clinical medical physics

Student & Trainee Events at AAPM 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You can RSVP to the Interview Workshop here: RSVP now

Other Events of Interest to Students and Trainees:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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 (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!