Radiation Therapy), Attix  (Introduction to Radiological Physics and Radiation Dosimetry), Johns and Cunningham (The Physics of Radiology), Cember (Introduction to Health Physics), and Bushberg (The Essential Physics of Medical Imaging) may be helpful.  Alternatively, or in addition, going through RAPHEX and Huda (Review of Radiological Physics) can provide hundreds of practice questions.  For the clinical exam, it may also be useful to review an anatomy textbook that shows medical images for help with identifying organs in an image, such as Tortora (Principle of Anatomy and Physiology).  It is a good idea to become familiar with identifying organs in a variety of imaging modalities not just CT.   In addition, reviewing dose limits to organs and Greek/Latin roots related to medicine for help with unfamiliar terminology.

For Part 2, the advice is similar to Part 1.  Focus on the TG reports, review the important tables and comments from NCRP 116 and 147 and ICRP 103 on radiation safety and dose limits, and material from your residency to form study guides.  A lot of the online and hardcopy resources listed under Part 1 also include material useful for Part 2 or include focused Part 2 questions.  Khan was a favorite suggestion of the Therapy physicists I spoke with, while Bushberg was recommended for Diagnostic as well as “know[ing] some basic circuit analysis, like Kirchhoff’s Law, and basic reactive circuits.”  Another suggestion for speed is to memorize the values of common constants that are multiplied together, and to practice more questions from areas you are less exposed to during residency, like shielding calculations.

For Part 3, take even more time to prepare for each category.  All of the material for Parts 1 and 2 are useful for Part 3. The exam questions can come from anything in the topic.  Since this part is typically taken after you are employed, talk to your employer about the possibility of scheduling time off to study and potentially pay for exam preparation material (the worst they can say is no).  Try to observe procedures in the clinic that you are not responsible in your job; for example, this could be high dose rate brachytherapy or stereotactic radiotherapy in therapy, or MR in diagnostic imaging (or CT/Fluoroscopy for the MR physics).  In addition to the material, it is important to practice presentation.  Unlike the other parts of the ABR exam, which are computerized, Part 3 is taken in front of an examiner and it is beneficial to practice answering questions under pressure.  The AAPM 2017 interview workshop in Denver would be a good place to practice articulating the answers to questions while thinking on your feet (sign up here).  Other ways to practice include recording yourself answering a question and playing it back, or Skyping with a friend who can give you feedback.  The AAPM also holds mock oral exams, so keep an eye out or ask your local chapter if they have one scheduled (or better yet, volunteer to organize one for your chapter). Practice staying calm, providing engaging and positive body language, avoid using “um” and “like” to fill spaces, and breathing while answering questions. Remember to answer the question that you are asked, and only the question that is asked!  You are scored on your answer to the exam question.  The examiner is instructed to not give anything away in regards to the correctness of your answer, so practice giving direct answers to a question without superfluous information.  This can help prevent what I tend to do when nervous: giving everything I know on a topic to fill the awkward silence.  The examiner has the opportunity to ask follow-up or clarification questions.  The more information you include in your original answer the more you open yourself up to additional questions even if they are off topic for the exam question.  If you are unsure of an answer, say how you would find the answer.  One of the areas the examiners are testing you on is fitness to be a medical physicist; therefore, knowing the limits of your knowledge is essential to prevent harm to patients.

While no one wants to fail any of the parts, if you do, you can take them again in whole or in part where applicable until your eligibility period runs out: 5 years from initial approval for Part 1, and 6 years from completion of residency or approval of Part 2 (whichever is first) for passing Parts 2 and 3.  For information on becoming eligible to take Part 1 beyond 5-years from initial approval see the ABR policy here.  For information on re-establishing board eligibility (Part 2 and 3) see here.

Your favorite way to prepare for any of the ABR medical physics exams not here?  Please add any suggestions and advice you have in the comments below.  Those of us yet to take the exams thank you!

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clinical medical physics

STSC Member Spotlight: Anna Rodrigues, Ph.D.

In this month’s post, we talked with our subcommittee chair, Anna Rodrigues, about her experience volunteering with the Student and Trainees Subcommittee (STSC) and advice that she has for students who wish to get involved. Anna is currently a Medical Physics Resident at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina, where she also received her Ph.D. in Medical Physics.

How long have you been a memannaber of STSC?

I joined the STSC in as a member in 2013 and was tasked with organizing the annual student meetings. Since 2015, I have been the chair of the STSC.

Why did you join AAPM and STSC?

I joined the AAPM in 2011 shortly after starting my graduate studies in Medical Physics. My graduate program encouraged us to join our professional societies such as HPS, AAPM, etc, as early as possible in an effort to integrate us to the profession, connect and network with members, and utilize the wealth of resources these societies have to offer its members. I believe one of the first things I took advantage of was the Virtual Library and (naturally) the Task Group Reports. At my first AAPM meeting in 2012, I learned about the Students and Trainees Subcommittee through the annual student meeting and applied for a position. I saw it as a good avenue for me to transfer skills and interests in medical physics education I was already pursuing in my own graduate program (as a student member on the Medical Physics Administrative Council and Student Advisory Board) and apply it to a national level. It was also an excellent introduction to the AAPM committee structure, which at that time seemed to me to be a “black box” of activity.

What have been your primary responsibilities as STSC chair?

As STSC chair, I operate on a higher level than a member, so most of my tasks are managing members and projects as well as handling logistics and communications between us and headquarters, other committees and working groups, or external groups. This means I am doing something from our SC almost on a daily basis, as our group has many ongoing efforts as well as many events planned for the annual AAPM meeting. Additionally, I periodically update our parent committee, the Education and Training of Medical Physicists Committee, on our progress and the program of the Working Group to Promote Non-Clinical Career Paths for Medical Physicist and making sure we are fulfilling our charges. While those are my primary responsibilities, I am also passionate about participating on the “ground level” projects such as the interview workshop and ideas to promote student and trainee communication.

How has membership in AAPM been of value to you?

In the beginning of a medical physicist’s journey, one naturally “takes” more than one “gives” –  This means resources the AAPM provides, as well as all the members one can network with. From knowledge and education to professionalism, AAPM has been an invaluable tool in shaping me from a student to a (almost) professional medical physicist. These products are the result of all the individuals who dedicate their time to keeping our profession up-to-date and advancing. Being able to be part of such a dedicated group of scientists is rewarding and motivating – I hope to be able to “give” more than I “take” from AAPM in the coming years.

What was your most memorable STSC experience? The most challenging?

One of the most challenging and simultaneously memorable experiences was coordinating our first ever Student Day from a logistics standpoint – but it was made much less challenging because AAPM headquarters staff have been so helpful and supportive of our ideas and helping us implement them. The actual Student Day event was memorable, because it showed what a hard-working group of members (all students and trainees!) we have that managed to organized multiple successful events, such as the Residency Fair, that have a broad impact on student and trainee training.

What would you like to see the STSC accomplish in the future?

STSC activities have grown rapidly since I started: We used to only focus on annual meeting events (mostly Student Night Out and the Annual Student Meeting). Now we have ongoing efforts and have expanded the annual meeting events substantially to address student- and trainee-related topics of interest. Additional groups such as the Working Group on Student and Trainee Research have brought synergy to our efforts. For the future, I would like to see us increase undergraduate student participation in the AAPM and annual meeting, incorporate more international students and trainees, and continue promoting non-clinical career pathways.

Do you have any advice for students or trainees who wish to get involved with AAPM or STSC?

  • Join as soon as possible!
  • Attend your local chapter meetings (also an excellent avenue to get involved in the AAPM).
  • Don’t be shy! If you are interested in speaking with a member, go ahead! It may be a “big name” physicist, but they are approachable and usually more than eager to engage with students and trainees.
  • The AAPM is a great place to practice professionalism!
  • If interested, get involved in committee activities! The easiest way to do this is to sit in on committee meetings during the annual meeting. (You can find the 2017 AAPM committee meeting schedule here.)

So in conclusion, becoming a member of AAPM and volunteering can have exceptional benefits, from educational resources to networking opportunities. If you are interested in learning more about AAPM membership or want to join, please visit the AAPM membership webpage. If you have any great ideas for student and trainee initiatives, you can also contact the STSC directly at 2017.SPASC@aapm.org. Finally, be sure to follow our Facebook page and Twitter for up-to-date information regarding exciting opportunities and upcoming STSC events at the 2017 AAPM annual meeting.

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MedPhys Match Residency Interview Experience

This year marks the third year of the Medical Physics Match program for graduates of Medical Physics programs.  The MedPhys Match is modeled off the physician match program where applicants and institutions rank programs and candidates respectively following interviews. Then an algorithm matches the candidates to programs based on highest mutual ranking.  A word of warning: not all residency programs in the Match are CAMPEP approved and not all CAMPEP approved residencies are in the Match.  When applying for residencies, the MedPhys Match is not the only place to look; however, it includes a majority of programs available in the US, and if you do match, the agreement is binding. Check out this map for a geographic picture of where residencies are and interview dates (if known):  http://medphysresidencymap.getforge.io/ (Information from CAMPEP, program websites, and other information as reported by residency program directors). Red markers are imaging programs, and titles link to program information, CAMPEP or hospital page as information was found.

For many applicants, this is the first time they are marketing themselves and their skills to those established in the field.   If you have presented research at AAPM meetings or interviewed for a postdoc position, this may not be your first time interacting professionally with established members, but it is a different type of interaction.  In my opinion, it can be tempting to think of the residency interviews as a barrier you have to pass, but you would be doing yourself and the programs interviewing you a disservice.  The residency is only one step of many you will be undertaking on your way to a career in Medical Physics.

One exercise that may be helpful at this time is to evaluate what your ideal career would be.  When preparing for the residency interview process, also start thinking about the job you want after residency.  This interview is not just about getting a residency, but also about what you want to do once you complete your residency.  Candidates should keep in mind they are interviewing the programs as much as the programs are interviewing them, so don’t be afraid to ask questions of those interviewing you.   Don’t believe me… it was also a top piece of advice the candidates the Student and Trainee Subcommittee (STSC) interviewed also wanted to pass on (more on that below)! It not only shows the program you are interested in them, but it also allows you to discern what you like and don’t like. If you are passionate about research, you want to go into a residency that will help you succeed in research.  If you want to be in the clinic, you will benefit the most from a residency with a primary focus on clinical duties and maybe not include a research component.  Evaluate your strengths and weaknesses and be prepared to talk about them in a positive light.  Keep in mind, the people interviewing you are looking to fill a position with skills they need and are not necessarily interested in what benefits you the most.  You want to market yourself in a way that says you fill those needs and are a match for their program.  Knowing your limits and desires can help you shape answers that present you as a candidate they want and who can help them further their program while helping you weed out which residencies are the best match for you to grow into the medical physicist you want to be. For those who have not yet gone through the MedPhys Match, we interviewed a few students about their experience to help give you and other participants an idea of what it was like.  A summary of statistics from the previous two MedPhys match cycles gives a glimpse of how difficult it can be to secure a coveted residency position now required to sit for the ABR Part 2 certification exam.  Source data can be accessed here.

Applicantprogramoverall

 

 

Needless to say, these can be stressful times.  The STSC spoke with 5 individuals that interviewed in this past cycle to get their perspective on what to expect and advice for future candidates.

Overall:

The participants all participated in the MedPhys Match for the first time and applied to therapy programs.

C1: Is a candidate with a Master’s degree who applied to 21-30 CAMPEP accredited programs that participate in the Match.  He/she had 3-4 phone or Skype interviews with 2 of them being a precursor to a possible offer for an onsite interview.  In total, he/she had 3 on-site interview offers and did not turn down any interviews. He/she reported some of the institutions being flexible with the interview dates to accommodate potential conflicts.  At the interviews, the candidate was interviewed by approximately 5-6 individuals, given time to speak with the current residents, and 1-2 of those interviews required a presentation.   Some of the interviews did include technical questions.  The approximate out of pocket cost was $1000-$1200, though one institution did offer a one night stay in a hotel for the night prior to the interview.

C2: Is a candidate with a PhD degree who applied to 0-10 CAMPEP accredited programs that participate in the Match.  He/she had 9 or more phone or Skype interviews with 3 of them being a precursor to a possible offer for an onsite interview.  In total, he/she had 9 on-site interview offers and turn down 1 interview due to a scheduling conflict with another interview. He/she reported some of the institutions being flexible with the interview dates to accommodate potential conflicts.  At the interviews, the candidate experienced panel interview and individual interviews with approximately 5 or more individuals, given time to speak with the current residents, and 1-2 of those interviews required a presentation.   Some of the interviews did include technical questions.  The approximate out of pocket cost was $3100, though three institutions did offer a one night stay in a hotel that was not included in the out of pocket estimate.

C3: Is a candidate with a Master’s degree who applied to 31+ Non-CAMPEP and CAMPEP accredited programs that participate in the Match or were outside the Match.  He/she had 9 or more phone or Skype interviews with 9 of them being a precursor to a possible offer for an onsite interview.  In total, he/she had 3 on-site interview offers and did not turn down any interviews. He/she reported none of the institutions being flexible with the interview dates.  At the interviews, the candidate was given time to speak with the current residents, and 1-2 of those interviews required a presentation.   Most of the interviews did include technical questions.  The approximate out of pocket cost was $1500, though one institution did offer a one night stay in a hotel for the night prior to the interview and all offered lunch.

C4: Is a candidate with a Medical Physics Certificate who applied to 21-30 CAMPEP accredited programs that participate in the Match.  He/she had 9 or more phone or Skype interviews with 3 or 4 of them being a precursor to a possible offer for an onsite interview.  In total, he/she had 12 on-site interview offers and did turned down 2 interviews due to scheduling conflicts with another interview and financial concerns. He/she reported some of the institutions being flexible with the interview dates.  At the interviews, the candidate was interviewed by 7 or more people, given time to speak with the current residents, and 7-8 of those interviews required a presentation.   Most of the interviews did include technical questions.  The approximate out of pocket cost was $3000, though some institution did offer hotel accommodations or $100-$300 for expenses.

C5: Is a candidate with a PhD degree who applied to 11-20 CAMPEP accredited programs that participate in the Match.  He/she had 9 or more phone or Skype interviews with 4 of them being a precursor to a possible offer for an onsite interview.  In total, he/she had 9 on-site interview offers and turn down 2 interview due to financial and interest concerns. He/she reported some of the institutions being flexible with the interview dates to accommodate potential conflicts.  At the interviews, the candidate experienced panel interview and individual interviews with 7 or more individuals, given time to speak with the current residents, and 1-2 of those interviews required a presentation.   Some of the interviews did include technical questions.  The approximate out of pocket cost was $4000, though one institutions did offer a one night stay in a hotel.

Advice:

How to best prepare for the interviews:

C1: “I would recommend you practice talking about your graduate study experience (clinical, research, educational, etc.).  It is easy to think about your experiences, but actually going through the act of talking about it out loud (even to yourself!) will be helpful.

It is always good to be ready for technical and clinical questions just in case, but I wouldn’t stress too hard on this.  That being said, it never hurts to brush up on the broad level subjects (i.e. basic clinical setups/strategies, LINAC components, and fundamental dosimetry concepts).”

C2: “1) Mock interview(s) 2) Have “elevator speech” of dissertation topic memorized (if applicable) 3) Do some research about the programs at which you will be interviewing and have a list of questions prepared”

C3: “I would recommend applicants decide on what they would like to experience while in residency and to verify that the residency program has those components. Applicants should also prepare for technical questions and know what types of research they may be interested in conducting while in residency.”

C4: “soft skills, present best self etc. practice questions and answers.”

C5: “Practice elevator pitch and typical interview questions; briefly review Attix / Khan”

Most challenging aspect of the interview process:

C1: “Depending on the type of interview, it is likely you will only have 20-30 minutes with a given person (or persons).  That is less time than it seems.  They may ask a question like: “talk to me about your clinical experience” or “tell me a little more about [anything on your CV]”.  It would be quite easy to take up half the interview slot giving a long-winded answer to either of those questions.

While preparing, it would be beneficial to go through each item on your CV, and see if you can give a summary in 60s or less that hits all the important points.  You can always give more details when asked for them, but it’s good to be able to give a concise answer so that you and the interviewer can cover more ground in the allotted time.”

C2: “Stress from travel and extraordinary level of social interactions”

C3: “The most challenging aspect of the interview process was trying to get information for some of the institutions. Certain programs had little information outside of what was provided to the AAPM CAP, and this made it difficult to ascertain what type of program it was and to get a good feel as to what candidates they were looking for, and what was expected of candidates.”

C4: “time and travel during intense certificate program.”

C5: “Coordinating travel between many locations”

How to get the most out of the interview process:

C1: “I left my interviews wishing that I had asked more questions.  I would suggest that you really think about what kind of experience you are looking for out of residency.  That way, you will have meaningful questions to ask the faculty during your interviews.  Also, it will make your ranking decision easier when the time comes.”

C2: “The applicant should remember that they are equally interviewing the institution. They should consider what matters most to them personally and be sure to have any questions/concerns addressed by the end of the day. They should also make a spreadsheet listing aspects of a residency that are most important to them (location, salary, state-of-the-art facilities, etc.) and record how each place fulfills these criteria shortly ASAP following the interview.”

C3: “I would suggest applicants determine what they are looking for in a program, what is vital to their training, find programs that have those components and apply to those.”

C4: “Approach it as a good opportunity to meet many leaders in the field.  I got kind and helpful advice from several people.”

C5: “Be yourself: you’re looking for a good fit between applicant and program, and trying to be someone you’re not will not work out well in the long run.”

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research

AAPM abstract submission tips

With the abstract deadline for the AAPM 2017 Annual Meeting approaching, many of us are diligently collecting data for that perfect submission that is sure to get an oral presentation, or even a spot in the Young Investigator Symposium. (If you are unfamiliar with the structure of an AAPM abstract, an overview can be found here.) As scientists, we tend to focus on our experimental design and execution, but effective communication of these concepts and the significance of our results is just as important. With only 300 words, the AAPM abstract is particularly challenging, and the organization and clarity of a submission can make the difference between a poster and an oral presentation.

So what makes for a good submission? We can start by looking at the instructions given to abstract reviewers, which can be found here. Scientific abstracts are given a score of 1-10 based on six criteria:

  1.      Clarity
  2.      Quality of supporting data
  3.      Scientific rigor
  4.      Innovation
  5.      Potential significance
  6.      Interest to researchers

To reduce systematic scoring bias, reviewers are instructed to use the full score range and aim for a mean of 5-6, and they can provide comments to help break ties. Dispositions are based on loosely-defined score ranges:

blogpost_2017_02_scoreranges

Each abstract is scored by several reviewers, and the final dispositions are assigned by the track directors based on score averages, ranges, and the number of slots available for each type of presentation.

When putting your submission together, it’s important to consider that each reviewer scores about 15-40 abstracts. They are not going to spend much time on each submission, so be sure to convey the “big picture” information in a way that is concise and immediately apparent to the reviewers within the text of the abstract.  This is especially important in the Purpose and Conclusions sections. In the supporting document, it is tempting to cram as much information as possible to ensure that the reviewers understand the details and context of your work. However, an overload of information may force them to skim over the document, missing the points you were trying to make entirely. It is generally most effective to convey information graphically in the supporting document with as little text as possible, and an explicitly-labeled statement of innovation and impact set at the top of the page apart from any other text or figures helps to focus the reviewers’ attention.

One final piece of advice: don’t underestimate the importance of peer editing when finalizing your submission. It is all too easy to write something that seems clear, but others will find confusing until you rephrase the text or include extra details. The reviewers of your abstract don’t spend nearly as much time thinking about your research topic as you do, and they won’t have the option of asking you for clarification when they assign their scores.

Now that your submission is refined and polished, what are your chances of getting an oral presentation, or even an elusive spot in the Young Investigator Symposium? The good news is that it is very unlikely that your submission will be rejected: in 2016, over 97% of submissions were accepted. Roughly half were given poster presentations. The Young Investigator Symposium was very competitive, with over 150 submissions vying for 10 spots. Submission numbers and acceptance rates are summarized in the tables below:

blogpost_2017_02_overallstatistics

blogpost_2017_02_younginvestigatorsstatistics

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clinical medical physics

Want to Become an Innovator? Want to Broaden Your Research? Apply for the Expanding Horizons Travel Grant!

As part of our efforts to publicize opportunities available within AAPM for students and trainees, we are featuring a newly available grant that allows students to incorporate cross-disciplinary approaches into their research. The Expanding Horizons Travel Grant is sponsored by the Science Council. The grant allowance has been increased to $2000 for registration and travel expenses related to attending a conference not traditionally attended by medical physicists.

Am I eligible?

Eligible applicants include graduate students, post-docs, and residents. If you are nearing graduation, but are not planning on being done before the application deadline, then you are eligible! Up to 10 grants per year may be awarded. The first deadline to apply for this grant is September 1st, 2015, so hurry up!

Why should I apply? Which conferences are eligible?

As medical physics continues to expand in scope and explore new methods to improve treatment and diagnostics in medicine, incorporating unique and varied perspectives becomes an important factor for innovation. The Expanding Horizons Grant is designed increase these types of experiences for graduate students. Conferences sponsored by the AAPM, such as the Annual Meeting or the Spring Clinical Meeting, are disallowed. Any conference that relates to your research outside of the typical AAPM-sponsored events can be an eligible meeting.

How do I increase my chances of being chosen?

Each application will be graded on multiple factors: the significance and potential impact on the candidate’s research, as well as the possible benefits to medical physics, the appropriateness of the conference selected, and the candidate’s qualifications. To increase your chances of landing the grant, try to demonstrate how you can incorporate alternative methods into your research. Use your personal statement to describe your research interests, the challenges you’ve encountered, and the fields you want to interact with for your project. Describe the collaborations you’ve already started or what you would look for in a collaborator. Make sure it’s clear that the meeting you are proposing to attend has a direct relationship to your project. For example, if you’re working in nuclear imaging, emphasize that the Nuclear Imaging Scientific Session available at the WMIC Annual Meeting will directly benefit you. If your research is far enough along, submit an abstract to your intended meeting! Use any way you can to demonstrate your interest in the subject that you are trying to expand into.

Additional benefits of the grant:

If you plan to apply for this grant, be prepared to make a short presentation or poster for the next AAPM Annual Meeting reporting on what you learned while attending an alternative conference. It’s important to bring back and disseminate the ideas and knowledge that you took away, and use that to promote innovative research ideas and techniques within our professional and scientific communities. How exactly this will be implemented still hasn’t been finalized, so stay tuned.

As part of this grant, you will be included as a reviewer for the next round of explorers. You will have an opportunity to help mold the careers of future researchers and scientists. We here at the STSC and the WGSTR strongly encourage young, up-and-coming graduate students to seriously consider taking advantage of this great opportunity!

Once more, the deadline to apply for the Expanding Horizons Travel Grant is September 1st, 2015. For official information on the eligibility criteria, requirements, allowed meetings, deadlines, and how to apply, please visit https://www.aapm.org/education/EXHG/.

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clinical medical physics

Tips for Landing Your Dream Residency Spot!

Tips for Landing Your Dream Residency Spot!

The Residency Fair:

You will be meeting quite a few residency directors as well as current residents at the fair this Wednesday. They will talking about what their program is like. This is the perfect opportunity for you to introduce yourself to potential interviewers to give yourself an idea of which programs you will want to apply to.

Some good starting points questions include:

  • Asking about the structure of the program,
  • Asking about the overall culture or feeling of the program
  • Asking what life is like outside of the residency in that geographic area.

Be yourself and let them get to know you and your personality! Remember that you will be working with each other on a day to day basis so it is important that your personalities mesh. The currents residents will be more than happy to help you if you have any questions while you are there! (Look for John Ready or Melissa Lamberto if you need them to point out residents to you!)

Factors to consider when you are choosing where to apply:

  1. Type of program (community vs. consulting group vs. university)
  2. Types of research and projects too!
  3. “Gut feeling”/personality fit
  4. Location
  5. Department size
  6. Opportunities for experience in specialized procedures
  7. Salary/benefits

Personal statement writing 101:

First impressions are formed from your personal statement! Be proud of your achievements and describe why you would be a great choice for the program. Use this time to show what makes you stand out, so identify any obstacles you’ve overcome and address any blanks in your job experience timeline. Also, include why the program is a good fit for you (your top choice) and why you want to go there. Most importantly, be concise and check your grammar. You want to be someone they can’t wait to meet!

If any programs require a photo, remember to keep it professional (think similar to an I.D. photo, no selfies please!).

Phone interview:

This is your pre-screening for an on-site interview invitation. Most phone interviews can be tough (some even ask you clinical questions to gauge your clinical knowledge) and address any questions that are more difficult to answer in person (like questions about gaps in your resume or comments/concerns they might have from your application). Study up, be confident and answer with poise. Also, be sure to remember to pause after you answer a question; do not continue to nervously talk to fill in the silence (this time is usually taken for the interviewers to take notes on your responses).

Preparing for the interview:

  1. Be prepared, be on time, and be yourself! Your application got you this far, and now employers need to know if they can work with you on a daily basis.
  2. Know your application packet. If you don’t know a lot about something, don’t put it on your resume/CV!
  3. Do your homework about the position and program you are interviewing for! What makes you interested other than the location (even though this is also important)?
  4. Often travel arrangements must be made with short notice. Be sure to allow yourself enough time to arrive to the interview location early to find your way around the campus.
  5. Stay involved in the interview process. Don’t look bored! Stay awake, alert and inquisitive.
  6. Dress appropriately and skip the coffee if you think it will give you the jitters.

What should you ask on your interview?

  1. What makes this program better than others, and how will this program allow me to accomplish specific goals I have set for myself.
  2. What changes are planned for the program/department for the upcoming year (only if this was not discussed in the program introduction)?
  3. Reflect on experiences and interactions that solidified your interest in this profession.
  4. What are the typical characteristics of a successful resident in your program? What are the previous graduates doing now?
  5. If there are multiple sites, ask about the physicist’s role in each of those sites, and any logistical issues tied to those sites (this shows you are really thinking about what they have to offer).
  6. Remember you are going to ask the current resident’s questions too. These are the people that will give you the best idea of what the program is like. Some example questions, “What is the morale of the program? Is your feedback valued and implemented?

Whatever you do, always ask a question after your interview. You should be able to come up with at least one!

Example of residency interviewee’s behavior that really impresses program directors:

The candidate who comes well prepared, knows:

  • Our program and our specialty
  • Asks appropriate questions
  • Allows time for me (the interviewer) to talk and pose questions to the candidate!

After you finish the interview, it isn’t necessarily over! Remember to show your gratitude for the opportunity to interview with a thank you email (notes are fine too, but an email will suffice). Try to find the email address of anyone you interviewed with, and address them directly.

Don’t forget to check out these excellent resources AAPM Career Services!

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