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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

Non-Clinical Career Blog Series #4/7: Non-Clinical Careers in Radiation Safety and Health Physics

Health physics positions revolve around the effects of radiation on human health; typically, for the protection of populations from the risks of ionizing radiation. Health physicists monitor doses, and design and implement new measures for controlling dose. Health physicists typically work at nuclear power plants, pharmaceutical companies, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), universities, and hospitals. However, health physicists are also actively recruited to serve in the military, other government agencies (e.g., US State Department, the US Central Intelligence Agency) and other civilian organizations. For those employed in a hospital or university setting, the job title tends to be Radiation Safety Officer (RSO), but the job description is very similar. Health physics is also a field of active research.

To best prepare for a career in health physics, medical physics students should take all health physics classes available to them and investigate occupational and environmental health safety courses as health physicists often work closely with environmental and occupational health safety workers. For early exposure to health physics careers, internships are available at nuclear power plants, pharmaceutical companies, and other sites that employ health physicists. Further experience can be gained through health physics research, personnel radiation dose monitoring, attending radiation safety meetings on campus or at a hospital, and reading of relevant publications (e.g., ICRP, NCRP, ICRU, and Title 10 of the Code of Federal Regulations).

In most cases, a master’s degree is sufficient to work as a health physicist or RSO. Certification by the American Academy of Health Physics (Certified Health Physicist, CHP), the American Board of Medical Physics (Medical Health Physics), or the American Board of Radiology (ABR) may be expected or required. For example, many radiation safety workers at hospitals have some responsibility as a standard clinical medical physicist and, therefore, having completed the ABR certification process may be helpful or expected. To work purely as a health physicist, being a CHP may be beneficial or required.

Health physicists tend to earn less than clinical medical physicists. According to the 2017 AAPM Professional Survey, medical physicists performing health physics duties with a master’s degree and certification (certification type unspecified; median 25 years of experience) earned $155,700 on average [1]. For physicists with a doctoral degree and certification, the self-reported average salary was $193,000 (median 16 years of experience).

References:

[1] AAPM (2017). Professional Survey Report Calendar Year 2017. https://www.aapm.org/AAPMUtilities/download.asp?file=surveys/AAPM-Salary17

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clinical medical physics

Non-Clinical Career Blog Series #3/7: Non-Clinical Careers in Academic Research & Education

Academic medical physicists pursue research and educational activities. Their research is often focused on improving disease diagnosis and/or treatment. Many of these academic scientists work with advanced, experimental technology and can be developmental (creating new techniques, applications, or approaches), theoretical (e.g., developing methods for scientific analysis of images), or translational (adapting techniques for direct use in the clinic). In a university setting, these physicists may work in medical physics, physics, medical (oncology, radiology, etc.), or engineering departments. As such, they may be teaching medical physics and related subjects to future medical physicists or to a larger population within these departments. Different positions have a range of teaching, clinical, research, professional development, and administrative duties. Additionally, there are positions outside of universities that physicists may pursue including positions at large research facilities (e.g., National Cancer Institute (NCI), research hospitals).

Medical physicists involved in academic research are often primarily funded through research grants available from public and private agencies. In the United States, the NCI and National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering (NIBIB) within the National Institutes of Health (NIH), in particular, have active grant programs and provide significant funding for medical physics and cancer treatment researchers. Funding is highly competitive with overall success rates for R01 and R21 grants for the NCI at 12.5% and 8.0%, respectively, in 2017 [1]. NIBIB applications had overall success rates of 19.2% and 8.5% for R01 and R21 grants, respectively, for the same year. The success rate is often lower for new investigators who do not have an extensive publication record, but grant mechanisms have been developed specifically to encourage more junior researchers and increase their funding opportunities. Additionally, the university at which the academic medical physicist is based will often provide start-up funds that can help establish a research program and obtain pilot data in support of grant applications. Grants or contracts may also be obtained from private companies or philanthropic organizations looking to fund certain research projects that align with their interests. Finally, some researchers receive more limited funds for teaching students in the classroom as well as their laboratory.

Physicists hoping to pursue academic research should be prepared to teach and perform research. Graduate students can gain teaching experience through a variety of activities, including working as a teaching assistant, providing guest lectures, and tutoring. When applying for teaching positions, candidates will be expected to provide a teaching philosophy, sample syllabus, and lecture in a relevant topic. It is recommended that interested candidates seek resources to help develop each of these items (e.g., [2]).

While graduate schools provide research experience, additional experience in the form of a 1 to 3 year post-doctoral (post-doc) fellowship is often required to competitively pursue tenure-track research positions. One alternative to the traditional post-doc is a hybrid clinical medical physics residency and research program (guidelines for such programs are being developed by AAPM Task Group No. 278). The aim of such programs is to prepare medical physics trainees for both clinical and academic and/or research careers.

The degree requirements for academia are typically a doctoral degree for research positions and, at minimum, a master’s degree for teaching positions. According to the 2017 AAPM Professional Survey Report, approximately 5.3% of members who responded to the survey (173) work primarily in academic positions (many more are primarily clinical with some academic duties) [3]. These include 60 uncertified members with a doctoral degree, 98 certified members with a doctoral degree, and 6 certified members working in Canada with a doctoral degree. The average self-reported salary for these members ranged from $139,300 for uncertified doctoral degree-holders (median 16 years of experience) to $223,100 for certified doctoral degree-holders (median 18 years of experience). In Canada, certified doctoral degree-holders working primarily in academia reported an average income of $189,000 (median 30 years of experience). It should also be noted that in recent years, the academic job market has become increasingly competitive. A recent study shows that overall only 12.8% of doctoral degree graduates can obtain academic positions in the US [4], though this is highly dependent on the field of study.

Secondary institutions and community colleges

Teaching high school or community/technical college physics is an additional non-clinical career option. This career typically offers the flexibility of 2-3 months of contiguous vacation per year, positions in a variety of geographic areas, and the opportunity to include medical physics topics as examples in the curriculum. Teaching high school physics typically requires a pedagogical degree, such as a Bachelor of Education or, more commonly, a Master of Education. This may be unnecessary, however, for private schools and many states now provide alternative licensure pathways for physics teachers with advanced degrees. As of 2017, the US average salary for a public school teacher was $58,950 (for a 9-month contract); however, salary ranges widely depending on geographic location [5].

References:

[1] National Institutes of Health (2018). Research Project Grants and Other Mechanisms Competing Applications, Awards, Success Rates and Total Funding. https://report.nih.gov/success_rates/index.aspx
[2] Center for the Integration of Research, Teaching, and Learning (CIRTL). http://www.cirtl.net/.
[3] AAPM (2018). Professional Survey Report Calendar Year 2017. https://www.aapm.org/AAPMUtilities/download.asp?file=surveys/AAPM-Salary17
[4] Larson, R.C., Graffarzadegan, N., and Xue, Y. Too Many PhD Graduates or Too Few Academic Job Openings: The Basic Reproductive Number R0 in Academia. Syst Res Behav Sci. 31(5): 745-750. January, 2015. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4309283/
[5] National Center for Education Statistics (2017). Estimated average annual salary of teachers in public elementary and secondary schools, by state: Selected years, 1969-70 through 2016-17. https://nces.ed.gov/programs/digest/d17/tables/dt17_211.60.asp

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clinical medical physics

Non-Clinical Career Blog Series #2/7: Non-Clinical Careers in Industry

Industry careers combine the knowledge of modern health-care delivery with scientific research, product development, and experimental design. Jobs are often in one of three primary areas: research and development, sales, or customer support. Research and development physicists create new and innovative products and may work at a managerial or individual product level. Sales people assist customers in acquiring the best products to address their needs and communicate unmet customer needs to their employer. Customer support physicists are involved in installation, training, and troubleshooting clinical devices.

The skill set needed within the medical industry, although sharing many similarities to medical physics education, requires a greater focus on specific areas to make a candidate more desirable to an industrial corporation. Physicists pursuing careers in medical industry need to understand physics, software development, and clinical implementation, which are essential to producing a safe, quality, and reliable product. More specifically, the ability to work fluently with open-source computer programming languages (Python, Ruby, Javascript) and relate it to clinical applications is a skill highly sought after by industrial employers. Analytical skills, along with a working knowledge of statistically related concepts such as Failure Mode Effects Analysis (FMEA) and Statistical Process Control (SPC), are also valuable. For employment directly related to research and development, a working knowledge of the regulatory standards governing medical equipment is important; specifically, knowledge of guidance documentation produced by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC). The most desirable soft skills are the ability to present and communicate effectively, the capacity to work well as a member of a functioning team, and a knowledge of basic finance to aid in product decision making [1].

To gain employment within an industrial setting, it is important to have completed at least one large, comprehensive scientific project. Ideally, the project will be related to the clinical health care environment, employ the use of quantitative data to determine a result, and answer a clearly defined objective at the completion of the project. The use of computer programming within a research project is desirable. In many instances, research projects completed to satisfy the requirements of a master’s or doctoral degree will meet these criteria, although it may be advantageous to demonstrate a repertoire of completed projects.

Opportunities to sample a career in industry can be found in the form of internships as several large radiation oncology and medical imaging companies offer paid internships for students. While many industry careers do not require a doctoral degree, it is regarded highly by many industrial employers. Board certification is often not required, but demonstrable clinical experience can be an advantage. Participating in a clinical internship often provided by medical physics graduate programs is a great way to satisfy this requirement. Research scientists in industry also often need to be conversant with methods involved in conducting clinical trials.

An alternative pathway from graduate studies to industry is the I-Corps program offered by both the National Institutes of Health (NIH) [2] and the National Science Foundation (NSF) [3]. This program seeks to commercialize promising academic research and give academic researchers valuable entrepreneurial experience. Additionally, the NIH offers seed funding mechanisms such as the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) that allow graduate students to perform collaborative research with industry during graduate school [4].

The salaries of industrial career physicists approach that of clinical physicists. The average self-reported salary of physicists working in industry range from $132,700 for uncertified physicists with a master’s degree (median 17 years of experience) to $222,400 for board-certified physicists with a doctoral degree (median 15 years of experience) based on the 2017 AAPM Professional Survey Report [5].

References:

[1] Unpublished WGNCMP interviews conducted with professionals having experience with non-clinical careers.
[2] https://sbir.cancer.gov/programseducation/icorps
[3] https://www.nsf.gov/news/special_reports/i-corps/
[4] https://sbir.cancer.gov/funding/opportunities/SBIR-STTR-omnibus-solicitation
[5] AAPM (2018). Professional Survey Report Calendar Year 2017. https://www.aapm.org/AAPMUtilities/download.asp?file=surveys/AAPM-Salary17.pdf

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non-clinical tracks

Non-Clinical Career Blog Series #1/7: Introduction to Non-Clinical Careers and General Advice

Introduction

Medical physics started as an academic effort of scientists to develop new elements of diagnostic and therapeutic medicine, but over the past few decades has expanded to become a profession with a substantial clinical component. . Students in medical physics can and do participate in a wide array of careers, including clinical, academic, research, industry, and regulatory. Despite the breadth of opportunity, the clinical career path is the most common for students in training today. Information, guidance, and additional training for non-clinical careers is less common in many academic programs, and less than 50% of students (median: 3.3 years of experience in medical physics; 165 respondents) feel knowledgeable about their non-clinical career options [1].

The lack of student awareness of non-clinical careers is, in part, because many current medical physics graduate programs are heavily biased towards clinical careers. Many graduate programs are staffed by physicists who hold primary appointments as clinical medical physicists. The remaining faculty tend to be physicists working in academic research. Thus, graduate students are well prepared for and knowledgeable of clinical and academic career paths, but not as knowledgeable about other careers. Most graduate programs strive to obtain (or maintain) Commission on Accreditation of Medical Physics Education Programs (CAMPEP) accreditation, which follows standards appropriate for the training of clinical physicists.  CAMPEP accreditation does allow the option for programs to have tracks for students not interested in certification by the American Board of Radiology (ABR), though only a small number of students generally participate in that track. A common experience is that, non-clinical training is not prioritized and students are not necessarily informed of all the opportunities open to them as they enter the world of medical physics.

Although students are primarily educated about their clinical opportunities, there is no guarantee that students will be able to pursue an ABR-certified clinical career. In 2014, the ABR began requiring students who entered into the ABR process to complete a CAMPEP-accredited residency program prior to their eligibility for full board certification. This standardized clinical training, but also limited the number of physicists able to become ABR certified. In 2016, 258 students graduated with a master’s degree, doctoral degree, professional doctorate, or certificate from a CAMPEP-accredited program; yet there were only 144 residency positions available [2]. This disparity demonstrates the need to educate medical physics students about non-clinical career opportunities that may be available.

To help address this unmet need, the Working Group to Promote Non-Clinical Careers in Medical Physics (WGNCMP) was formed in 2014. The mission of the WGNCMP is to investigate opportunities for trained medical physicists outside of the clinic, and to disseminate this information as well as the necessary training to obtain these positions. This series of blog posts is intended to educate medical physicists about the career options available to them beyond clinical physics, including entry requirements for these alternative careers.

General advice

The 2015 AAPM Professional Survey reports that 81% of its members work in primarily clinical roles [3]. The remaining 19% work primarily in academic, administrative, regulatory, or industrial roles. However, it is unclear how many non-AAPM physicists work in non-clinical roles in fields that could be considered as part of medical physics. A separate report from the Centers for Health Workforce Studies discusses an independent model for non-clinical medical physicists [4]. In this report, it is noted that board certification is typically not a requirement for employment, and that specialization in a category such as therapy or diagnostic imaging is not as prevalent. The lack of certification and specialization requirements may make non-clinical jobs potentially easier to obtain, while frequently offering comparable pay and potentially better work-life balance to clinical positions. Non-clinical career paths are open to physicists with either a master’s or doctoral degree. These factors make non-clinical careers attractive to those physicists who are not exclusively interested in a clinical career. Additionally, physicists looking to change career paths from clinical to non-clinical do not face the same “administrative” hurdles as ones trying to go in the reverse direction.

In a series of interviews with professional non-clinical medical physicists, three common skills were stressed as a requirement of applicants: communication, interpersonal skills, and organization [5]. Communication includes being able to send effective, efficient, and courteous e-mails, present research to both fellow scientists and to an audience of non-experts, and write technical reports. Interpersonal skills include effective and professional interaction with co-workers, customers, and others. Organization is the efficient use of time, budget, and other resources and is an important quality for communicating with others. These skills are important for any career – clinical or non-clinical – and can be developed during training. Those surveyed recommended that students practice these skills while still in school and ask for feedback and criticism from both mentors and fellow students. Individual career paths require additional training, which will be described in depth in the blog posts to follow.

References:

[1] Tanny, S., Roth, A., Peeler, C., Rodrigues, A., and Ready, J. SU-E-E-04: Assessment of Medical Physics Students and Trainees Interest and Awareness of Non-Clinical Careers. American Association of Physicists in Medicine (2015), DOI: 10.1118/1.4923926. https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B4m2DyLfzC1EQm5GRGx4TTE4czQ.

[2] Loughery, Brian, et al. “Navigating the medical physics education and training landscape.” Journal of Applied Clinical Medical Physics 18.6 (2017): 275-287. DOI: 10.1002%2Facm2.12202.

[3] AAPM (2016). Professional Survey Report Calendar Year 2015. https://www.aapm.org/pubs/protected_files/surveys/AAPM-Salary15.pdf

[4] Center for Health Workforce Studies (2010). Workforce Study of Medical Physicists in the U.S. Rensselaer, NY. https://www.aapm.org/pubs/studies.asp

[5] Unpublished WGNCMP interviews conducted with professionals having experience with non-clinical careers.

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clinical medical physics

Student and Trainee Events at AAPM 2018

The AAPM 2018 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 (STSC) 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 2018 Annual Meeting website.

Student and Trainees Subcommittee Meeting
When: Saturday, July 28 from 3:00 pm to 5:00 pm
Where: Cumberland 6, Third 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! As a courtesy, please contact committee chairs prior to attending association meetings.  The chair of the STSC, Dennis Stanley, can be contacted at dennis.n.stanley@gmail.com.

ACR Welcome Reception for Students and Trainees
When: Saturday, July 28 from 5:00 pm to 7:30 pm
Where: Pancho & Lefty’s, 104 5th Ave. S., Nashville

Will you be in Nashville the night before the conference begins? Join the American College of Radiology (ACR) and your fellow students and trainees for appetizers and drinks at Pancho & Lefty’s. Come learn about the role medical physics plays in the ACR and meet the new chair of the Commission on Medical Physics, Mahadevappa Mahesh, as well as other members of the commission! Drink tickets will be provided (ID required). Please RSVP so the event planners can get an accurate headcount here: RSVP now.

Annual Student Meeting: The Role of Automation in Clinics of the Future
When: Sunday, July 29 from 8:30 am to 10:00 am
Where: Davidson Ballroom B, Convention Center

Each year, the Annual Student Meeting provides opportunities for student networking and discussion on important medical physics issues, such as education and career development. This year’s meeting explores the role of automation in radiation oncology clinics. Automation is heavily relied on in other industries and is becoming an increasingly important topic for our field as we evolve to maximize efficiency while maintaining a high standard of treatment quality. Drs. Steve Jiang and Kevin Moore are leaders in this field and will each give a 20-minute presentation on automation strategies used at their respective institutions. This will be followed by a 50-minute audience discussion period facilitated by student moderators.

Undergraduate Networking Session
When: Sunday, July 29 from 10:00 am to 10:30 am
Where: Davidson Ballroom B, Convention Center

Following the Annual Student Meeting, the Society of Physics Students (SPS) invites undergraduates attending the annual 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.

Non-Clinical Career Expo
When: Sunday, July 29 from 10:00 am to 11:30 am
Where: Davidson Foyer, Convention Center

The Non-Clinical Career Expo, hosted by the Working Group to Promote Non-Clinical Career Paths for Medical Physicists, will take place in the Davidson Foyer immediately following the Student Meeting. This event gives students and trainees a chance to discuss future career paths and roles for medical physicists outside of the clinic. In order to maximize the ability for attendees to connect with different companies, we are implementing a speed-dating format this year! Register now.

WGSTR Student and Trainee Lunch
When: Sunday, July 29 from 11:30 am to 1:00 pm
Where: Davidson Ballroom C, Convention Center

Student and faculty members representing various committees, councils, and task groups within AAPM will be on-hand to facilitate discussion on the many ways to get involved. Lunch tickets are available when you register for the meeting, or you may join the event at no cost (without lunch). The deadline for registration was July 3rd.

4th Annual Residency Fair
When: Sunday, July 29 from 1:00 pm to 3:00 pm
Where: Davidson Ballroom Foyer, Convention Center

Finding the perfect residency can be difficult. Thanks to collaboration between STSC and the Society of Directors of Academic Medical Physics Programs (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 from last year with several medical physics residency program directors to get some inspiration for potential questions you could ask.

Student Night Out at ACME Feed & Seed
When: Sunday, July 29 from 6:00 pm to 8:30 pm
Where: AMCE Feed & Seed, 101 Broadway, Nashville

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 ACME Feed & Seed, where you can enjoy beer and wine, a dinner buffet, ping pong, giant jenga, 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 29 through Wednesday, August 1
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 them to commercial products and potential opportunities for collaboration with various companies. This year we’re adding even more excitement with a chance to win a $100 Amazon gift card! You can learn more about how to participate in Partners for the Future here under the Student and Trainees Events tab.

MedPhys Slam
When: Monday, July 30 from 1:45 pm to 3:45 pm
Where: Karl Dean Ballroom C, Convention Center

New to this year’s events is the MedPhys Slam, a research communication competition in which participants prepare a 3-minute presentation aimed at sharing the significance of their science in a compelling yet understandable manner. Participants will be judged by a panel of non-physicists on three equally weighted categories: comprehension/content, communication, and engagement. Come cheer on the finalists from the AAPM chapters, the Canadian Organization of Medical Physicists (COMP), and international preliminary competitions.

Interview Workshop
When: Monday, July 30 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, and second, group interview sessions that allow students the opportunity to 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

Breaking Out of the Clinic: Non-traditional Medical Physics Careers
When: Wednesday, August 1 from 11:15 am to 12:15 pm
Where: Room 209, Convention Center

Many students and young professionals don’t realize just how many opportunities exist beyond the clinic. This symposium, organized by the Working Group to Promote Non-Clinical Career Paths for Medical Physicists, will discuss non-clinical career options and how to prepare for them. Three physicists working outside of the clinic will talk briefly on their experience. There will be an open panel discussion at the end of the session so please come with any questions you may have.

Other Events of Interest to Students and Trainees:

Physics Review Courses
When: Saturday, July 28 through Sunday, July 29
Where: Room 201 (Diagnostic/Nuclear Medicine) and Room 201 (Therapy), Convention Center

These courses provide an excellent 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 under the Review Course tab.

Undergraduate Poster Session
When: Sunday, July 29 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 physics in medicine!

Expanding Horizons
When: Tuesday, July 30 from 9:30 am to 11:00 am
Where:  General Poster Area, Exhibit Hall

Awardees from the 2017 Expanding Horizons Travel Grant cycle will discuss their experiences at conferences not specifically geared toward traditional medical physics, focusing on broad scientific impact and opportunities for medical physicists in various fields. The Expanding Horizons poster session is a venue to meet awardees, learn about hot topics and emerging research areas presented at these conferences, and understand the relevance to future medical physics research. Students interested in applying for the 2018 application cycle are highly encouraged to attend!

New Members Symposium
When: Tuesday, July 31 from 4:30 pm to 6:00 pm
Where: Room 209, 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 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.

 

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 Nashville!

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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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clinical medical physics

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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