Medical Physics FAQ

1. Approximately, what is the cost of the Columbia program?

2. Is financial aid available?

3. What background do I need for this program?

4. Answers to admissions-related FAQs

5. May I come for a visit?

6. As I already have a master's degree in physics, is transfer credit possible?

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

8. Can one start the program in the spring?

9. Is conditional and/or deferred admission possible?

10. Is clinical training provided to students?

11. Is a comprehensive exam required?

12. Does this program prepare me for the board exam?

13. Will I be affected by the new ABR Residency Requirement?

14. Does Columbia offer a residency program linked to the MP MS Program?

15. The medical physics faculty

16. What else distinguishes the Columbia program?

17. At the end of the program, is there any help from the Department with job placement?

18. Where do alumni go after graduation?

19. Why must I complete the M.S. before pursuing a Ph.D.?

20. What should I consider if I want to pursue a doctorate in Medical Physics?

21. If I already have a Ph.D., is the Columbia Medical Physics program appropriate?

22. Are there pre-enrollment requirements?

23. What is the medical surveillance requirement?

1. APPROXIMATELY, WHAT IS THE COST OF THE COLUMBIA PROGRAM?

For the 2017-2018 academic year, the cost per point is $1,936 and fees are approximately $2,500. Room and board expenses are difficult to estimate; for reference we note that on-campus, single student housing cost/month ranges from $1,600 to $2250. In addition, one must plan for the cost of health insurance, board, textbooks, travel, and (hopefully) recreation. For more information, please see Student Financial Services.

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2. IS FINANCIAL AID AVAILABLE?

As a rule, assistantships, grants, scholarships, and fellowships are not available to students in master's degree programs, including the medical physics program. That said, Columbia’s Office of Financial Aid and Educational Financing seeks to ensure that all academically qualified students have enough financial support to enable them to work toward their degree. 

Part-time employment is one form of support. Each year a second year student is invited by the medical physics faculty to serve as a grader and/or recitation leader for select first-year courses. Second year students may also be hired by individual instructors to assist with on-going research. In addition, there are part-time employment opportunities (non-work study positions) available at the University, although part-time work that provides some experience in medical physics is usually difficult to find. Of necessity, students who accept full-time positions on- or off-campus drop down to part-time student status. International students may work on campus up to 20 hours per week during the academic year and full-time during vacations.

If you are a U.S. citizen or U.S. permanent resident you may be eligible to receive Federal Student Loans. In order to determine your eligibility, you must file a Free Application for Student Aid (FAFSA). You may complete the application online by visiting www.fafsa.ed.gov; for a paper copy, contact the Office of Financial Aid and Educational Financing. International students can apply for private student loans with a cosigner who is a U.S. citizen or U.S. permanent resident.

For further information regarding loan and payment options, please contact the Office of Financial Aid and Educational Financing by telephone at 212-854-3711, by email at seasgradmit@columbia.edu, or by mail at Columbia University Office of Financial Aid, 407 Lerner Hall, MC 2802, New York, NY 10027.

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3. WHAT BACKGROUND DO I NEED FOR THIS PROGRAM?

A bachelor's degree (B.S. or B.A.) in physics, applied physics, or one of the physical sciences, including physics courses at least equivalent to a minor and mathematics through Ordinary Differential Equations, as well as a working knowledge of computer programming and basic probability and statistics*, is required for admission. In addition, because of possible ABR review requirements, we strongly recommend that applicats have taken at least one biological science course.

An applicant who was not an undergraduate physics major or who does not have an advanced degree in physics, must have taken physics training at least equivalent to an undergraduate minor in physics. This training must include at least three upper level physics courses.  

To be competitive, applicants should have taken physics courses at least through Classical Mechanics, Modern Physics, Atomic Physics, Electricity and Magnetism, and Quantum Mechanics.  If these courses are taken after completion of the undergraduate degree, they must be taken at an accredited four-year college.

* Statistics: at least one course such as Intro to Probability and Statistics or documented equivalent experience. Computer: at least one course that includes a programming component, or documented equivalent experience.

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4. ANSWERS TO ADMISSION-RELATED FAQs

  GRE: While only the GRE general test is required for admission to the M.S. Program, a good score on the physics subject test can help your application and is recommended. We are looking for GRE quantitative scores at 159 (750 previous scoring system) and above. Columbia’s GRE institutional code is 2111; a department code is not needed. GRE scores are valid for five years.

•  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 who earned their undergraduate degree in a country in which English is not the official and spoken language must take either the TOEFL or the IELTS test. Only one test is required. TOEFL and IELTS scores are valid for two years. For more information, please see: Graduate Student Affairs: Standardized Test Scores

Because of the critical importance of communication skills for medical physicists, M.S. degree candidates in the Medical Physics Program must demonstrate proficiency in English (speaking, reading, writing, and oral comprehension). The medical physics faculty may make enrollment in English language courses a condition for admission to the Program and/or may subsequently recommend that an admitted student enroll in English language courses based on an assessment of the student’s English language skills in the classroom.

Applicants are reminded that to be competitive when they apply for professional positions and/or residencies after graduation, they must be able to demonstrate proficiency in English. Thus, if remediation is needed, applicants will be urged to take steps to improve their English language skills as soon as possible.

•  Other requirements: three letters of recommendation from professors and/or professionals in the field, a personal statement that addresses interests, career goals, preparation, and relevant experience (volunteer and/or paid, clinical and/or research), a resumé or Curriculum Vitae, a non-refundable application fee, and an official provisional transcript. An official transcript showing conferral of the bachelor’s degree is required before matriculation. While an interview is not required for admission, applicants may be contacted by telephone. 

For more information, see:

Gradudate Student Affairs: About Applying

Graduate Student Affairs: FAQs

•  Deadline: February 15 is the priority deadline for submission of applications and all supporting documents for M.S. programs for the following Fall term. Applications received by June 30 are considered on a space-available basis. Since admission is competitive, no decisions are made until we receive and review all applications for a given year that are submitted by February 15. This procedure precludes our granting conditional admission in advance. 

For more information, see Graduate Student Affairs: Online Application

•  Admissions & Placement:

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5. MAY I COME FOR A VISIT?

Prospective students are encouraged to visit. The best time to come is in the spring term on a Thursday when there is a Medical Physics Seminar. Seminars are posted online; you can also call for a schedule. We will be happy to arrange for you to visit the facilities and to meet with current students as well as one or more faculty members. Please contact the Medical Physics Program Coordinator by email ss4198@columbia.edu or telephone 212-851-4266.

For more information, see Graduate Student Affairs: Visiting

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6. AS I ALREADY HAVE A MASTER'S DEGREE IN PHYSICS, IS TRANSFER CREDIT POSSIBLE?

Although Master degree students at Columbia are not eligible for transfer credits, up to 6 points of the 36-point Medical Physics M.S. Program may be waived based on prior equivalent academic work.  

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7. IS IT POSSIBLE TO TAKE THE PROGRAM ON A PART-TIME BASIS?

Yes. The program facilitates part-time study, especially for working students, by scheduling most classes in the late afternoon or in the evening, although the practicums and the tutorial may require full-day commitment. However, because some required courses must be taken in sequence and are only offered once a year, part-time students may experience scheduling delays. For more information, please see Part-Time Medical Physics Program

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8. CAN ONE START THE PROGRAM IN THE SPRING?

In general, it is not possible to start the program in the spring semester because most spring courses have fall course prerequisites. While it might be possible for a student with sufficient advanced standing to begin the program in spring, this would be exceptional and is not encouraged.

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9. IS CONDITIONAL AND/OR DEFERRED ADMISSION POSSIBLE?

No. Since admission to the Columbia Master of Science Program in Medical Physics is competitive, decisions are made only after we review all applications for a given year that are submitted by the February 15 priority deadline. This procedure precludes our granting conditional admission in advance.

The School of Engineering and Applied Science (SEAS) does not defer admission. For more information, please see: Graduate Student Affairs: About Applying

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10. IS CLINICAL TRAINING PROVIDED TO STUDENTS?

Our Program is designed to provide students with basic experience working within a hospital clinical environment such that they are prepared to begin supervised employment after graduation in any of the four specialty areas of medical physics. We require two semester-long practicums and an intensive two-week tutorial in medical health physics. Practicums are pursued during the summer following the first year of course work and/or during the second fall term. In addition, before graduating, students may register for Supervised Internship, APAM E4999, which provides an opportunity for optional part-time jobs and/or internships in the 3rd semester, and/or optional training in an optional 4th semester before conferral of M.S. degree. International students may apply for post-completion Optional Practical Training (OPT).

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11. IS A COMPREHENSIVE EXAM REQUIRED?

A passing grade on a medical physics comprehensive examination is required for graduation with a Master of Science degree in Medical Physics. This closed-book written exam is offered annually in August and consists of seven questions covering the required course work taken during the first two terms of study; oral and/or written retests are offered.

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12. DOES THIS PROGRAM PREPARE ME FOR THE BOARD EXAM?

The simple answer is “Yes.” The track record of our graduates demonstrates our success. However, two areas tested on Part 1 of the ABR examination are not addressed explicitly by our Program: statistics and computer programming. Therefore, along with the three advanced physics courses required by the ABR, a working knowledge of computer programming and basic probability and statistics is required for admission. In all other respects, our M.S. program is designed to provide preparation for the ABR exam.

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13. WILL I BE AFFECTED BY THE NEW ABR RESIDENCY REQUIREMENT?

As currently stated on the ABR website:

http://www.theabr.org/ic/ic_rp/ic_rp_newcampep.html

“2014 Initiative: An additional rule will affect those applying for the first time in 2013 or later to take Part 1 in 2014 or later; they must have completed a CAMPEP-accredited residency program before being eligible to take the Part 2 examination in medical physics.” 

Part 1 of the ABR certification examinations is offered once a year, usually in August.  While most of our students apply to sit for it at the end of two terms of study, others apply to take it a year later.

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14. DOES COLUMBIA OFFER A RESIDENCY PROGRAM LINKED TO THE MP MS PROGRAM?

At present there is no residency program formally linked to Columbia’s Medical Physics M.S. Program. There is a combined CAMPEP-accredited residence program in Medical Physics in the Department of Radiation Oncology at the Columbia University Medical Center and at the Weill Cornell Medical Center. Dr. Cheng-Shie Wuu is the program director. In the Department of Radiology at the Columbia University Medical Center there is a CAMPEP-accredited residency in Diagnostic Imaging Physics. Dr. Sachin Jambawalikar is the program director.

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15. THE FACULTY

Instruction is provided by senior faculty members who are leaders in their field, affiliated with prestigious institutions such as Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center and New York Presbyterian Hospital.

See Medical Physics Faculty for contact information.

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16. WHAT ELSE DISTINGUISHES THE COLUMBIA PROGRAM?

•  Medical Physics Seminar (APPH E4550): Sharing their research and experience with students, practicing professionals and faculty in the field present selected topics in medical physics. The seminar includes stand-alone talks as well as theme-based series. 

•  Chats with the faculty: These are intended to give students an opportunity to discuss various topics with the medical physics faculty, including “Items of Interest to Graduating Medical Physics Students,” “Radiation Safety,” “The Role of the Medical Physicist,” and “The Medical Physics Profession.” Students are invited to bring their questions – or send them in ahead of time.

•  Oral practice: The faculty recognize oral practice as a valuable teaching tool that provides students with a risk-free opportunity to practice speaking, to gain experience thinking on their feet, to answer questions orally, and to receive constructive feedback from the faculty.  It provides vital preparation for job interviews and for on-the-job performance in a clinical setting.  Oral practice also helps students prepare for the oral component of the comprehensive examination. 1 group and 1 individual sessions are required.

•  Research Project (APAM E6650): This elective course provides an opportunity for students to pursue independent specialized research under the tutelage of faculty mentors and affiliated research staff. It is particularly appropriate for students who wish to continue for the Ph.D.

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17. AT THE END OF THE PROGRAM, IS THERE ANY HELP FROM THE DEPARTMENT WITH JOB PLACEMENT?

While the Program does not formally place students after graduation, we facilitate networking, support both employment and residency applications, and bring job opportunities to the attention of students nearing the completion of their program. 

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18. WHERE DO ALUMNI GO AFTER GRADUATION?

Our program is designed to provide a level of preparation such that graduates have sufficient basic experience working within a hospital clinical environment to begin supervised professional employment in any of the four primary medical physics fields of radiation oncology, diagnostic radiology, nuclear medicine, and health physics.

Following graduation, our full-time M.S. students typically secure employment with a hospital, cancer center, or consulting firm. Given the new requirements for the ABR exam, most are now applying for residency programs. Others continue for the Ph.D. with a specialization in Medical Physics, which is appropriate for students who want to pursue research in an academic or a hospital environment.

Graduates of the program are currently employed by major hospitals and medical centers in the greater metropolitan area, including Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, New York-Presbyterian Hospital, Mount Sinai Medical Center, and New York University Medical Center.

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19. WHY MUST I COMPLETE THE M.S. BEFORE PURSUING A PH.D.?

At Columbia, only the M.S. Program in Medical Physics is CAMPEP-accredited. This is important because after 2012, only students who graduate from a CAMPEP-accredited program will be allowed to sit for the ABR exam.

Three additional benefits are gained by completing the master's degree program first. 1) The prospective researcher acquires a valuable understanding of the context of his or her research. 2) The prospective student can meet and possibly work with one of several scientists who are actively conducting medical physics research; supervised research projects with faculty members are one way of doing this. 3) Completing the M.S. program affords one the option of working (full or part-time) in the field while continuing on towards the Ph.D. Those who may consider a Ph.D. program are strongly encouraged to enroll in the Research Project.

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20. WHAT SHOULD I CONSIDER IF I WANT TO PURSUE A DOCTORATE IN MEDICAL PHYSICS?

Students who want to pursue doctoral research in medical physics at Columbia must apply for admission to the doctoral program in applied physics in the Department of Applied Physics and Applied Mathematics. Please see Doctoral Program for more information.

Advisors must be identified and financial support must be in place before applications are considered. This precludes admission of students who have not competed our MS program and/or have not had extensive interaction with and a commitment from a thesis sponsor.

If you apply for the Ph.D. program but would also like to be considered for the stand-alone M.S. Program, this should be clearly indicated in your personal statement and on the application form.

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21. IF I ALREADY HAVE A PH.D., IS THE COLUMBIA MEDICAL PHYSICS PROGRAM APPROPRIATE?

Ph.D.-level physical scientists are eligible for the M.S. program, and several have taken advantage of this so far. While designing an appropriate curriculum in such cases may be challenging, the faculty will work with the students on a case-by-case basis to ensure that requirements are satisfied while avoiding duplication. 

Another option is our CAMPEP-accredited “Certificate of Professional Achievement in Medical Physics” (http://apam.columbia.edu/campep-accredited-certificate-program), which is designed for Ph.D.-level physical scientists who wish to apply for medical physics certification examinations by the American Board of Radiology (ABR).  Applicants must have the appropriate background in physics, documented by either a doctorate degree in physics or engineering or other area of physical science with physics education equivalent to a minor in physics (including at least three upper-level undergraduate physics courses or equivalent required for a physics major).

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22. ARE THERE PRE-ENROLLMENT REQUIREMENTS?

  • Summer reading is assigned for the required Fall term course, Dosimetry.
     
  • If you are deficient,the medical physics faculty strongly recommend that you become conversant with programming (e.g. Matlab, Mathematica, C++, Maple, etc.) as well as with fundamentals of probability and statistics during the summer before enrollment.  Both subjects are essential for doing research, and experience in research will strongly enhance your chances of obtaining a residency at the end of our program.
     
  • The faculty recommend that you read specific chapters in The Physics of Radiation Therapy by F.M. Khan before the beginning of the Spring term. 
     
  • The faculty also recommend that you become familiar with the websites for the following organizations that provide essential information for professionals in medical physics:

The American Association of Physicists in Medicine (AAPM)

The Radiological and Medical Physics Society of New York  (RAMPS)

The Health Physics Society (HPS)

The Radiological Society of North America (RSNA)

The Society of Nuclear Medicine and Molecular Imaging (SNMMI)

The American Society for Radiation Oncology (ASTRO)

The American Board of Radiology (ABR).

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23. WHAT IS THE MEDICAL SURVEILLANCE REQUIREMENT?

Master of Science degree candidates in the Columbia Medical Physics Program are required to comply with hospital-mandated medical surveillance, which includes drug screening, in order to be allowed to participate in practicums at the New York Presbyterian Hospital at the Columbia University Medical Center.  This is consistent with best practices in U.S. healthcare.  Consequently, students who choose a professional path that involves working in a hospital or like facility must fulfill similar surveillance and screening throughout their careers.

A medical surveillance evaluation may consist of a medical and occupational history and necessary blood tests, skin tests, and immunizations, including vaccinations or prophylaxis that provide protection from infectious diseases.  Proof of current immunity is required for measles, mumps, rubella, diptheria, pertussis, tetnus, hepatitis B, chicken pox, the flu, and tuberculosis.  If available, an up-to-date Immunization Record is helpful.  

The Columbia University Medical Center drug screening policy provides an opportunity for early identification and intervention before the consequences of illicit drug abuse adversely impacts a student’s health, professional growth, and patient care.  Drug screening requires an annual urine test.

The cost of initial medical surveillance and drug screening is covered by Columbia’s basic student health insurance plan.  

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