Historical Background

McGill University

McGill University, founded in 1821, is one of the oldest universities in Canada. The University owes its existence to James McGill, a Montreal fur trader, merchant and civic leader, who died in 1813, bequeathing his 46-acre farmland "Burnside Place" and £10,000 for the founding of McGill College and the Royal Institution for the Advancement of Learning. Classes began in 1829, when an existing medical college became the Faculty of Medicine of McGill University. The Faculty of Arts opened its doors in 1843 and over the next decade the University also added modern languages, commercial studies and the sciences. From 1855 onward, under the 38-year principalship of renowned geologist Sir William Dawson, the University began to achieve national and international prominence. Enrollment climbed from about 100 to 1000 and the University admitted its first female students in 1884. Shortly after the turn of the century philanthropist Sir William Macdonald endowed a college at Ste-Anne-de-Bellevue, some 40 kilometers west of downtown Montreal, which is today the site of the Faculty of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences (Macdonald College).

Faculty of Medicine

The Faculty of Medicine was established in 1829 as the first faculty of McGill University. It dates its origin to 1823 when four staff members of the recently opened Montreal General Hospital founded the Montreal Medical Institution in order to offer lectures to students of medicine. In 1833, four years after the institution became the Faculty of Medicine, William Leslie Logie was awarded the degree of Doctor of Medicine and Surgery and became the first McGill and the first Canadian medical graduate. In 1862 the degree was changed to its present designation, Doctor of Medicine and Master of Surgery and in 1872 it was conferred upon the faculty's most illustrious graduate, William Osler. Osler served on the faculty from 1874 to 1884 before going on to the University of Pennsylvania, Johns Hopkins University and Oxford University. He was instrumental in developing the Medical Library, which had its origin in the Montreal Medical Institution and which now contains over 216,000 volumes and 2,300 periodicals, and left to it his extensive collection of books devoted to the history of medicine.

Department of Physics

The McGill Department of Physics has it roots in the relatively modest Department of Natural Philosophy which, in the 19th century, was one of the McGill science departments. Toward the end of the 19th century, the growing importance of physics in the world of science was being recognized by a considerable increase in financial support from the McGill administration and by a name change from the Department of Natural Philosophy to Physics. In 1890, W.C. Macdonald, a tobacco manufacturer and one of the most generous McGill benefactors, offered funds for the erection of a Physics building and endowment necessary for a chair in experimental physics. The chair was filled by John Cox, who in 1896, following Roentgen's discovery of x rays, published the first Canadian report on the use of the "new photography" in connection with a clinical case at the Montreal General Hospital.

While Professor Cox's work in imaging qualifies him as the first Canadian medical physicist, even more important developments came out of the Macdonald Physics building soon thereafter. In 1898, Rutherford was appointed professor of physics at McGill and, immediately upon arrival, he embarked on experiments to determine the nature of radioactivity. His work in collaboration with Soddy, who was associated with the McGill Chemistry department, subsequently led to the "Rutherford's model of the atom" and other important scientific developments which affected not only the development of modern physics in general, and medical physics in particular, but also profoundly influenced the history of mankind.

With its steady growth until the 1970s, the department had become one of the major physics departments in North America with solid majors and honors programs in undergraduate physics, and a well respected graduate program, both in theoretical and experimental physics. In 1976, the department moved from the Macdonald building into a new building which bears the name "Rutherford Physics building" in honor of the most illustrious physicist ever on staff at McGill University. At September 2009, the physics department had 70 faculty and associate members, 41 postdoctoral fellows and research scientists, and an enrollment of 138 graduate students.

Medical Physics Unit

The Medical Physics Unit (MPU) was founded in 1979 as an academic unit in the Faculty of Medicine, with the primary objective to offer a graduate program leading to an M.Sc. degree in medical physics. The first director of the MPU was Montague Cohen, who was instrumental in establishing the graduate program in medical physics at McGill. During his 12 years as director of the MPU, Dr. Cohen succeeded in building the M.Sc. program in medical physics into a strong and reputable program which is well known and respected worldwide.

In September 1991, Dr. Cohen was succeeded as director of the MPU by Dr. Ervin B. Podgorsak, who held the position until December 2008. Under the directorship of Dr. Podgorsak, the total number of students to have graduated from McGill University with an M.Sc. degree in medical physics grew by 130 to 168 and by 20 to a total of 24 with a Ph.D. degree in medical physics.

Since January 2009, the position of director of the MPU has been held by Dr. Jan Seuntjens, and the total number of students having graduated from McGill with degrees in medical physics since 1980 has increased to 184 M.Sc. degrees and 29 Ph.D. degrees.
A complete listing of graduates with their project or thesis titles and current employment can be found here. *Need to update*

In 1979, six medical physicists with principal appointments in Radiation Oncology or Neurology-Neurosurgery departments at McGill received secondary appointments in the MPU. During the past 29 years, the number of MPU members grew to the current staff list of 20 (18 staff members plus 3 associate members).

M.Sc. Program in Medical Physics

The M.Sc. program in medical physics started as an applied program with students taking courses during the first three semesters of their study and working on a medical physics project during the fourth semester. No thesis was required and the degree conferred upon completion of course work and the project was labelled as M.Sc.(A) in medical physics, with (A) designating the applied nature of the program. In 1987, the medical physics program was reorganized into a pure M.Sc. program which gives equal weight to the academic and practical knowledge of medical physics (first year) and research training (second year). The course work (28 credits) is given in the first two semesters of the M.Sc. studies and a research thesis (32 credits) is required as a condition for graduation.

Of the 184 M.Sc. graduates, 60 are from Québec, 58 from the rest of Canada, 10 from the U.S., and 56 from other countries. Among the group of 184 M.Sc. graduates, a total of 162 currently hold positions in medical physics at various institutions around the world and 12 are continuing their studies toward a Ph.D. degree at McGill (5) or elsewhere. Of the 60 M.Sc. graduates originating from Québec, 32 are working as medical physicists in Quebec, 11 in the U.S., and 7 in the rest of Canada. Ten of the 57 M.Sc. graduates from the rest of Canada are currently working as medical physicists in Quebec, as are 16 graduates who originated from outside of North America.

Ph.D. Program in Medical Physics

The small size of the MPU and heavy clinical commitments of its staff allowed only a relatively small effort toward a Ph.D. program and this in collaboration with some other related major department at McGill. The Physics department, with its excellent reputation in undergraduate and graduate physics teaching, is the best candidate for this collaborative effort. To date, 27 students have received Ph.D. degrees in medical physics, 23 through the Physics department, one through an ad-hoc program in the Department of Neurology-Neurosurgery, one through an ad-hoc program in the Department of Biomedical Engineering, and two through the Department of Electrical Engineering. A listing of the 27 Ph.D. students and their theses is given here, with the thesis supervisors and major departments in parentheses. Twenty-eight of the 29 Ph.D. graduates are employed in medical physics positions, 10 in Quebec, 6 in the rest of Canada, 9 in the US, and 3 outside North America.

Residency Program in Radiation Oncology Physics

McGill started a formal residency-training program in Radiation Oncology Physics in 1997. Before that time the McGill Medical Physics Department had no experience with formal medical physics residency training; however, the department has been involved with M.Sc. and Ph.D. academic programs in Medical Physics since 1979 and was also running an ad-hoc radiation oncology physics training program for physicists who started to work in the department with little or no prior medical physics experience.

Before 1997 four physicists with M.Sc. degrees in physics and nine physicists with Ph.D. degrees in physics received their introductory medical physics training through regular work experience in the Medical Physics Department at the Montreal General Hospital. These physicists currently occupy senior positions in various institutions across Canada and the United States. They did not follow a formal residency program in Radiation Oncology Physics, yet they successfully progressed at McGill through the learning stages of Medical Physics, starting with absolutely no clinical physics experience and following an ad-hoc program developed for them in the Medical Physics department and tailored to their individual needs as well as the departmental needs.

In 1997 the residency program was formalized through a budgeted residency training position at the Montreal General Hospital and the residency was structured into a 2-year program following CAMPEP academic and clinical recommendations. The residency program has been accredited by CAMPEP since 2000 and to date 15 residents completed the program. Since 1993 both the M.Sc. and Ph.D. programs in Medical Physics at McGill University have been accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of Medical Physics Education Programs, Inc. (CAMPEP). The residency program in radiation oncology physics has been accredited since 2000. More details on the McGill accreditations can be found *Needs to be fixed* here

Back to top