I already have a Ph.D., how can I become a clinical medical physicist?

The field of clinical medical physics has been slowly transitioning to match other medical specialties and now requires specialized didactic coursework, followed by clinical training, and culminating in certification examinations. This process mirrors the requirements for other medical personnel who directly impact patient care. Visit the ABR website for more information about these requirements. After 2012, candidates will not be eligible to enter the American Board of Radiology (ABR) exam process without didactic coursework in medical physics from a CAMPEP-accredited graduate program. After 2014, the requirements will become even more stringent, requiring candidates to complete both CAMPEP-approved didactic coursework in addition to CAMPEP-approved residency training. If you have a Ph.D. in physics, you can meet the didactic requirements by obtaining a Medical Physics certificate from the CAMPEP-approved certificate program at the University of Chicago. We expect that graduates of the certificate program will typically continue on to a two-year medical physics residency to obtain clinical training. (See below for information about medical physics residency training and the ABR examination process.)

What is a certificate program?

A certificate program is designed to provide the didactic coursework required to re-train an individual for entry into the field of clinical medical physics as outlined in the guidelines of AAPM Task Group Report 197S.

Which courses would I be required to take?

Over the course of an academic year (three quarters from October through June), students will complete 8 courses (100 units each) and 2 courses (50 units each) to enable them to meet the requirements of TG-197S. Two of the courses offered in the first quarter of the program are prerequisites for four of the remaining courses. Courses that have no prerequisites (Anatomical Structure & Physiological Function of the Human Body and Cancer & Radiation Biology) can be taken at any time during the academic year and may be offered in different quarters from year to year. Students will not be required to take more than 300 units of credit per quarter. A typical sequence is listed below:

Fall Quarter

  • MPHY 35000 Interaction of Ionizing Radiation with Matter (100 units)
  • MPHY 34900 Mathematics for Medical Physicists (100 units)
  • MPHY 35601 Anatomical Structure & Physiological Function of the Human Body (100 units)

Winter Quarter

  • MPHY 35100 Physics of Radiation Therapy (100 units)
  • MPHY 34400 Practicum: Physics of Radiation Therapy (100 units)
  • MPHY 35900 Cancer and Radiation Biology (100 units)

Spring Quarter

  • MPHY 39700 Health Physics (100 units)
  • MPHY 32000 Overview of the Physics of Medical Imaging (100 units)
  • MPHY 34100 Bioethics for Medical Physicists (50 units)
  • MSBI 36000 Statistical Methods in Clinical Research (50 Units)

All Quarters

  • MPHY 30000 Clinical Observation (50 units)

How does a certificate program differ from a master’s?

Unlike other institutions, The University of Chicago does not offer a terminal M.S. degree in Medical Physics. In general, Master’s graduate programs offer didactic coursework in addition to preliminary research training. Most Master’s programs take over a year to complete. By contrast, our certificate program can be completed in a single three-quarter academic year of full-time study. Candidates who already possess a PhD in Physics have received advanced research training, and thus can simply meet the didactic requirements required for retraining into the field of clinical medical physics by enrolling in a certificate program.

Is financial aid available?

As a rule, assistantships, grants, scholarships, and fellowships are not available to students in certificate programs, including the medical physics certificate program. To learn more about student loans, availability and eligibility, contact the Student Loan Administration on campus.

What background do I need for this program?

A Ph.D. in physics from an accredited U.S. institution with a minimum cumulative GPA of 3.0 is required for admission. To be eligible for ABR certification exams, you must have taken at least three 300-level (i.e., upper level) undergraduate physics courses if your undergraduate major was not physics (see question "Does This Program Prepare Me For The Abr Board Exam?").

Is clinical training required for admission into the program?

No clinical training is required to enter the certificate program. Clinical exposure would provide certificate candidates with a clearer understanding of the day to-day activities required of a clinical physicist. Each candidate is encouraged to fully investigate the field of clinical medical physics prior to enrolling in a certificate program to ensure that this career transition will ultimately be a good fit. Note that clinical experience will be obtained during the medical physics residency.

What are the minimum GPA, GRE, and TOEFL requirements?

GRE: No GRE scores are required because the certificate is a post-graduate training program. GPA: A minimum GPA of 3.0 is required. We look at all grades, but more closely at physics and math grades; we are looking for well-prepared applicants with a strong background in physics and math Language requirement: Applicants must have a Ph.D. from either a U.S, Canadian or International university. TOEFL or IELTS scores are not required for US or Canadian applicants, but required for international applicants. Please review the TOEFL/IELTS requirements set by the University of Chicago here: internationalaffairs.uchicago.edu/page/english-language-requirements

What is the application deadline/how does rolling admissions work?

Deadline: Applications are accepted online beginning January 1 of each year and are reviewed on a rolling basis. As long as space is available in the certificate program and the deadline hasn't passed (please see Important Dates), applications will be considered. Be advised that since the program practices rolling admissions, places may fill prior to the listed application deadline. Interested applicants are advised to submit their materials early. Enrollment: The faculty committee will review material and make admissions decisions on a rolling basis. Deferrals for accepted applicants will not be granted; students who wish to defer will need to reapply for the following year.

May I come for a visit?

Prospective students are encouraged to visit. We would be happy to arrange for you to visit the facilities and to meet with current students/trainees as well as one or more faculty members. Please contact the Program Coordinator by email (Hania Al-Hallaq hal-hallaq@radonc.uchicago.edu)

Is transfer credit possible?

A maximum of 3 courses (out of the total 8 required credit courses) may be transferred. This decision will be made prior to enrollment in September. The Medical Physics faculty following review of the detailed syllabi and course materials covered in each course must approve all transfer credits. The faculty will review the syllabi to ensure that they meet the requirements set forth in TG-197S. It is the student’s responsibility to petition for credit and to provide these course materials in a timely fashion.

Is it possible to take the program on a part-time basis?

Part-time students will be considered if the maximum enrollment of 6 students has not been met. This is because required courses must be taken in a particular sequence and are only offered once a year, leading to potential scheduling delays for part-time study. Inquiries regarding this possibility will be considered on a case-by-case basis by contacting the Certificate Director Hania Al-Hallaq.

Can I start the program in the winter or spring?

No. Since the certificate program is to be completed in a single year of academic study, priority will be given to those wishing to enroll in the current academic year. Students who have been accepted and who wish to defer will be required to re-apply the following year.

Is clinical training provided to students?

Our program is designed to provide students with didactic coursework to prepare for residency training, during which clinical training is provided. Of the 8 credit courses, one is a practicum class in Radiation Therapy enabling students to bring their didactic training into a laboratory/clinical setting. Beyond this practicum, no clinical experience is provided. As encouraged by CAMPEP, clinical training should be mainly obtained during the diagnostic or therapeutic residency.

Is a comprehensive exam required?

No. Students are simply required to pass each of the credit courses with a grade of B or higher and the non-credit courses at the Pass level.

Does this program prepare me for the ABR board exam?

Although the graduate program does not provide specific American Board of Radiology (ABR) test preparation, the courses are designed to impart the scientific knowledge necessary to become a qualified clinical medical physicist (as outlined) in TG-197S. Visit the ABR website for details.

Will I be affected by the new ABR residency requirement?

In 2012, the ABR’s eligibility requirements: “Candidates taking the American Board of Radiology Part 1 examination in medical physics for the first time in 2012 or later must be enrolled in or have graduated from a CAMPEP-accredited education program (e.g., MS, PhD, or residency). If a candidate has graduated from the CAMPEP-accredited education program at the time of application, they must be working as a medical physicist as specified on the ABR website. Candidates taking Part 1 for the first time in 2014 or later also must have completed a CAMPEP-accredited residency program before being eligible to take the Part 2 examination in Medical Physics.” At the earliest, our graduate and certificate students can apply to sit for Part 1 of the ABR certification examination at the end of one year of study.

Does the University of Chicago offer a residency program?

Yes. The University of Chicago offers two-year CAMPEP-accredited clinical residencies specializing in both imaging and therapeutic physics. These programs admit 1 resident each for a start date of July 1 of each calendar year. Acceptance into these residency programs is extremely competitive and is not linked to completion of either the certificate program or the graduate program at the University of Chicago.

Who are the faculty?

Medical physics faculty members, who are leaders in their field, specializing in medical physics research and clinical practice, provide instruction. View a listing of faculty and staff in the Committee on Medical Physics.

What else distinguishes the University of Chicago certificate program?

The University of Chicago has a long and distinguished history of training medical physicists. Started in 1958, our graduate program was one of the first in the country. It has produced many of the leaders in the field. Our Certificate Program was the first CAMPEP-accredited program of its kind in the U.S. This highlights the faculty’s commitment to ensuring that highly qualified physicists continue to enter the field of medical physics. Students in our residency program will interact with students in our graduate program. Certificate students can avail themselves of the many opportunities given to our graduate students including: seminars given by invited outside speakers, our faculty, and our graduate students; special lunches with invited speakers; access to our medical physics library as well as the other libraries on campus.

What assistance can students expect in obtaining residency positions?

There are currently more than 50 CAMPEP-approved residency programs throughout the nation, with additional programs being accredited on a continual basis. While the certificate program does not guarantee graduates a residency position, it does allow them to compete with other graduates of CAMPEP-approved graduate programs on an equal footing. Additionally, the Graduate Program in Medical Physics (GPMP) offers plenty of opportunities for networking by inviting prominent medical physicists to speak to students on our campus. View a listing of events and seminars. Furthermore, faculty will support your residency application in a mutually agreed-upon manner. To enhance interaction with faculty outside the classroom, students are encouraged to network and volunteer in laboratories of faculty.