Mayo Clinic medical physicist with equipment

What does a medical physicist do?

Medical physicists work in health care and apply their knowledge of physics to the development and use of medical radiation treatments, devices, and technologies. They make sure the equipment is operating correctly and are often involved directly with a patient’s diagnosis and treatment, as well as with radiation safety and product development.

Medical physicists often consult with their physician colleagues to offer advice and resources to solve problems that occur when using radiation therapy or nuclear medicine.

Scope of practice

Medical physicists work with doctors, nurses, technicians, and patients. They have three main components of work: clinical service and consultation, research and development, and teaching. A medical physicist might:

  • Plan radiation treatments for cancer patients
  • Study how radiation effects the body
  • Ensure equipment is safe, effective, and working properly
  • Develop new safety procedures
  • Consult with physician colleagues
  • Research new treatment options for cancer, heart disease, or mental illness
  • Teach and train future medical physicists, residents, and medical students

Specializations

Medical physicists commonly practice in one of these areas:

  • Therapeutic medical physics
  • Diagnostic medical physics
  • Nuclear medical physics
  • Medical health physics
  • Magnetic resonance imaging physics

Work environment

Medical physicists work in hospitals, health care facilities, medical clinics, and private practices. It is typical for this role to work 40-hour weeks with daytime hours; however, weekend or evening overtime is occasionally required for special projects or emergencies.

Becoming a medical physicist

Medical physicists should have great analytical, critical-thinking, and interpersonal skills. They should enjoy and excel at a math and science. Due to their highly analytical role, medical physicists should be able to stay focused and motivated even while reviewing large, complex data. Individuals that enjoy science, collaborating with physician colleagues, and working with patients would enjoy a career as a medical physicist.

Higher education requirements

The higher education requirements for a medical physicist include:

  • Bachelor’s degree in physics or another natural science
  • Master’s degree in physics, medical physics, or a related field

After earning a master’s degree, graduates typically complete a residency program before becoming board certified by the American Board of Radiology (ABR). Some go on to earn doctoral degrees, depending on career specialization and goals.

Certification process

To become certified as a medical physicist, you must complete a residency or postdoctoral program of one or two years at a hospital and pass the certification examination by the American Board of Radiology (ABR) or the American Board of Medical Physics (ABMP).

Career opportunities and outlook

Medical physicists can expect a median salary of $119,000.

Job openings for physicists, including medical physicists, are expected to grow faster than average, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, especially in health care.

There are many advancement opportunities for medical physicists, especially those that have a doctorate. With more experience, they can secure larger research budgets, and they can advance into management roles or obtain tenure

By the numbers

Medical physicist programs at Mayo Clinic

Mayo Clinic offers a two-year Medical Physics Residency and a 10-week Medical Physics Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship in Phoenix, Arizona, to prepare students for a career as a medical physicist.

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