Over the past few years, students have really expanded their presence in AAPM. What was once the Student Physicist Association Subcommittee has expanded and been reorganized as the Students and Trainees Subcommittee (STSC). Members of the STSC took the initiative to form a new working group, WG for Promoting Non-Clinical Careers in Medical Physics (WGNCMP). The Working Group on Student and Trainee Research (WGSTR) has also welcomed student involvement. Both of these working groups offer students the opportunity to shape career opportunities for current and future trainees in medical physics.
In this post, we have interview two students involved in these working groups:
Sean Tanny, WGNCMP Co-Chair and founding member; and Chris Peeler, WGSTR founding member
Q1: Could you tell us about your WG? What does the group hope to acheive?
The Working Group to Promote Non-Clinical Careers in Medical Physics is doing exactly what our name says, promoting non-clinical careers for medical physicists. What we have seen since the ABR 2014 initiative is that there are so many students competing for a very limited number of residency slots. This issue was anticipated, but no real solution has been put forward in an organized sense. What we are charged with is to explore what the potential options are for students who don’t want to get railroaded into being a purely clinical physicist.
A few of our current goals include:
- assessing student awareness of these career options.
- investigate the effort of interest of CAMPEP Medical Physics Education Program Directors in providing training specifically for people who want to work outside the clinic.
- present a white paper for Medical Physics to help inform students already within the field.
- reach out to students beyond medical physics, particularly undergraduates who may be considering a career in medical physics.
The primary focus of our group is to initiate or promote activities aimed at enhancing and broadening pre-doctoral research conducted by students and trainees. It is also our intention to act as a platform to connect students and trainees that share interest in research-related topics in medical physics. To achieve this we are actively working to gather feedback from students and transmit that information to AAPM so that it may be used to better diversify research-oriented education and training in the field of medical physics.
A few of our goals include:
- a travel grant program designed to help fund student travel to meetings not associated with AAPM or even medical physics specifically, in order to broaden the scientific approach in medical physics research.
- a regular symposium at the AAPM Annual Meeting at which scientists who have had successful careers focused on research describe how they got their start and how they built their career. Both the travel grants and the symposium should make their debut in 2015.
- encourage an on-going student dialogue regarding research-oriented education. The first major action in this effort will be our hosting of a student luncheon at the 2015 AAPM Annual Meeting, where we can present efforts within AAPM to foster research and students can discuss ideas.
Q2: What inspired you to found this WG?
There was some talk within the Students and Trainees Subcommittee when I was first joining on about trying to explore some non-clinical options to see if there’s a potential to ease some of the strain on the residency process. John Ready and I were teamed together for two to three months, conducting interviews with non-clinical physicists, collecting data from the AAPM membership, and came back to the Subcommittee and said that we thought there was enough here to form a working group. Since then, we’ve made a lot of progress, thanks in no small part to the help from Alison Roth, Katherine Dextraze, and Anna Rodrigues.
I think the thing that is particularly inspiring from a project like this is that we have the privilege to reach out to so many outstanding physicists who are working to improve all the pieces that go into clinical medical physics. We’re looking at how non-clinical physicists fit within the AAPM as their careers progress and it can be a little varied. But there’s not a systematic way that the AAPM treats non-clinical physicists different from clinical ones, at least not in the data we’ve collected. Personally, I think for non-clinical careers to be more approachable as someone entering the field, we need to work with the ABR to establish a way for those forgoing board certification immediately, but actively working in medical physics, to have a path that allows them to transition back into the clinic without having to start back at square one.
In light of the ABR 2014 initiative, it has become apparent to us and even to many among the AAPM leadership that most of the effort in medical physics education program design has been focused on fulfilling the topic requirements set forth by the ABR. Most of these are clinically-oriented requirements with less scientific depth which has resulted in programs that in many cases cover the required subjects with little to no effort placed on the introduction of new topics that will move the field forward.
The initial catalyst that eventually led to the creation of our group actually occurred in 2013, when I invited Robert Jeraj from the University of Wisconsin to speak the student in my program. Knowing that he was a co-chair of the Working Group on Future Research and Academic Medical Physics (also known as FUTURE), I requested his talk focus on his thoughts on the future of education and research in our field. In a better fashion than I ever could have expected, his presentation, or discussion rather, really got our students talking! Dr. Jeraj was equally ecstatic about the discussion because upon his return to Wisconsin he put me in touch with a student from their medical physics program, Stephanie Harmon. Dr. Jeraj suggested that we hold an informal gathering at the AAPM meeting that year in which we would bring together students from our programs to continue our discussion of research and research-oriented education.
Following the meeting at AAPM, we began a conversation with a representative from the program at Massachusetts General Hospital, Clemens Grassberger. Stephanie, Clemens, and I continued our collaboration throughout the following year, and at the 2014 AAPM Annual Meeting, we were invited to attend the FUTURE meeting. During this meeting, the group made the decision to form a student working group dedicated to continuing our efforts related to student research and education. I’ve related this story to you because I believe it is a great example of what students can achieve if we’re willing to simply express our heartfelt opinions. If you see a deficiency in our field, don’t be afraid to suggest a solution or to even go further and do something about it.
Q3: Have you released reports from your WG?
No official reports yet. We have published a brief article in the AAPM Newsletter and have submitted some of our work for presentation at various meetings. We are currently working on producing a white paper for Medical Physics and also an outreach article for Physics Today. I think that it’s important that we try and reach students who are still in their formative process of deciding what medical physics is going to be for them.
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?
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.
As in any scientific field, the future of the field will rest on the students and trainees of today. These are the future scientists that will serve on the larger committees and boards of AAPM. Initiating student involvement early on will provide for smoother transitions later as the students and trainees will already be familiar with the operation of the organization. More importantly, it is the students and trainees who directly feel the impact of education or training-related decisions from AAPM so it is vital for that perspective to be considered when such decisions are made. One of the best ways to foster that involvement is to have students and trainees be tied into the organizational structure of AAPM. Students are fortunate to have a clear voice within AAPM thanks to many well-established groups; however, in our case we felt there was a gap in representation for those interested in fostering research-related personal development throughout their graduate career and extending into all professional, academic, and industrial career pathways.
Q5: Do you feel that students could derive personal/professional benefits from being involved in AAPM?
By being involved in AAPM, students can create meaningful change with their organization and potentially impact the training and career opportunities that current and future trainees. In my experience in particular, I have establish strong connections the physicists through out our field – at major vendors, such as Varian; within federal regulatory bodies; in the clinic; and in research. The connections contribute the research that my group is doing and also may impact my personal career later on down the line. The personal benefit of AAPM involvement is the satisfaction of addressing important issues and the professional benefit is certainly creating an all-star network of physicists in all branches of medical physics.
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.