clinical medical physics

MedPhys Match Residency Interview Experience

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

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

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

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

Overall:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Advice:

How to best prepare for the interviews:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Most challenging aspect of the interview process:

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

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

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

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

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

C5: “Coordinating travel between many locations”

How to get the most out of the interview process:

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

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

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

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

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

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