clinical issues, medical physics, residencies

The Issue of Residencies

Mayo Clinic Residency Program in Medical Physics

In the recent AAPM newsletter, Dr. George Starkschall responded to two major issues that he has encountered while serving as the Chair of the Education Council. In this post, we will summarize the issues and major points made by Dr. Starkschall. These issues are specific to medical physics students who are working towards full certification by the American Board of Radiology (ABR) and want a clinical position.

Issue 1: Short-term supply of residents

“Are there going to be a sufficient number of residents to meet workforce needs after the 2014 deadline that requires candidates who wish to take the ABR exam to complete a CAMPEP-accredited residency?”

Dr. Starkschall feels that the current number of CAMPEP-approved (and pending approval) residency programs will provide enough residents to meet the minimum expected demand in both imaging and radiation therapy. In order to support more residency programs, the AAPM and RSNA have collaborated to establish residency program funding for three new programs: the University of Alabama-Birmingham, Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, and University of Wisconsin.

Furthermore, some residency programs are incorporating private physics practices into a “hub-and-spoke” model. The residency program serves as the hub for multiple residents, providing infrastructure, any necessary classes, and possibly resident stipends. Each private practice offers one position for training and supervision of the resident in a clinical setting.

Issue 2: Surplus of medical physics graduates

“What is the AAPM doing about the mismatch between numbers of students graduating from accredited graduate programs and the number of residency positions available for these graduates?”

Dr. Starkschall explains that this issue is a nuanced one. Overall, there are simply less residency positions than there are students graduating from CAMPEP-accredited medical physics programs. Annually, more Master’s degrees are awarded than Ph.D.’s. However, residency programs are more likely to accept Ph.D. graduates than Master’s.

The AAPM and medical physics graduate programs are making a great effort to increase the number of residency positions, with an emphasis on placing Master’s students in these positions. An alternative degree path, the professional doctorate program (DMP), offers a guaranteed residency position. Several graduate schools are hoping to establish DMP programs, following in the footsteps of Vanderbilt University. These initiatives will certainly mitigate the graduate/residency mismatch in the future.

Non-clinical careers exist

In the near future, it is very unlikely that every medical physics graduate will find a clinical residency position. But, the truth is: not everyone needs a clinical residency position. Medical physicists have successful careers outside the clinical setting: in entrepreneurship, in state and national regulatory bodies, in industry, and in academia.

In our next post, we will feature short interviews from non-clinical medical physicists.