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.

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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?

Sean, WGNCMP:

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?

Sean, WGNCMP:

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?

Sean, WGNCMP:

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?

Sean, WGNCMP:

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?

Sean, WGNCMP:

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.

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clinical medical physics

An Inside Look Into The MedPhys Match: Part I

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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.

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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

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clinical medical physics, medical physics, professionalism

AAPM 2014 Annual Meeting: Networking Opportunities

The AAPM 2014 Annual Meeting is quickly approaching! The thought on the minds of many students and trainees is, simply put: “How can I meet potential employers?” This post will guide you through the networking opportunities and skill-building workshops offered by this year’s meeting, in the hopes that you can use this information to find the employer of your dreams.

1. Before You Get There: Prepare!

But, make sure you prepare prior to traveling to the meeting:

Make your resume available on the AAPM Career Services website.

Print 10+ copies of your resume to bring with you. These hard copies can be posted to the resume wall at the Career Services kiosk.

– Craft your Elevator Pitch: who you are, what/who you work with, and what you can do for the interested party.

Sample Elevator Pitch (Resident Jane Smith to a Varian representative):

“Great to meet you! I’m Jane Smith and I’m a therapy physics resident at Medical Center USA. I started working with Varian machines in my graduate work and have continued working with Varian during my residency. I’ve become aware of the strengths and limitations of Varian’s latest technology and I’m interested in using my experience and therapy physics skills to help continue to improve Varian equipment.”

2. When You Get There: Go Get ‘Em, Tiger!

This year’s meeting program offers exciting scientific talks and much more, including sessions specifically designed for networking and professional skill building. These opportunities can be organized into three major categories:

(a) Council Symposia, Association Meetings, and Town Hall

(b) Interview Skill-Building Workshops

(c) Exhibition Hall and Vendor Presentations

(a) Council Symposia, Association Meetings, and Town Hall

The AAPM has four Councils: Science, Education, Professional, and Administrative. The council meetings are open to the general AAPM membership. This year, there are also 3 major Association Meetings and many Committee and Working Group Meetings which are also open to general AAPM members. If you’re really interested in a particular subcommittee/working group – go ahead and email the chair to ask if you can participate in that meeting. If you’re interested in becoming more involved in AAPM and meeting the members that drive our organization, these meetings are a must!

Saturday, July 19

8:00 AM – 10:00 PM – Committee and Working Group Meetings begin (continue through out the week)

Sunday, July 20

9:30 – 11:00 AM: AAPM Medical Physics Student Meeting

9:30 – 11:00 AM: Education Council Symposium

11:00 AM – 12:30 PM: Professional Council Symposium

Tuesday, July 22

4:30 – 6:00 PM: New Member Symposium

Wednesday, July 23

6:15 – 7:00 PM: AAPM Annual Business and Town Hall Meeting

(b) Interview Skill-Building Workshops

There are two interview workshops offered by the Professional Council and the Students and Trainees Subcommittee. These workshops are a great opportunity to work on  your communication and presence during interviews while interacting with established AAPM members and faculty in medical physics. Why not try out that great elevator pitch on your interviewer while you’re at it?

Monday, July 21

7:30 – 8:25 AM: Interview Like Your Job Depended On It!

4:30 – 6:00 PM: AAPM STSC Mock Interviews (pre-registration required)

(c) Exhibition Hall and Vendor Presentations

Interfacing with vendors is a great way to learn about industry and employment opportunities (not to mention, Landauer and Vassar Brothers offer residencies). Even if you’re not sold on an industry career, it’s very likely that you will continue to collaborate with vendors throughout your career. Many vendors will also host User Group Meetings, which may include lunch or dinner (search your favorite vendor’s site for details). The user group meetings are usually designed for physicists who currently use the vendor’s equipment or are interested in buying it, but the small setting (along with free food) is certainly conducive to networking.

This year’s meeting has also blocked out specific time for visiting with vendors and has established the “Partners in Solutions” sessions for both imaging and therapy, during which vendors present practical information that can be translated directly into the clinic. You’ll have the opportunity to meet vendor representatives in a smaller setting where you’re encouraged to ask questions.

Monday, July 21:

11:15 AM – 12:15 PM – Partners in Solutions, Imaging: CT Dose Optimization Technologies I

2:45 – 3:45 PM – Partners in Solutions,Therapy: Tools for TG-142 Linac Imaging QA I

Tuesday, July 22:

11:15 AM – 12:15 PM – Partners in Solutions, Imaging: CT Dose Optimization Technologies II

Wednesday, July 23:

11:15 AM – 12:15 PM – Partners in Solutions, Therapy: Tools for TG-142 Linac Imaging QA II

 3. Conclusion: Be Social!

AAPM’s Students and Trainees Subcommittee hosts the annual Student Night Out, where student members can meet and have some fun. There are several other events in this year’ s Social Program, including a 5K in memory of Dr. Charles Lescrenier and a general Night Out at the Texas State Museum.

The AAPM Annual Meeting is a great opportunity to make connections and maybe even be asked for an informal interview. And don’t be too shy to accept after-hours social invitations; go out and get to know other members! It’s the perfect time to be social while learning about new initiatives and great research in medical physics.

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clinical medical physics, professionalism

A guide to explaining clinical medical physics to a non-physicist

Whether you’re a first year graduate student in medical physics, a resident, or working in the field already, you’ve probably been asked the question: “What is a medical physicist?”. In this blog post, we’ll discuss a good elevator pitch for physicists to non-physicists and give you a quick and easy breakdown of the expectations and ideas administrators and colleagues have for medical physicists. In addition, we’ll give you tips on professionalism and how to exert confidence when starting out in your career.

 Elevator pitch to a non-physicist

An elevator pitch can be used to explain your career to a non-physicist, make an impression on a potential employer, or start a conversation with potential collaborator. The elevator pitch is designed to deliver a succinct answer to the questions: “Who are you?,” “What contributions do/can you make?,” and “What are your goals?”

The goal of the pitch to a non-physicist will be mainly to explain: “What does a clinical medical physicist do?” The AAPM Virtual Pressroom has a great description of medical physicists, which can be condensed to these major points:

Medical physicists’ responsibilities include:

  • radiation safety for patients and staff through scheduled measurements and patient/staff education
  • machine standardization and reproducibility through daily, monthly, and annual testing
  • improvement of patient outcome through development of new techniques in medical imaging or radiation treatment

 Expectations of a clinical physicist

Perhaps the “elephant in the room” is that aspiring physicists don’t always have a clear idea of the expectations of a medical physicist. The potentially murky terms of  “quality control” and “quality assurance” (which are clarified here) can make explaining medical physics a non-trivial task. In this section, we’ve outlined some of the expectations of your colleagues and administrators. These expectations can help you to craft your pitch further and adequately answer follow-up questions.

The position of a medical physicist is detailed by the American College of Radiology and the role of a medical physicist in clinical practice has been defined by the AAPM  in AAPM Reports No. 38 and No. 42. Medical physicists may obtain membership as “medical staff” or  be considered “professional staff.”

General expectations of a clinical physicist include:

Administrators/supervisors Colleagues
  • provide expert consulting and implement cost-reducing strategies
  • provide protection against litigation via quality assurance programs
  • understand and observe national and state regulations
  • negotiate performance standards and costs during equipment purchase
  • perform acceptance testing, commissioning, and QC of new and existing equipment
  • quality improvement in protocols (especially imaging) to accommodate high throughput and high quality in patient care
  • prevent patient/employee overexposure through monitoring, consultation, and education

 

 

  • understand clinical workflow
  • consult with health practitioners and allied health personnel
  • maintain calibrated equipment and analyze system performance (recognize artifacts, acceptance testing)
  • organize and supervise QA/QC programs
  • organize and supervise radiation safety programs
  • be involved in development of new clinical protocols
  • coordinate and/or manage technician training in safety and new protocols
  • observe ethical standards and professional conduct
  • support and involvement in the training of other physicists

Professionalism tips

When explaining yourself to new non-physicists or interacting with well-known colleagues, it is always important to maintain the appropriate attitude, courtesy, and discretion – these aspects of conduct are termed “professionalism.” Professionalism extends to relationships between colleagues and patients, personal behavior, conflicts of interest, ethics in research, publication and education, and relationships with vendors. Modules on ethics and professionalism are available online through the AAPM and ABR.

Professionalism includes:

  1. Accountability
  2. Honor and integrity
  3. Respect for others (including patient consent and confidentiality)
  4. Excellence and continued education and commitment to the field

These components of professional conduct support the mission of quality management in clinical physics and present medical physics as a respectable profession.

Conclusion

Hopefully, this post has helped to clarify your intended role as a clinical medical physicist. Keep in mind that we are undergoing (and have undergone) highly specialized coursework and intensive training – we’ve learned a lot, and quickly! Your pitch is your chance to teach your family, friends, and non-physics acquaintances about your intended career and potential contributions.

In our next post, we will highlight crafting an elevator pitch to a potential employer and networking opportunities at the AAPM Annual Meeting!

References

Scope and Practice of Medical Physics. Policy No. PP17-B http://www.aapm.org/org/policies/details.asp?id=317&type=PP&current=true

AAPM Code of Ethics. Policy No. PP24-C http://www.aapm.org/org/policies/details.asp?id=329&type=PP

ABR Foundation Ethics and Professionalism Modules http://api.rsna.org/lms/org/ethics/courses/index.cfm?CFID=7433883&CFTOKEN=f6f3e328d59cc96f-AC55A203-09F1-88D2-C13F5F79E29C84F1&jsessionid=2A9974DE1EE98F4F3E719EB3BE248694.cfusion

“Medical Physics Clinical Skills Workbook for Therapy Physics.” Rosalind Franklin University of Medicine and Science, College of Health Professions. October 2012. http://www.rosalindfranklin.edu/Portals/3/Documents/Clinical_Skills_Workbook_ONLINE_VERSION__Revised_10-23-12A%5B1%5D.pdf

Quality Management in Medical Physics: General Concepts. Thomadsen, Bruce . 2004. http://www.aapm.org/meetings/amos2/pdf/26%20-4515-3485-838.pdf

Guide to Medical Physics Practice. American College of Radiology, Subcommittee of the Standards & Accreditation Committee of the Commission on Medical Physics. http://www.acr.org/Membership/Legal-Business-Practices/Group-Practice-Resources/Guide-to-Medical-Physics-Practice

AAPM Report No. 38: The role of a physicist in radiation oncology. https://www.aapm.org/pubs/reports/rpt_38.pdf

AAPM Report No. 42: The role of clinical medical physicist in diagnostic radiology. http://www.aapm.org/pubs/reports/RPT_42.pdf

Professionalism in medicine: definitions and considerations for teaching. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1769526/

 

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clinical medical physics, DMP, interviews, residencies

Interviews with Recent Medical Physics Graduates Pursuing Clinical Careers

Prospective students interested in medical physics have a variety of degree paths available, as well as areas of clinical certification, such as nuclear medicine, imaging, and therapy. To help educate and advise students interested in clinical medical physics, we have interviewed four former students and one student very close to graduation, all of whom have secured residency positions in either imaging or therapy. We’ve included a DMP, two MS, and two PhDs and asked them about the benefits of their degree path and how their degree and residency has helped them further their careers. All of the interviewees have graduated from CAMPEP-accredited programs across the country, including schools in Texas, Tennessee, Kentucky, North Carolina, and other states.

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

DMP:

DMP program.

MS-therapy:

Master’s degree, therapy focus.

MS-imaging:

Master’s degree, imaging focus.

PhD-therapy:

PhD, therapy focus.

PhD-imaging:

PhD, imaging focus.

Q2. What inspired you to follow your particular area of study within the field of medical physics?

DMP:

I began developing a strong predilection for applied branches of math and physics early in my education. When I discovered  therapeutic medical physics, it seemed to me to be the perfect extreme of applied science. The field has an amazing capacity for affording  human impact, practice of the scientific process, and many, many challenges.

MS-therapy:

I chose therapeutic medical physics because of the workplace conditions, the gratification/importance, job supply, variety of duties,  and compensation (and in that order)

MS-imaging:

I knew I wanted to do Chemistry or Physics in college. I found out about medical physics at LSU and looked into it. When I realized they  got to work with all the imaging modalities, I realized this had the potential to be a great career. I was always fascinated with MRI as a kid after  having a few scans at a young age.

PhD-therapy:

A big reason I’ve pursued the therapy side of medical physics has been the clinical involvement. While it might be more reactive compared to the diagnostic side, the treatment process has always fascinated me. I enjoy the clinical responsibilities and the questions that are being asked in an effort to improve the standard of care for cancer patients.”

PhD-imaging:

As a physics undergraduate we had a seminar given by a diagnostic medical physicist on MRI. I also had a classmate that graduated before me who was studying diagnostic medical physics that helped me realize the great opportunities available in that field.

Q3. What is your current or intended career?

DMP:

Clinical Medical Physicist.

MS-therapy:

Current: therapy medical physics resident. Future: boarded clinical therapy physicist with perhaps AAPM aspirations.

MS-imaging:

My current title is Senior Radiological Physicist. My original title was just Radiological Physicist, but I was really a junior physicist.  Eventually I became the only diagnostic physicist for our healthcare organization for a little while. We recently hired someone above me  again. My intended career is to become board certified in Diagnostic and Nuclear Medicine Physics. I would like to continue to work for a  healthcare organization or university as opposed to having a consulting job.

PhD-therapy:

I’ll be finishing up my PhD work in the next couple of months and beginning a residency shortly afterward. Long term, I would like to  work at an academic center where I can find a balance of clinical responsibilities, research work, and involvement with educational activities.

PhD-imaging:

Imaging Physics Resident.

Q4. Were you interested in a residency position upon graduation? If so, what was your experience applying to residencies (and starting your residency)?

DMP:

While I was strongly interested in the additional experience that can be derived from a residency program, I was fortunate enough to be enrolled in a DMP program. This degree program allowed me to gain this experience without having to go through the residency application process.

MS-therapy:

Yes. Had on-site interviews with many academic centers, however, it was my impression that my MS degree was not competitive enough compared to PhDs. Eventually I was selected with my current residency….things have been excellent so far.

MS-imaging:

Yes, I was interested in a residency position. I interviewed for two residencies and got an invite to MD Anderson for a third. I got one of  the residencies I interviewed for. However, I decided to accept my current position. I knew a residency would have been a better educational  experience, but I was counting on having a good mentor at my first job. That was not the case and I have had to teach myself a lot and put in a  lot of effort to make sure I am going to be adequately prepared for the boards. It basically boiled down to salary and still being able to achieve  my goal of becoming board certified since I have had someone “supervising” me that is ABR certified.

PhD-therapy:

It’s been very interesting to see the development of residency programs, and more specifically their integration with the career paths  of recent graduates, over the course of my PhD work. When I first entered graduate school, I was aware of residency programs, but had no  intentions of doing one. Five years ago it was far more common for new graduates interested in clinical work to take Junior Physicist or  Assistant Professor positions right out of graduate school. Now, it is far different as all but a couple of this year’s graduates from our program,  myself included, have taken residency positions. With most of us having already passed Part 1 to the ABR’s initial certification exam, this was  more a result of the recognized benefit to getting a formal and more structured clinical training experience as well as market factors influenced  by the increasing number of residency graduates. With the ABR’s 2014 initiative now taking effect, soon all graduates interested in clinical  work will need to do residencies to obtain board certification.

The residency application process can be a lot of things, among them are stressful, fun, expensive, and fascinating. With so many more  graduates applying for residency positions (graduates still outnumber residency positions), spots have become very competitive. There are a  number of growing pains to be dealt with in the application process, and I expect that in the next couple years as the volume of applicants  remains high, a lot of those will be handled. Residencies are still relatively new to our field, and even though we’ve tried to base them  somewhat off of the physician model, there are differences in our professions that will necessitate adaptations.

PhD-imaging:

Yes. I only applied to one and was in the process of applying to another when I was accepted. It was not too difficult. The hardest part  was ensuring that I had all of the necessary information and paperwork (i.e. transcripts, reference letters, intent letter) sent in on time.

Q5. Did your program have any unique characteristics that you feel gave you a competitive advantage? How have those characteristics helped you in your career?

DMP:

My program emphasized clinical experience and complete immersion within a working clinic with highly diverse applications, in  addition to a strong academic program, that allowed me, among other things, to start developing clinical intuition, confidence, and insight that  would have taken years to develop without this opportunity. This was a unique opportunity that is often under-afforded to students and one  that I consider invaluable to my education.

MS-therapy:

My residency has as preference for clinically oriented MS physicists and takes into account an individual’s “soft skills”. In that regard, I  believe my own set of interpersonal skills helped tremendously in being selected…and in acquiring a post-residency position.

MS-imaging:

If we are talking about Duke University’s Medical Physics program, then yes I believe so. I believe the fact we had a lot of different  opportunities in different areas (research to clinical in all areas of medical physics and some of the fields that cross paths like biomedical  engineering has helped me in becoming a well-rounded physicist.I also believe the fact we were forced to learn how to code has made a big  difference. Learning to write code, scripts, etc is an invaluable tool in the work place. A lot of the people I have worked with don’t have the experience or knowledge from their graduate degrees in that area.

PhD-therapy:

There are a lot of things that my program did well in preparing me to apply to residencies. The clinical rotations gave us great exposure to the clinic. Having a basic understanding of how the clinic operates and how its problems are handled compared to the research world is very valuable. Even if a program doesn’t have formalized clinical rotations, I highly recommend that students familiarize themselves with the roles and responsibilities of all those involved in the clinic. The experience helped me to be more conversational during interviews and gave me an added sense of confidence in handling the interview questions.

PhD-imaging:

Graduating from a CAMPEP accredited institution. That ensured that I had taken all of the required courses. I had a clinical rotation with a local consulting company during the summer of my last year. I really feel that this was a big help for me.

Q6. Which degree path would you recommend to prospective students interested in the field of medical physics?

DMP:

I believe that depends a great deal on how you see yourself wanting to spend your days following your education. Different paths available to us in this career carry with them the opportunities to explore different niches within the profession that exist among the commonalities. My advice for prospective students, though, in response to this question would be to seek out professionals with a variety of backgrounds as you explore your interest in this field. Shadow them, if you can, observe their interactions with those around them, note their focuses, and ask them how their educational decisions facilitated them attaining their positions. If different aspects of the profession pique your interest above others, then this realization will go a long way to answering this question for yourself.

MS-therapy:

In light of current trends, I would probably recommend in the following order: DMP, PhD, and MS (and for only a few select MS programs with a history successful job placement).

MS-imaging:

There isn’t much of a choice anymore if you are looking to become board certified. You need to complete a CAMPEP Master’s and residency program (or DMP, if those programs take off). If your goal is strictly research, PhD is probably the best path.

PhD-therapy:

This is a tricky question as I would argue it depends most on the goals of the individual. While PhD graduates have been more competitive at placing in residencies (whether it is right, wrong, or how to address it is a whole separate discussion), the research training is largely unnecessary for those that want only clinical responsibilities. An MS or DMP might be a more efficient means for those students. I think it is important for prospective students to evaluate their goals and familiarize themselves with the options in order to make the most informed decision possible.

PhD-imaging:

If you want to do research or any type of academic work, I would recommend going for a PhD. If not, a MS or DMP may suffice. The advice given to me when I was finishing my undergrad was the following: ‘If you are even thinking about getting a PhD, go straight for it, don’t bother doing a Master’s and then a PhD.’ I am glad that I took that path.

Q7. If you could go back and do it all again, would you still choose the same degree path?

DMP:

Emphatically, yes.

MS-therapy:

Yes. Definitely, but I love my MS program.

MS-imaging:

Yes, the only thing I may have changed is having a dual major as an undergraduate: Physics and Computer Science or Computer Engineering. I cannot stress the importance of knowing how to code and understanding how computers work. These are tools that if you aren’t going to work in the area of medical physics could prove very useful as skills for other well-paying jobs out there.

PhD-therapy:

Without a doubt!

PhD-imaging:

Yes. I have no regrets in going for a PhD. I am also grateful to have chosen to be in a residency program. A residency was not required for me, but I am grateful for the extra training that has been given to me to further prepare me to be able to independently practice as an imaging physicist.

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