Medical Physics Program

Within the Biomedical Engineering Department, there is a new, unique graduate program: the Medical Physics Graduate Program, which officially began in  August, 2013.

The goal of the Medical Physics Graduate Program is to train students to develop the necessary academic framework for, as well as a thorough practical understanding of medical physics, including areas of diagnostic radiologic physics, health physics, nuclear medicine, and a designated focus on radiation therapy.

The program, offering both M.S. and Ph.D. degrees, ensures that students receive adequate didactic and clinical training to continue in education and research, to enter clinical physics residencies or  to begin work as therapeutic physicists in radiation therapy. The M.S. students are trained with an emphasis on developing skills necessary for clinical medical physicists, while Ph.D. students participate in research projects during their graduate studies and are trained to become independent researchers in the field of medical physics and to conduct impactful research or develop novel technologies.

 Graduate students trained through the program are required to take the American Board of Radiology (ABR) examination in order to practice in the field of medical physics. The program is jointly managed by the Department of Biomedical Engineering  (College of Engineering ) and the Department of Radiation Oncology( Miller School of Medicine). The ultimate goal of the program is to establish a Medical Physics Training Center in conjunction with the Medical Physics Residency Program in the Department of Radiation Oncology.

 As Dr. Weizhao Zhao (Associate Professor BME and Co-Director of the program) points out “The majority of activity in the medical physicists’ discipline is radiation therapy and the physicists’ primary responsibility is clinical. Their key activities include calculation of correct dosages for radiation and planning patient procedures and radiosurgery; their typical employers are usually private and government hospitals. This new degree will enable graduates to additionally work in the area of radiation compliance for industry, such as with gamma knife or Cyberknife technologies.”  Dr. Zhao also emphasizes that it is the only such graduate program certified by CAMPEP (Commission on Accreditation of Medical Physics Educational Programs) for a Biomedical Engineering department in the nation. “This is a remarkable achievement for such a young program. Our strengths lie in our collaborative approach to this training, drawing on superb faculty from within the Biomedical Engineering department and Radiation Oncology and Radiology departments within the Miller School of Medicine.”

Dean James M. Tien describes this program as a perfect example of the College’s focus on collaboration with other schools and departments within the University, as well as supporting the core goal of integrating leading-edge research and education  for all students. Further Dean Tien states that, “ Drs. Zhao and Dauer deserve special recognition for not only developing this unique national  program, but also getting it certified.”

The current program evolves from an earlier graduate program in radiological sciences sponsored jointly by the Departments of Radiology and Radiation Oncology. Dr. Edward Dauer (Research Associate Professor BME) explains that it was his father, Dr. Maxwell Dauer, who originally created a medical physics degree within the Medical School at UM. This original Medical Physics Master Program flourished in the 1970’s and early 1980’s, but was discontinued shortly after 1988 when the elder Dr. Dauer retired. Seven years ago, however, Drs. Zhao, Dauer, and Wu (then Chief Medical Physicist in the Radiation Oncology department) realized that there was a resurgence in demand for medical physics specialties; hence, the Department of Biomedical Engineering (BME), joined by the Department of Radiation Oncology, established a start-up medical physics graduate program to award graduate degrees for work in areas which would have fit readily into either a radiological sciences or medical physics curriculum, including topics in medical imaging and radiotherapy. In fact, BME  had awarded doctoral degrees in topics of radiotherapy even before the program started, including to the following leaders in the field:

■Xiaodong Wu (Ph.D. 1996), President and CEO, Director of Medical Physics, Biophysics Research Institute of America, Florida

■Chunsong Luo (Ph.D. 2003), Chief Medical Physicist, Saint Anne’s Hospital, Massachusetts

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