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.


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:


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:



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/.

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!

interviews, medical physics, non-clinical tracks

I am about to graduate – what on earth do I do now? 10 things you can do NOW to get a job and move your career forward

physics todayOur post on “Inside Look into the MedPhys Match: Part II” will be available in the coming weeks, but we wanted to share with you this important and exciting webinar that will take place on April 30th from 2:00-3:00 PM EDT. You can register by going to this link:

Free Webinar on 10 Things You Can Do NOW to Get a Job 

About this webinar:

Whether you started career planning and job searching a year ago, a month ago or today, there are a few things you can do to get the ball rolling to land a job you enjoy.

  • Number 1: Don’t Panic! It’s never too late to launch a thoughtful strategy designed to land you employment.
  • Number 2: Know you are valuable in myriad industries and ecosystems. In this webinar, you will learn specific tasks you can do RIGHT NOW to get a job and advance in your career. You will emerge with a solid and strategic plan that you can adapt at any stage of your career, but is especially valuable for those who are about to graduate or finish their postdoc and haven’t lined up a position yet.
  • And perhaps equally important, you will leave the webinar feeling more confident and excited about what your near (and far) future holds for you.

About Your Presenter:
Alaina G. Levine is an award-winning entrepreneur, science journalist, science and engineering careers consultant, professional speaker and corporate comedian. Her new book, Networking for Nerds, will be published by Wiley in 2015. As President of Quantum Success Solutions, she has been advising scientists and engineers about their careers for over 15 years. She has given over 600 workshops and seminars for clients in the US, Europe and Mexico, and is the author of over 200 articles pertaining to science, engineering, science careers and business in such publications as Science, Nature, World Economic Forum, Smithsonian, Scientific American, IEEE Spectrum, & COSMOS. As a science careers journalist, Levine constantly researches employment trends in STEM fields and delivers up-to-date vital information about STEM career issues from interviews with hiring managers, decision-makers and recruiters in myriad industries. Levine has also served as a Contributor to National Geographic and currently pens the career columns for Physics Today and APS News.

interviews, medical physics, non-clinical tracks, residencies

Interviews with AAPM’s student volunteers

Help Wanted

Help Wanted

Over the past few years, students have really expanded their presence in AAPM. What was once the Student Physicist Association Subcommittee has expanded and been reorganized as the Students and Trainees Subcommittee (STSC). Members of the STSC took the initiative to form a new working group, WG for Promoting Non-Clinical Careers in Medical Physics (WGNCMP).  The Working Group on Student and Trainee Research (WGSTR) has also welcomed student involvement. Both of these working groups offer students the opportunity to shape career opportunities for current and future trainees in medical physics.

In this post, we have interview two students involved in these working groups:

Sean Tanny, WGNCMP Co-Chair and founding member; and Chris Peeler, WGSTR founding member

Q1: Could you tell us about your WG? What does the group hope to acheive?


The Working Group to Promote Non-Clinical Careers in Medical Physics is doing exactly what our name says, promoting non-clinical careers for medical physicists. What we have seen since the ABR 2014 initiative is that there are so many students competing for a very limited number of residency slots. This issue was anticipated, but no real solution has been put forward in an organized sense. What we are charged with is to explore what the potential options are for students who don’t want to get railroaded into being a purely clinical physicist.
A few of our current goals include:

  • assessing student awareness of these career options.
  • investigate the effort of interest of CAMPEP Medical Physics Education Program Directors in providing training specifically for people who want to work outside the clinic.
  • present a white paper for Medical Physics to help inform students already within the field.
  • reach out to students beyond medical physics, particularly undergraduates who may be considering a career in medical physics.

Chris, WGSTR:

The primary focus of our group is to initiate or promote activities aimed at enhancing and broadening pre-doctoral research conducted by students and trainees. It is also our intention to act as a platform to connect students and trainees that share interest in research-related topics in medical physics. To achieve this we are actively working to gather feedback from students and transmit that information to AAPM so that it may be used to better diversify research-oriented education and training in the field of medical physics.
A few of our goals include:

  • a travel grant program designed to help fund student travel to meetings not associated with AAPM or even medical physics specifically, in order to broaden the scientific approach in medical physics research.
  • a regular symposium at the AAPM Annual Meeting at which scientists who have had successful careers focused on research describe how they got their start and how they built their career. Both the travel grants and the symposium should make their debut in 2015.
  • encourage an on-going student dialogue regarding research-oriented education. The first major action in this effort will be our hosting of a student luncheon at the 2015 AAPM Annual Meeting, where we can present efforts within AAPM to foster research and students can discuss ideas.

Q2: What inspired you to found this WG?


There was some talk within the Students and Trainees Subcommittee when I was first joining on about trying to explore some non-clinical options to see if there’s a potential to ease some of the strain on the residency process. John Ready and I were teamed together for two to three months, conducting interviews with non-clinical physicists, collecting data from the AAPM membership, and came back to the Subcommittee and said that we thought there was enough here to form a working group. Since then, we’ve made a lot of progress, thanks in no small part to the help from Alison Roth, Katherine Dextraze, and Anna Rodrigues.

I think the thing that is particularly inspiring from a project like this is that we have the privilege to reach out to so many outstanding physicists who are working to improve all the pieces that go into clinical medical physics. We’re looking at how non-clinical physicists fit within the AAPM as their careers progress and it can be a little varied. But there’s not a systematic way that the AAPM treats non-clinical physicists different from clinical ones, at least not in the data we’ve collected. Personally, I think for non-clinical careers to be more approachable as someone entering the field, we need to work with the ABR to establish a way for those forgoing board certification immediately, but actively working in medical physics, to have a path that allows them to transition back into the clinic without having to start back at square one.

Chris, WGSTR:

In light of the ABR 2014 initiative, it has become apparent to us and even to many among the AAPM leadership that most of the effort in medical physics education program design has been focused on fulfilling the topic requirements set forth by the ABR. Most of these are clinically-oriented requirements with less scientific depth which has resulted in programs that in many cases cover the required subjects with little to no effort placed on the introduction of new topics that will move the field forward.
The initial catalyst that eventually led to the creation of our group actually occurred in 2013, when I invited Robert Jeraj from the University of Wisconsin to speak the student in my program. Knowing that he was a co-chair of the Working Group on Future Research and Academic Medical Physics (also known as FUTURE), I requested his talk focus on his thoughts on the future of education and research in our field. In a better fashion than I ever could have expected, his presentation, or discussion rather, really got our students talking! Dr. Jeraj was equally ecstatic about the discussion because upon his return to Wisconsin he put me in touch with a student from their medical physics program, Stephanie Harmon. Dr. Jeraj suggested that we hold an informal gathering at the AAPM meeting that year in which we would bring together students from our programs to continue our discussion of research and research-oriented education.

Following the meeting at AAPM, we began a conversation with a representative from the program at Massachusetts General Hospital, Clemens Grassberger. Stephanie, Clemens, and I continued our collaboration throughout the following year, and at the 2014 AAPM Annual Meeting, we were invited to attend the FUTURE meeting. During this meeting, the group made the decision to form a student working group dedicated to continuing our efforts related to student research and education. I’ve related this story to you because I believe it is a great example of what students can achieve if we’re willing to simply express our heartfelt opinions. If you see a deficiency in our field, don’t be afraid to suggest a solution or to even go further and do something about it.

Q3: Have you released reports from your WG?


No official reports yet. We have published a brief article in the AAPM Newsletter and have submitted some of our work for presentation at various meetings. We are currently working on producing a white paper for Medical Physics and also an outreach article for Physics Today. I think that it’s important that we try and reach students who are still in their formative process of deciding what medical physics is going to be for them.

 Chris, WGSTR:

Our working group was only officially approved in 2015, so we have not yet had the opportunity to release any reports. It is our intention to gather statistics related to student research and also courses offered across different graduate education programs and to present this information on the AAPM website.

Q4: Why do you feel that student involvement is important in AAPM?


Two reasons:
1) We need to advocate for ourselves as students. No one else will do this for you. If there’s something you see that you think can be done better, speak up. I’ve worked a lot with Chris Peeler over the last couple months, and what is great about that group is that it truly was student-driven. It started as a group of students who wanted to interact and review what everyone was researching, and found that it was so very beneficial for everyone, so they started a group to promote student research interests. That’s a powerful example of what student involvement can do.
2) We are the future of the organization. How do you learn to do something? You do it! Without that practice and experience, it’s a bumpy road to figure out how to work within the framework of such a complex organization. There are so many different subcommittees, different councils, etc. Learning how to create meaningful change is an important step in being able to pick up the torch when it comes time.

Chris, WGSTR:

As in any scientific field, the future of the field will rest on the students and trainees of today. These are the future scientists that will serve on the larger committees and boards of AAPM. Initiating student involvement early on will provide for smoother transitions later as the students and trainees will already be familiar with the operation of the organization. More importantly, it is the students and trainees who directly feel the impact of education or training-related decisions from AAPM so it is vital for that perspective to be considered when such decisions are made. One of the best ways to foster that involvement is to have students and trainees be tied into the organizational structure of AAPM. Students are fortunate to have a clear voice within AAPM thanks to many well-established groups; however, in our case we felt there was a gap in representation for those interested in fostering research-related personal development throughout their graduate career and extending into all professional, academic, and industrial career pathways.

Q5: Do you feel that students could derive personal/professional benefits from being involved in AAPM?


By being involved in AAPM, students can create meaningful change with their organization and potentially impact the training and career opportunities that current and future trainees. In my experience in particular, I have establish strong connections the physicists through out our field – at major vendors, such as Varian; within federal regulatory bodies; in the clinic; and in research. The connections contribute the research that my group is doing and also may impact my personal career later on down the line. The personal benefit of AAPM involvement is the satisfaction of addressing important issues and the professional benefit is certainly creating an all-star network of physicists in all branches of medical physics.

Chris, WGSTR:

If our working group’s experience is an indication of how one could derive personal or professional benefits from being involved in AAPM, then the answer is a resounding “Yes!”. Being involved provides direct opportunities to interact with leaders in the field and gives you an chance to show them what you can bring to the table. Depending on the direction you decide to take your career after graduate school, the type of experience you can acquire through such involvement could be incredibly valuable. A large part of achieving success in medical physics hinges on the development of a person’s soft skills, such as communication, organization, presentation skills, and professional interaction with others in the field. Involvement in AAPM provides an excellent setting to develop in all of these skill areas.

Volunteer work is absolutely necessary to keep AAPM up and running. In same newsletter that showcased the work of WG NCMP, John Hazle commended the volunteers of AAPM and called for physicists to dedicate themselves to this great professional organization. The working groups that we have showcased here are perfect examples of how our students’ passion is moving our discipline forward. If you are interested in contributing your time to AAPM, please feel free to contact any student volunteers through the AAPM Committee Tree.

clinical medical physics

An Inside Look Into The MedPhys Match: Part I


On August 7, 2014, the AAPM and the SDAMPP announced the creation of the MedPhys Match, a medical physics residency-matching program for graduate students and postgraduate trainees. As of mid-October, 75% of all CAMPEP accredited residencies have participated and over 141 applicants have signed up. The benefits of the MedPhys Match include a more streamlined application process, a free application, and the ability to participate as a couple (e.g. obtain a position in the same geographic location as your spouse).

In addition, the MedPhys Match can be implemented in unique ways by the residency program in order to strike a compromise between the new match requirements and traditional residency applications. For instance, a major critique of the match has been that the match deadlines and required residency start date is inflexible. These strict deadline are at odds with the variable degree completion timeline of many students, especially PhD students, in medical physics graduate programs. Therefore, residency programs with multiple slots can choose one slot to be “matched” (i.e., start July 1), while the remaining slots can accommodate new residents who could not graduate by July 1 using traditional rolling applications.

Competition for residency positions is fierce, and in years prior to the MedPhys Match, many students and programs pushed for a matching program similar to those used in medical residency programs in order to level the playing field. Here we present part I of a two-part interview that will follow two applicants and two CAMPEP accredited residency programs through the MedPhys Match process.

Applicant Point of View:

Q1. What is your educational background?

Interviewee 1: BS in Physics, MS in Medical Physics, PhD (in progress) in Medical Physics

Interviewee 2: My BS was in physics, and I am currently finishing up my PhD in a CAMPEP-accredited medical physics graduate program.

Q2. What made you decide to participate in the MedPhys Match Program?

Interviewee 1: I decided to participated in the MedPhys Match, because almost all residency programs I was interested in were participating in the Match as well. Further, I knew that I wanted to pursue a residency in radiation therapy physics, thus the Match was my only option, really.

Interviewee 2: Once I decided that I wanted to apply for residency programs, it became clear that participating in the MedPhys Match Program was the way to go. The list of participating programs was first released in October and has continued to grow. By the time deadlines began to approach, all the programs I was interested in applying to were participating in the Match program.

Q3. How would you describe your experience in the application process so far?

Interviewee 1: The application process was quite straightforward: If I’m not mistaken, almost all (if not all) programs affiliated with the Match are also in the Medical Physics Residency Application Program (MP-RAP). You have to register for the Med Phys Match were you are assigned a Applicant Code. And then you complete the application on AAPM’s Medical Physics Residency Application Program (MP-RAP). Bookmarking and applying for programs was also straightforward.

Interviewee 2: So far the application process hasn’t been too painful. Applying through AAPM’s Medical Physics Residency Application Program (MP-RAP) made the process much easier. Through MP-RAP, you submit a single application packet (including your CV, personal statement, and references) and apply to multiple programs. If you registered for the Match program, applications were free this year. Talking to friends who have previously applied to residencies was helpful for start getting acquainted with the process. I also think getting feedback on my application materials (CV and personal statement) from friends and mentors was very helpful. The most difficult part of the process for me was deciding which programs to apply to and how many I wanted to apply to.

Q4. Do you expect more opportunities for applicants this year? Do you think the match program has made the application process less competitive?

Interviewee 1: As Medical Physicists we appreciate the benefits of optimization. Thus the Match program is definitely an improvement over the prior years as it will globally improve the efficiency of the residency application, interviewing, and acceptance process. This will improve placement and avoid last minute scrambling and additional rounds of interviewing later on. However, I am not sure how it will feel to the individual applicants.

Interviewee 2: Without the early offers and the pressure to respond to offers quickly that came with the Gentleman’s agreement, I think that with the Match program it will be more likely for applicants to get their best offer possible. However, I don’t think that the Match program has made the application process less competitive. Especially this first year, I think applicants will apply to many programs since it’s free, so it will still be very competitive. I do think that the Match program will make the process less messy and potentially more fair.

Q5. Do you have any suggestions on how to make the application process better?

Interviewee 1: There are a couple of improvements that would make the process easier:
– It would be wise to be able to sort/bookmark the programs via their MedPhys Match Codes.
– Programs should be more consistent or at least make the information available as to when their residency applications open and when their deadlines are.
– Another down side to the MP-RAP is that a general personal statement is required, and thus the applicant cannot personalize the statement to a specific program.

Further, this year the MP-RAP was free to applicants. This may increase the number of programs applicant apply to and leaves the programs to sort through many applications.

Interviewee 2: There was plenty of information on the MedPhys Match website and the MP-RAP website about the application process and the how Match works. However, I would have liked more information about the individual programs. Their descriptions and websites typically list some information about what machines they have, what type of treatments they do, how many physicists are in their department, and some information about their current and past residents. Based on this information, it was difficult to get a feel for each program’s unique personality and how they differ from other programs, e.g. how structured the program is, how “researchy” the program is, etc. However, I’m not sure about how to remedy this or if it even needs to be remedied since applicants will learn more about the individual programs if they make it to the interview stage.

Q6. How do you think the match program will impact therapy vs. imaging students?

Interviewee 1: I’m not sure if it will have an impact. Prior to that, students could have applied to imaging residencies as well.

Interviewee 2: I’m a therapy student myself, so I can’t speak too much about the imaging side of things. I will say that I don’t think many students will rank both imaging and therapy programs. At the point where you’re applying for residencies, I’d say most students will be pretty much set on whether they want to do imaging or therapy physics. Also, you can only submit one personal statement and one CV so it would be difficult to cater these documents to both imaging and therapy.

Residency Point of View:

Q1. What type of residency program do you offer?

Residency 1: CAMPEP-accredited Therapy.

Residency 2: Imaging physics residency program.

Q2. What made you decide to participate in the MedPhys Match Program?

Residency 1: Being a residency program not affiliated with a CAMPEP graduate school, I can see that our residency program wouldn’t carry the cachet of those programs. I feel the match will put us with candidates looking for a more clinical-minded career.

Residency 2: The majority of the imaging physics residency program directors decided that the match program was especially important for the THERAPY residency programs, and so we all agreed to participate in order to help make the match successful.

Q3. How would you describe your experience in the application process for far?

Residency 1: We haven’t started the Match process yet (it is early December and we are still accepting applications). This is our second year using the MP-RAP and we have been very happy with it. It is very convenient of getting everything in one file.

Residency 2: We had already been using the MP-RAP but getting all three pieces of the match puzzle was a little confusing. We had to get institutional approval to participate, and did not realize that we had to reopen a recruitment to get our positions properly included. John Antolak has been exceptionally patient and helpful in shepherding us through the process.

Q4. Do you expect more applicants this year than in previous years?

Residency 1: We have received more applicants this year, at this point, than previous years, but it is our second year of CAMPEP accreditation, so that might be skewing our numbers.

Residency 2: Not really. We hope for more QUALIFIED applicants from which to choose.

Q5. Do you think the match program has made it easier to find the right candidate?

Residency 1: To be determined…I hope so.

Residency 2: We shall see.We had already initiated a recruitment before the match was announced, so we have already interviewed candidates who would be acceptable to our program. We look forward to competition from other applicants.

Q6. Do you have any suggestions on how to make the application process better?

Residency 1: Not really. We like the MP-RAP…much easier than directly contacting each candidate.

Residency 2: Not really.

Q7. Would you participate in the MedPhys Match next year? Why? Or why not?

Residency 1: Probably. I assume this year’s experience will greatly influence this decision.

Residency 2: Yes. I think that we will enjoy simplification and standardization of the recruitment process as much as the therapy residency programs. We also want to maintain solidarity with the other programs.

international students, medical physics

Pursuing medical physics as an international student in the US

The field of medical physics has become increasingly international over the past decade. Based on the Survey of Medical Physicists, 2009 conducted by the Center for Health Workforce Studies for the AAPM, over 33% of respondents indicated that they were born outside of the U.S. and Canada.

33% of current MPs originate outside of the  U.S. or Canada (2009 Survey of Medical Physicists)

33% of current MPs originate outside of the U.S. or Canada (2009 Survey of Medical Physicists)

For immigrants, leaving their home, country, and language to pursue education and  a career takes extraordinary courage. Beyond courage, immigrants to U.S. need particular patience to traverse the work visa and permanent resident application processes. We’ve interviewed two current students and one recent graduate, all of whom moved to the U.S. during either their graduate or undergraduate studies. We hope that their stories will provide some guidance and encouragement for current and prospective trainees interested in coming to study in the U.S. Our interviewees hail from Beijing, China; Tiajin City, China; and Belo Horizonte, Brazil.

Q1. What is your educational background (i.e. DMP, MS, or PhD)?

Interviewee 1 (from Beijing):

I have a BS in physics, and am currently pursuing my Ph.D in medical physics, imaging track.

Interviewee 2 (from Tiajin City) :

1)BS in Electronic Sciences and Technology 2) MS in Radiological Sciences and Protection 3) PhD in Medical Physics

Interviewee 3 (from Belo Horizonte):

Currently pursuing an MS in medical physics, therapy track.

Q2. What made you choose your particular area of study within the field of medical physics?

Interviewee 1 (from Beijing):

I have always been interested in imaging science since undergrad. Choosing this field is a natural extension of my interest.

Interviewee 2 (from Tiajin City) :

As a medical physicist, I can provide service to cancer patient in clinic and also perform physics research in academic.

Interviewee 3 (from Belo Horizonte):

I chose therapy physics because it condensed many subjects that I was interested in. My interest in physics was able to be connected to the study anatomy and physiology, advanced computer technologies and the ability to help people.

Q3. What made you choose your particular area of study within the field of medical physics?

Interviewee 1 (from Beijing):

Upon graduating, I intend to take a position as a junior clinical physicist or resident.

Interviewee 2 (from Tiajin City) :

I am ABR certified in therapeutic medical physics, and currently hold a physicist position without clinical duties in a company.

Interviewee 3 (from Belo Horizonte):

My next step will be to join a therapy medical physics residency and continue with my board certification process.

Q4. Did you complete your undergraduate/graduate studies in the U.S.? What has been your experience with visas and permanent residency status?

Interviewee 1 (from Beijing):

I completed my undergrad study in a Chinese university in Beijing. Still working on my Ph.D at a US university. I obtained an F-1 visa when I was close to finishing my undergrad in 2008, after which I came to US for my graduate study.

Interviewee 2 (from Tiajin City) :

Yes. I came to the U.S. in 2006 (after completing my BS) and received my PhD degree in 2011
Between 2006-2011, I held an F1 student visa.

In 2011, I joined a CAMPEP Medical Physics Residency program on an Optional Practical Training (OPT) visa from 2011-2012, the moved to the H1B visa during 2012-2013.

In 2014, I started my current industrial position and obtained an O1 visa. Currently, I am still waiting to gain Permanent Residency status.

Interviewee 3 (from Belo Horizonte):

I finished my undergraduate degree in physics at Wright State University, Dayton, Ohio. I have personally never had issues with my visa status in the US. My student visa was obtained before starting my studies and I hold the same status since then.

Q5. Do you feel that you have experienced/will experience any disadvantage in medical physics? Why/why not?

Interviewee 1 (from Beijing):

I think international students definitely face greater disadvantage in medical physics, just like they do in every other aspect of life living in US as a foreign national. The challenges comes primarily from the non-academic side: how to communicate with your peers and your mentor, how to network with your colleagues, how to maintain a healthy life outside graduate school. These disadvantages are not obvious in the beginning, but will start to surface as we go further into this career unless we consciously try to overcome.

Interviewee 2 (from Tiajin City) :

The first job is always the most difficult. And with visa issues, the process is more difficult.

I have gone through two rounds of job hunting. In my experience, the large institution are willing or able to sponsor a working visa, but sponsoring is less feasible for smaller places. It can be very competitive. I remember that I even got an offer from the institution where I completed my residency, but in the end I couldn’t work there due to visa issues and eventually I had to leave the U.S. temporarily. It then took my current employer six months to get me the appropriate visa and bring me back to US.

Regarding a job search, being a Permanent Resident will definitely help.

Interviewee 3 (from Belo Horizonte):

I do not think I encountered or will encounter any disadvantage in medical physics. The field values and requires a good work ethic and effort. If you have those characteristics you should be set to be successful.

Q6. If you could give your previous self any single piece of advice regarding studying or working in the U.S., what would it be?

Interviewee 1 (from Beijing):

I would tell my previous self to spend more time and effort to get engaged in the US life. Never use “too busy in school” as an excuse.

Interviewee 2 (from Tiajin City) :

Believe in yourself. Nothing is impossible!

Interviewee 3 (from Belo Horizonte):

I would have to say to myself to always work hard and keep your priorities straight. That usually guarantees things to work out the        best way. Things will be different and new but people are very good at adapting so if your mind is at the right place, there are no reasons to     worry, just to enjoy the ride.

Q7. How do you feel about universities in the US creating medical physics programs abroad? (for example, the Duke Kunshan program)

Interviewee 1 (from Beijing):

Aside from the apparent financial incentive for Duke University, I think at this moment it is unclear how much the students engaged in this type of program can benefit from it. The profession of medical physics is (relatively) well-established in US; however, the development in other countries seems to have been lagging behind (at least this is my impression). Unless there is evidence that the future employment opportunity is abundant, I think this type of program would be a risky choice.

Interviewee 2 (from Tiajin City) :

DKU is a pioneer program and will significantly advance the development of Medical Physics in China. I had to opportunity to help recruit MP students for DKU and traveled half of China. The whole field is in great need of qualified medical physicist. With the goal of DKU to prepare globally sophisticated leaders and citizens, we shall foresee a promising future.

Interviewee 3 (from Belo Horizonte):

I think it is a good idea to try to expose students to different environments and cultures. People have different ideas and it is important for students to understand and learn from them. Acquiring these different experiences will only increase their knowledge and confidence, and make them better professionals in the future.

Conclusions and Resources:

We hope that this interview has been informative for students, trainees, and their program directors. Medical physics is certainly a global profession and we urge our domestic trainees and their groups or institutions to encourage and support our international students and colleagues.

Potential Visas for Students and Trainees

Students: F-1

Residents/Post-docs: OPT (up to 29 mos with STEM extension)

Junior Physicists/Faculty: H1B, O1, permanent residency

Proposed initiatives for non-U.S. students in U.S. STEM degree programs 

Over the past few years, legislators have been working to amend current immigration law in order to improve retention of U.S.-education students, especially in STEM degrees. Here is an example of one of the proposed bills: The STAPLE Act