Medical Physics Doctoral Program

Please note: Students who want to pursue doctoral research in medical physics must apply for admission to the doctoral program in applied physics (option in medical physics), which requires course work beyond the 36-point medical physics master's program, and they must pass the applied physics doctoral qualifying examination. Admission to this program is very limited and is granted only in exceptional cases.

Graduate Program in Applied Physics:
Option in Medical Physics

Students who want to pursue doctoral research in medical physics must apply for admission to the doctoral program in applied physics with a specialization in medical physics, which leads to the Master of Philosophy (M.Phil.) and Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) degrees, or to the Doctor of Engineering Science (Eng.Sc.D.) degree.

While candidates for the PhD degree must register as full-time students, compelling requests for part-time enrollment may be considered on an individual basis.  

Admission and Financial Aid

A bachelor’s degree or a master's degree in physics, applied physics, or one of the physical sciences, including physics training at least equivalent to a minor is required for admission. General and Physics GRE exam scores are required. The application deadline for a doctoral degree for the fall term is December 15.

Applications are only available online, at Graduate Student Affairs

Applicants are asked to inform the Program Coordinator following the submission of an online application.

Admission to the applied physics doctoral program with a specialization in medical physics is very limited and is granted only in exceptional cases. Students with excellent academic credentials are strong candidates for admission to candidacy for the Ph.D./Eng.Sc.D. degree (1) if they are able to be externally supported until passing the doctoral qualifying examination and (2) if they are able to identify (i) an advisor (the thesis sponsor), who is a member of the Medical Physics faculty with a full-time Columbia appointment and who commits to provide full financial support (unless the student is supported by an external institution), or (ii) an external advisor (the thesis co-sponsor) who commits to provide full financial support and an internal advisor (the thesis co-sponsor) who is a member of the Medical Physics faculty with a full-time Columbia appointment, and both agree to supervise the thesis jointly.  

Degree Requirements

  • Completion of the M.S. degree from Columbia’s CAMPEP-accredited M.S. Program in Medical Physics with a 3.0 minimum GPA (unless a Master’s Degree from another institution has already been earned, in which case students receive 30 points and 2 Residence Units of advanced standing).
  • Written Qualifying Examination. Courses suggested for preparation for the general and medical physics parts of the written qualifying examination are listed below.
  • 30 points of courses and/or research (beyond M.S.) taken for a letter grade with minimum 3.0 GPA. Can be fulfilled with core and related courses of specialization not used for the MS degree as well as research points, but no more than 15 points of research can be applied to this 30-point requirement.
  • Oral Exam (usually spring of 2nd year).
  • Thesis proposal (usually spring of 3rd year).
  • Ethics requirements (online ethics course during fall of 1st year, departmental ethics seminar during spring of 1st and 2nd years).
  • Residence requirement:
    • For the M.Phil./Ph.D. only: 6 Residence Units (one per semester not including summer; takes 3 years without M.S. or 2 years with M.S.). After completion of 6 RUs, students not on a grant-funded appointment who have completed all degree requirements except for the doctoral dissertation register for full-time Matriculation and Facilities (M&F) each term, including the term(s) in which the dissertation is distributed and defended. After completion of 6 RUs, students on a grant-funded appointment must register for Extended Residence each term. All students must register for Extended Residence any term in which they are completing degree requirements.
    • For the Eng.Sc.D. only: 12 points of APAM E9800, Doctoral Research Instruction.
  • Dissertation.
  • Successful defense of doctoral dissertation.

Doctoral Qualifying Examination

Specific course requirements are linked to the Doctoral Qualifying Examination and are determined in consultation with the program adviser. The Qualifying Examination is a two-day written test, with the General Exam on the first day and the Specialty Exam on the second. It is given once a year, usually in May. Students who are permitted to pursue the Option in Medical Physics on a part-time basis will be allowed to take the qualifying examination after two years of part-time study.

General Qualifying Exam

The General Qualifying Exam consists of six problems in basic subject areas from which the student selects any four.

  1. Classical mechanics (PHYS GU4003y Advanced mechanics)
    At the level of Chapters 1-6, Linear Algebra and its Applications, Third Edition, by Gilbert Strang, HBJ Publishers.
  2. Electromagnetism (APPH E4300x Applied electrodynamics)
  3. Quantum mechanics (APPH E4100x Quantum physics of matter)
  4. Linear algebra (APMA E4001y Principles of applied math I)
    At the level of Chapters 1-6, Linear Algebra and its Applications, 3rd Edition, by Gilbert Strang.
  5. Partial differential equations (APMA E4200x Partial differential equations)
    At the level of Chapters 1-5 and 7-10 in Applied Partial Differential Equations, 4th Edition, by Richard Haberman.

  6. Applied dynamical systems (APMA E4101y Introduction to dynamical systems)

Medical Physics Specialty Qualifying Exam

The Medical Physics Specialty Qualifying Exam consists of four problems. Please see the course descriptions listed below for more information.

  1. Nuclear medicine physics (APPH E6319y Clinical nuclear medicine physics)
  2. Radiobiology (APPH E4330y Radiobiology for medical physicists)
  3. Diagnostic radiology physics (APPH E6330y Diagnostic radiology physics)
  4. Radiation therapy physics (APPH E6335y Radiation therapy physics)

Medical Physics Courses on the MP Doctoral Qualifying Exam

APPH E4330y: Radiobiology for medical physicists
Lect: 3. 3 pts. Professor Zaider
Prerequisite: APPH E4010 or equivalent or Corequisite: APPH E4010. Interface between clinical practice and quantitative radiation biology. Microdosimetry, dose-rate effects and biological effectiveness thereof; radiation biology data, radiation action at the cellular and tissue level; radiation effects on human populations, carcinogenesis, genetic effects; radiation protection; tumor control, normal-tissue complication probabilities; treatment plan optimization.

APPH E6319y: Clinical nuclear medicine physics
Lect: 3. 3 pts. Professor Zanzonico
Prerequisite: APPH E4010 or equivalent recommended. Introduction to the instrumentation and physics used in clinical nuclear medicine and PET with an emphasis on detector systems, tomography and quality control. Problem sets, papers and term project.

APPH E6330y: Diagnostic radiology physics

Lect: 3. 3 pts. Professors Jambawalikar and Liang
Prerequisite: APPH E4600. Physics of medical imaging. Imaging techniques: radiography, fluoroscopy, computed tomography, mammography, ultrasound, magnetic resonance.  Includes conceptual, mathematical / theoretical, and practical clinical physics aspects.

APPH E6335y: Radiation therapy physics
Lect: 3. 3 pts Professor Wuu
Prerequisites: APPH E4600; APPH E4330 recommended. Review of x-ray production and fundamentals of nuclear physics and radioactivity. Detailed analysis of radiation absorption and interactions in biological materials as specifically related to radiation therapy and radiation therapy dosimetry. Surveys of use of teletherapy isotopes and X-ray generators in radiation therapy plus the clinical use of interstitial and intracavitary isotopes. Principles of radiation therapy treatment planning and isodose calculations. Problem sets taken from actual clinical examples are assigned.

Oral Examination

After dissertation research is underway, an oral examination is given to the Ph.D./Eng.Sc.D. candidate in the field of his/her specialty, with attention devoted to his/her research problem and relevant areas of science. The examining committee will include the candidate's thesis advisor, his/her departmental advisor, and one or more members of the APAM faculty with a full-time Columbia appointment.

Research Opportunities

There are research opportunities in medical physics on the Columbia Campus of New York Presbyterian Hospital (NYPH), as well as at other associated medical institutes, including Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center and NYPH East Campus. Research is focused on developing advanced methods for the diagnosis, imaging, and treatment of human disease. Radiation therapy emphases developing advanced radiation transport methods for tomographic diagnosis, 3-D dose distribution, and optimization in radiation treatment planning. Other areas of interest include image quality, quantification of anatomical parameters, and improvement of imaging methodology, as well as PET and Nuclear Medicine tomography.

Core Courses

APAM Faculty Advisors for the Doctoral Program

I. C. Noyan (Coordinator)

I. P. Herman

Cheng Shie Wuu, Radiation Oncology & APAM

Other Advisors

Peter D. Esser, Radiology

Marco Zaider, Senior Lecturer, Radiation Oncology & Attending Physicist, Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center

500 W. 120th St., Mudd 200, MC 4701 New York, NY 10027 / Phone: 212-854-4457 / Fax: 212-854-8257 / Email:

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